22 May 2024

Avoiding the traps of digitalisation

With more than five years’ experience in the introduction of Industry 4.0 – gained both through its own operations and in supporting other companies – Bosch Rexroth shares some advice on adopting a digitalisation strategy by discussing the top five stumbling blocks in the introduction of Industry 4.0.

Global competition, shifting customer demands and a surge in digitalisation are just some of the trends changing the face of modern manufacturing. To keep up with this change of pace, many manufacturers are now starting out on their own Industry 4.0 journeys. But while there is no magic formula to this transformation, there are some common stumbling blocks, which can be avoided.

By avoiding these common stumbling blocks, which often complicate the job of introducing IoT, manufacturers can take a strategic approach to digital transformation which perfectly complements their business.

1: Too much too soon

With Industry 4.0 being the buzzword on the industry’s lips right now, it’s easy for manufacturers to fall into the trap of believing that digitalisation requires a complete overhaul. In practice, however, that approach would be unreasonable for most manufacturers, requiring a considerable period of system shutdown and typically over-investment as existing machinery is replaced and the complexity of technology increases virtually overnight. Not only does this make it difficult to manage, but almost impossible to see where upgrades have contributed to ROI.

In contrast, taking small and strategic steps to digitalisation can prove more beneficial for most manufacturers. Remember, this is evolution, not revolution.

Upgrading to Industry 4.0 in manageable steps not only allows businesses enough time to make well-researched and considered decisions, but also gradually introduces employees to the new technology around them. This step-by-step approach also enables manufacturers to see precisely how digitalisation is adding value to their processes, and by reducing complexity, makes it possible to easily connect other machinery down the line – saving time and money.

2: Getting off on the wrong foot

Industry 4.0 is about flexibility – of manufacturing processes, of machinery, of facilities, of people, of outputs. With that in mind, selecting the correct standard at the start of your digital journey is essential, but is a step some machine manufacturers and end users overlook.

To be truly flexible, any upgrades need to be able to accommodate change. After all, Industry 4.0 is in constant motion, making change inevitable. For machines, that requires connections which not only meet the standards of today, but also to be easily modified in response to future changes. So when making investments for the future, manufacturers need to be sure their machinery will provide the flexibility it needs for change.

3: A lack of planning

In the digitalised factory, data sits at the heart to create an environment of connected manufacturing and continuous improvement. In harnessing that data, sensors are key. Attached to cells, machines or tooling equipment, these sensors measure variables such as temperature, pressure, vibration and power consumption to provide an inside view of the machinery which powers their facility. The problem, however, arises in how that data is evaluated and interpreted. When taking their first steps into the Industry 4.0 arena, manufacturers are often overwhelmed and can fall into the trap of using vast numbers of sensors to collect mass amounts of data.

To overcome this, people need to be brought into this automated process. By visualising the data which is being collected, employees can share their expert insights and knowledge to help manufacturers understand what is important to measure – from machine performance through to functions such as logistics and purchasing. Only then can the true impact of digitalisation be seen.

4: Overlooking security

As the world around us becomes more digital, cyber attacks become increasingly prevalent. So while Industry 4.0 brings a host of benefits for manufacturers, it can also make them more susceptible to these attacks – if the correct precautions aren’t taken. Studies have shown that the vast majority of manufacturers feel under-prepared when it comes to digital security, and only expect their vulnerability to grow.

The good news is that preventative action can be taken, equipping manufacturers with the tools they need to protect their data from cyber attacks. Proven IT security process, for instance, can be quickly and seamlessly extended to production, such as network segmentation and firewalls. Further to this, instruments which enable users to centrally manage all IoT devises and simultaneously install security updates at all locations around the world are also available, ensuring manufacturing operations remain protected.

5: Re-inventing the wheel

When setting out on the journey to Industry 4.0, some manufacturers set out to create their own solutions. The thinking is logical – creating a system which is unique to them will suit their specific needs. The reality, however, is quite different, requiring huge amounts of time and money. Simply writing the documentation for a proprietary solution can take a tremendous amount of time, not to mention the fact that standard solutions are more user-friendly and can be moulded to a manufacturer’s precise requirements.

By using a standard solution, manufacturers can be up and running within a matter of hours, with all IoT-connected machines centrally managed in their network. Using a standard solution also minimises unnecessary complexity, enabling easier connection between machines and control systems. This approach further supports manufacturers to maximise the value of Industry 4.0 upgrades over the long term, reducing restrictions on upgrade options in the future. For this reason, it’s more beneficial for manufacturers to operate IoT functions on dedicated systems, concentrating on real-time communications between systems.