From granola to granular – getting to the crunch with Industry 4.0

Image: Bosch

Image: Bosch

Australia gained a so-called seat at the table in April to be a part of the conversation on the next industrial revolution. Brent Balinski spoke to the AMGC’s managing director Jens Goennemann about where to next, and why it’s crucial to be involved.

Mentions of Industry 4.0 make some excited and others cynical. Jens Goennemann, managing director of Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre and former head of Airbus in Australia, believes there are fragments of it here already, if you look in the right places.

These, according to Goennemann, give an indication of how manufacturing will be turned on its head in the future.

One example is a $25 “smart box” of premium, mass customised muesli mix, which symbolises the coming revolution, while also offering proof that we can play our part.

“The order defines the product, the product gets an identity and that product tells the machines what the bag wants to have, as defined by the customer,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly recently, referring to Mix My Muesli.

“The muesli box tells the machine what to do and not the other way around… Now Australia and the rest of the world will not survive on only Muesli 4.0, but it’s a tangible, early-adopter example of how Industry 4.0 could look.”

The usefulness of the concept (sometimes called the Industrial Internet or one of several other names) has been identified and the community around it has seen the need to develop common standards.

Many surveys have identified this as top priority for manufacturers. Australia has begun the standardisation discussion with peak bodies in the world’s leading early adopter nations, the USA (Industrial Internet Consortium) and Germany (Plattform Industrie 4.).

Announced in April and representing Australia at the Hannover Messe exhibition, the PM’s Taskforce on Industry 4.0’s next step is to form five working groups (focussed on architectures and norms, research and innovation, security, legal framework, and training) to mirror what Germany and the US have put in place at this stage.

Though it’s led by Siemens and SAP, whatever happens in regards to standardisation, it won’t be wed to one company’s technology platform.

“Here’s a massive chance that everybody speaks the same language in years to come, and this [shouldn’t] become a proprietary solution of any one company,” added Goennemann.

“It’s too important for that.”

jensIt is, he said, a global discussion that is crucial for Australia to be a part of.

Some dismiss the concept as a fashion, and have questioned the need to invest heavily in solutions, which aren’t necessarily cheap.

According to research released in May by Boston Consulting Group, surveying over 600 German and American manufacturing firms, investment levels identified by these firms in enabling tech was estimated at between 7 per cent to 9 per cent of revenue. Not cheap.

BCG defines I4.0 technology as grouped into nine pillars (big data and analytics, autonomous robots, simulation, horizontal and vertical system integration, the industrial internet of things, cybersecurity, the cloud, additive manufacturing, and augmented reality.)

The impact of these technologies coming together properly will be huge in shifting skills required from workers, requiring “fundamentally new skills”, such as in data science and analytics.

It also suggested industry would see a paradigm shift similar in scale to introducing CAD in the 1990s, and this should be properly considered.

Of those who failed to roll out CAD – and a caution to those dismissing Industry 4.0 – the paper reads, “they were unable to participate in the standardised electronic data interchange between companies [and] many laggards dropped out of their business ecosystem entirely.”

The emphasis displayed by industrial giants such as GE and Siemens when it comes to the next industrial age is impossible to miss.

This doesn’t mean that there’s no relevance for smaller Australian manufacturers. After all, those wanting a successful future as exporters will frequently be doing business with such multinationals, whose supply chains dominate global trade.

Goennemann’s warning on dismissing the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a fashion is similar to BCG’s. He cites successful mass customisation-ready local SMEs like Cablex, which have invested in the required technology, as examples of what is needed for success.

It would be “arrogant” to dismiss Industry 4.0 as a buzzword or as over-hyped in its importance.

“As the global scale transition changes from traditional manufacturing to an Industry 4.0 environment, it would be lethal to not be on the front foot,” said Goennemann.

“And if a customer – who is always right – demands that and an Australian advanced manufacturer is not able to serve this customer, then that manufacturer may not be competitive. So it is a very dangerous attitude to disregard it as a fashion.”