The Art of Smart Manufacturing: Experts Weigh In on the Digital Transformation of Factories

An abundance of new devices and applications that are adding ease and efficiency to daily processes are turning factory floors into digital havens. Known as “Industry 4.0”, or the fourth industrial revolution, the growth of technology in manufacturing is accelerating at a staggering pace. Just a few years ago, in 2019, the industry 4.0 market was at $70 Billion. However, thanks to the recent explosion in adoption, the market is now expected to grow at a CAGR of 17 percent, putting the industry 4.0 market at USD $210 Billion by 2026.

It comes as no surprise that the industry 4.0 market is growing and thriving, as the technology it encompasses holds virtually an endless amount of potential for those companies who make things.

With benefits like reduced costs and improved speed, efficiency, and safety on the factory floor, many in the manufacturing industry have either already begun to adopt and leverage connected systems, from IoT to automation, or are starting to take a deeper look into industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 and the technology it encompasses were discussed in detail during the ZEDEDA Transform 2021, an event earlier this year that brought together experts from across the edge computing and IoT landscape.

The presentation was titled “Intelligent Manufacturing” and was moderated by industry analyst Chantal Polsonetti of ARC Advisory Group, as she and three panelists discussed the latest trends in manufacturing and the application of IoT, AI, AR/VR, Digital Twin, and 5G technologies at the edge.

The panelists included Joe Biron, GM IoT, PTC, Jordan Reynolds, Global Director of Data Science, Kalypso, and Tom Norbut, Manager of IoT Infrastructure and Manufacturing Networks, Trelleborg Group.

Polsonetti asked the panelists about some of the challenges in the manufacturing industry today and how they influence the biggest trends in the industry.

“The pressure has always been there to reduce operating costs and to drive efficiency in the manufacturing process. There’s nothing new about those challenges,” said Biron. “What’s been increasing has been pressure from an aging workforce, the difficulty in acquiring and training new operational staff, new engineering staff, and an increasingly complex supply chain with more complicated designs with components that are now supplied by, perhaps suppliers that are outside the typical circles.”

“Let’s take advantage of emerging markets so that we can reduce the cost of human labor and, in some cases, drive automation initiatives to underpin the cost reduction strategies that are not as much of an option today as they used to be,” added Reynolds. “We’re back into this game of technology-oriented innovations that drive operational cost improvement. But thankfully, we’re equipped with a wide variety of different technology innovations today, like the Internet of Things and edge computing and artificial intelligence that we have at our disposal to drive improvements to automation.”

Polsonetti then asked the panelists if the sudden burst in automation technology in manufacturing was brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“As soon as Covid hit, we were scrambling to figure out how to do remote engineering support at a site across the globe. We’re suddenly playing with AR technologies that we’ve always intended to play with and always intended to work with,” said Norbut. “We just hadn’t gotten to that step yet, so we had to kind of jumpstart our own cycle of innovation and exploration; as a result, to try to find some of these solutions.”

“Absolutely Covid expedited digital manufacturing,” agreed Reynolds. “Suddenly, companies are using things like modeling and simulation, designing and commissioning lines in virtual environments, emulating their PLC code in virtual environments, using analytical and data and empirical capabilities to make decisions as opposed to physically tinkering with things. It became a necessity. And now, a lot of our customers don’t even really call it digital anymore. They just think of it as their way of working.”

The discussion then pivoted, as Polsonetti asked the panelists about the role of both OT and IT in evolving traditional industrial automation into Industry 4.0 solutions.

“There is no longer this option to kind of look at OT as this independent function anymore. The reality is that they’re using IT assets for OT production. From a corporate level and a corporate perspective, we’re having to rethink everything that we do around OT assets like that,” said Norbut. “Specifically, if you don’t have IT and OT at the same table talking to each other and planning these developments and planning this next step, even if it’s not all under one umbrella, you’re going to have issues, you’re going to have problems. You’re asking for trouble, and that’s just kind of what’s happening in the landscape as well.”

“OT people were responsible for things related to physical equipment and machines and laws of physics and things like that,” Reynolds said. “IT organizations were focused on software and information concepts and things like that. Those lines are completely nonexistent now. If you look at any elite electrical engineering or chemical engineering or industrial engineering program out there in academia, they’re all learning how to code in Python.”

Polsonetti then asked about the hurdles that are preventing some in manufacturing from adopting Industry 4.0 and whether these hurdles had to do with the technology itself or the traditional culture found on a factory floor.

“The technology has been there for a little while now. I say that quite a bit. It’s not a technical issue any longer,” said Norbut. “If I look at my day, how I spend my day, 80 percent of it is political, cultural, just trying to get things and people headed in the right direction.”

“The technology is there. It’s getting better,” added Biron. “[We will] bridge the gap for the cultural issues because we will have a new workforce and they will be trained using augmented reality, and it will be natural to them.”

Polsonetti then asked the panelists if they had any advice for the current workforce who may feel pressured to adopt and leverage technology.

“You have to tell them what’s in it for them. It goes true all the way down the line; there is something in it for them. You free up their time by not having to twist that dial over there or shake this thing over there to be able to address larger level topics that they may have knowledge of,” said Norbut. “It gives them more importance in the production chain. It gives them more importance of what it is they must do. They take more pride and ownership of the work.”

Polsonetti then asked her final question of the panel discussion, asking how Software as a Service will impact the new digital manufacturing landscape.

“The SaaS system will better manage the Edge footprint than manual IT activities ever could,” said Biron. “The capability of remotely and automatically keeping edge workloads up to date with security software, up to date with the latest AI trained models and the latest statistics on an operational process is now possible.”

“SaaS is where we gain the corporate layer of knowledge and security and scalability across a platform into every OT space that we no longer are going to need to be looking to suppliers to come in with individual devices themselves,” added Norbut. “They’ll be provided with a device they run their application on. That’s much easier to scale and sustain over time than chasing a bunch of different devices on your network.”

To view the full event on demand, click here.

Matt Vulpis

Matt Vulpis is a fresh out of college writer/journalist, already with a myriad of published articles across a variety of topics and industries. He is very passionate about writing, as well as sports, and television/film. While he enjoys writing articles pertaining to business tech, he wants to one day write a TV show as a head screenwriter. He has a bachelors in journalism with a minor in sports studies from Quinnipiac University.

Read Previous

The Latest Changes in VC Deal Terms – Avoiding the Valuation Death Spiral

Read Next

The Latest Changes in VC Deal Terms — How to Raise Money