11th December 2018

Industry 4.0 – Debunking the Myths

A year ago, the spotlight was turned on the Industry 4.0 with the back-to-back launches of the Made Smarter Review and Industrial Strategy White Paper.

This double whammy was not by accident and signalled not only a huge shift to highlight the benefits of this Fourth Industrial revolution but also to encourage adoption of the technologies.

The UK is at the forefront of Industry 4.0 according to a BBVA report on study carried out by Accenture and Oxford Economics, which put the nation second behind the US in its Digital Economic Opportunity index of 14 developed economies.

Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, robotics, Big Data, and automation are increasingly having an impact on the day-to-day lives of people and businesses but there is still a significant way to go until they are having a major impact on UK industry.

Manufacturing and engineering are two sectors where there has been a strong push for adoption. The Made Smarter Review, overseen by Juergen Maier Siemens UK chief executive, made a strong case for businesses in the sector to adopt these technologies as it will bring significant improvements in terms of efficiency and costs. It is also it necessary if they are to compete in a global market.

Without question, the digital transformation of Britain is happening and yet there remains misconceptions as to its benefits.

However, we want to dispel those myths. The Base is a centre for start-ups and SMEs with a focus on developing industry 4.0 technologies,  so we know first-hand what is fact and what is fiction.

Here is a view on three of the biggest:

Automation will replace humans!

For the past decade, if not longer, there has been talk about robots, automation and AI taking the place of humans and creating a world of mass unemployment.

While it is true that automation does eliminate some jobs, evidence shows it also creates new jobs. In many cases, automation actually helps protect jobs as it frees up employees to undertake other tasks, while it also makes companies more competitive.

There is no accurate prediction on the exact number of jobs lost and gained as the explosion of these technologies has yet to happen, but a 2017 study by Gartner indicated AI alone will create 2.3 million jobs and eliminate 1.8 million in 2020, with upwards of two million net jobs created by 2025.

It will primarily be the manual roles that disappear, as new technology is geared to efficiency.  Automation will also fill gaps in the workforce, while people are being reskilled to take on less manual and more productive roles.

Adoption is too expensive – so only the large companies will survive

The Made Smarter Review examined the barriers faced by UK businesses in adopting Industry 4.0 technology. One of the major reasons, particularly amongst SMEs, is a lack of knowledge and understanding of the Industry 4.0 technologies available. The review also found that fears over cybersecurity and a lack of resources were seen as hindering factors as SMEs tend to be risk-averse. However, the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies can be successfully achieved by SMEs and start-ups. It calls for a behavioural change and the need for executives and decision-makers to increase their awareness and understanding of the technologies and how they can be integrated into the current operations. Adoption is affordable with the right information and planning, while resources have been made available from a variety of sources, such as Innovate UK and the British Business Bank, to enable SMEs to get the funding necessary to become adopters.

Digital transformation hasn’t hit the engineering sector

Nothing could be further from the truth. Manufacturing, engineering and construction are adopting Industry 4.0 technologies. While it is predominantly within the OEMs and Tier 1s, it is moving down the supply chain as technologies such automation, AI, Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and 3-D printing are being adopted.

The aerospace industry is investing millions to explore how 3-D printed parts can be used in the sector, with the supply chain needing to adopt their manufacturing processes. The automotive industry is a wide user of automation, it is using Cloud Computing and Big Data to improve productivity and efficiency.

The construction sector has adopted BIM (Building Information Modelling) for large-scale projects. It uses digital technology, such as AR generated Digital Twins, for all of the parties to work from. The aim of BIM for projects to be completed ‘right first time’ thus reducing costs.

AI is being used for machines to communicate with each other, to make processes more efficient, as well as self-healing themselves thus avoiding the need to call out engineers and lose valuable production time.

There are many myths about the effectiveness of Industry 4.0. Businesses that continue to ignore the benefits or the impact – will become the next Kodak, who failed to adopt to digital photography.

If you want to be a strong and competitive business, Industry 4.0 is the way forward.