The manufacturing industry has entered a new phase in the Industrial Revolution, thanks to the contributions of the Internet of Things (IoT). Several advanced tools, powered by technologies such as big data and advanced analytics, have spearheaded this evolution of mass production. Manufacturing units have become smarter, faster and more efficient in their functions. This new phase of the manufacturing industry marked by the trends of digital technology is called Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 isn’t just limited to powerful tech gadgets. The term refers to the state-of-the-art ways in which modern-day businesses operate and grow. It’s all about optimisation - factories and distribution models where machines are inter-connected and convey real-time data to human operators. This synergy of physical production and operations with smart technology has created a holistic ecosystem for companies specialising in manufacturing and supply-chain management.

Manufacturers are now restructuring their business models to accommodate the changes brought about by Industry 4.0. Their focus is on providing value-added services and entering new markets while keeping the costs down and ensuring quality across all their manufacturing units globally.

Here are some of the key ways in which businesses benefitted from the advent of Industry 4.0:

Visibility across the breadth of the company:

The lack of visibility into the real-time status of the manufacturing processes was one of the biggest challenges that businesses faced before the onset of Industry 4.0. The presence of blind spots within the organisation made it difficult for managers and designers to accurately provide the right solutions that will improve their overall efficiency.

Today, most manufacturing units have deployed sensors and tracking technology to improve asset and process visibility. Utilising these advanced tools, operators can monitor the movement of products throughout the plant. This visibility also reduces the margin for error during the manufacturing process and improves decision-making.

Improved customer experience:

Businesses need to establish a good relationship with their customers to understand and serve their needs better. One of the ways businesses can contribute to a good customer-brand relationship is by making their processes transparent and open to feedback from their customers and suppliers. This will help brands design their products with the customer in mind.

Digital manufacturing units use data from smart tools to understand a product’s performance among customers and their interactions with it. Some of the Industry-4.0 enabled products also have in-built sensors to capture this information. This information will better position the company to deliver more value to the end-user.

AI-driven manufacturing units can also be equipped with streamlined logistics that will ensure better delivery experiences. Connected vehicles can analyse traffic and weather conditions to pick the best delivery route.

Enhanced scalability:

Automation has given businesses an easy foundation to extend and expand their products and offerings. With this expansion, there usually comes the risk of a dip in the quality of the products manufactured. The tools offered by Industry 4.0 mitigates this risk by ensuring that all available resources are distributed evenly across the breadth of the organisation.

Cloud technology has enabled industries to shift their focus from IT operations to core competencies. For small to mid-market manufacturers with limited IT resources, cloud technology was a boon that relieved the burden of monitoring and managing infrastructure.

Predictive maintenance/analytics:

Unexpected errors or malfunctions can adversely impact the functioning of a manufacturing unit. On several occasions, this can happen due to poor maintenance routines.

AI-driven machines easily overcome this problem by predicting when these issues are going to arise. Accordingly, operators can schedule preventive maintenance and avoid sudden disruptions to the manufacturing processes. Utilising predictive maintenance can help businesses avoid unnecessary costs. It can also provide them with insights on how to prevent such issues in the future.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the value of digital technology in organisations. But the unprecedented disruption has also exhausted the resources of several businesses for technology investments. In this context, the best strategy that businesses can adopt is to consider integrating advanced tech for a few of their top purposes. Companies can progress rapidly by utilising those technologies that can help them function remotely.

Pausing or completely halting the progress towards digital transformation can hamper the progress of businesses in the long run. Companies that invested in Industry 4.0 before the pandemic are already reaping its benefits. It is important to focus their digital efforts on significant opportunities at a steady pace.