Large businesses can allocate funding to introduce the latest robotics, to automate factories and implement cloud computing solutions by parting with a small percentage of their annual revenue. But for small businesses, the risk of committing money to Industry 4.0 technologies can be greater. This is what industry experts anticipate as a sticking point for SMEs and start-ups. Therefore, governments and organisations are helping SMEs and start-ups gain valuable knowledge and technologies to help drive them into an Industry 4.0-savvy world.
When speaking to Manufacturers’ Monthly, Australian Manufacturing Technology Institute Limited (AMTIL) chief executive officer Shane Infanti said the role that Industry 4.0 plays in improving manufacturing in Australia is not easy to answer, but it is important in deciding what aspects are beneficial.
Bosch Australia Manufacturing Solutions (BAMS) and AMTIL have collaborated to create a pilot program that aims to help SMEs in their Industry 4.0 ventures. Infanti said figuring out Industry 4.0’s role in Australian manufacturing is one of the major reasons for undertaking the pilot program. “We can do some implementation work and determine the commercial outcomes of any work done. We will then be able to showcase these results through case studies and further promote early adoption of Industry 4.0 by Australian SMEs.
“Most SMEs are followers, so AMTIL has a belief that SMEs will engage in more Industry 4.0 implementation if they can see the benefits. When it comes to activities in this area, we believe case studies and analysis of results is a better option than raising awareness through more events and seminars. Government funding to assist the uptake of the technology and encourage project work to be done, would be a good initiative. We will continue to seek this support from both state and federal governments,” said Infanti.
With a $265,000 fund from the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC), matched with industry funds on a dollar-for-dollar basis, AMTIL will fund a pilot project where 15 SMEs undertake a first stage Industry 4.0 implementation project. “The intent is to highlight the differing aspects of Industry 4.0 and how it can be applied to small businesses as well as large. The 15 companies will commit to having a case study written up on the outcomes of their project so that we can further showcase their stories to a much broader audience, and hopefully then create a greater take up of the technologies and methodologies,” said Infanti.
The AMGC was established in 2015 as a key plank of the Australian government’s Industry Growth Centres Initiative to drive innovation, productivity and competitiveness across the country’s manufacturing industry. Since then, the government’s support for Industry 4.0 hasn’t waned as there is a continued push to help SMEs and start-ups get a slice of the pie.
Government support for SMEs
Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, told Manufacturers’ Monthly the government has introduced targeted policies and programs for start-ups and SMEs to support their growth and ensure all Australians share in the jobs and opportunities created in the technology space.
“These include the Empowering Business to Go Digital program, which will establish an organisation to build and enhance small business digital capability, improving accessibility of small business digital information, and increase small business awareness and adoption of digital technology.”
The federal government has introduced numerous initiatives to assist start-ups to grow, including the Incubator Support initiative, which provides funding to incubators to deliver services to Australian start-ups with an international focus. Funded incubators assist start-ups with improving their business capabilities and prospects of commercial success in international markets. As of November 2018, the initiative has supported 67 projects to the value of $10 million.
There is also the Landing Pads Initiative which provides market-ready Australian start-ups and scale-ups with access to some of the world’s most renowned hubs including San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Shanghai, Berlin and Singapore to help commercialise their products overseas. Landing Pads, administered by Austrade, are part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda. They are aimed at assisting Australian entrepreneurs and building innovation capabilities. More than 167 start-ups have accessed Landing Pads.
“Getting the right advice is key for SMEs and start-ups,” said Andrews. Another platform, the Entrepreneurs’ Programme, recently introduced a suite of technology advisory services. “The program assists SMEs in integrating new disruptive technologies needed for transformation,” she said.
Creating one cohesive program
While different bodies are working on programs that aid SMEs and start-ups in the Industry 4.0 space, BAMS general manager Andrew Bartlett said it can be difficult to navigate which programs are most beneficial.
“For the SMEs there are so many different programmes, they don’t know which is the right body to go to. There’s no cohesive strategy. A clear strategy would be good, and it would be useful in finding out what the available funds or programmes are.
“Manufacturing is 6.8 per cent of the GDP and it’s slow growing, but working cohesively would help in doubling this. The more uptake there is from industry, the more opportunities there are to support it.”
Bartlett said most small companies look at improving bottlenecks and cost savings that help improve business, whereas large businesses are more likely to be able to have comprehensive approaches to Industry 4.0.
Having a cohesive strategy, as is the case in Germany where Industry 4.0 was established, would help SMEs in their goal of integrating the latest technology, he said.
“We are starting to meet a standard in products, which can be connecting quickly and at a decent price point. We need to move as fast as the market, if not faster, with these technologies.”
The Bosch group is aiming to have all of its product categories connected by 2020, including everything from home appliances to power tools. In helping SMEs achieve Industry 4.0 readiness, BAMS is taking members of the pilot program to the next step of introducing new technologies to their businesses.
Education grows business
While implementing new technologies is a step in the right direction, maximising the potential of this technology is key. Pilz Australia national sales and marketing manager Rob Stevenson said teaching employees how to use their products and systems correctly can save time and money. Pilz, an automation solutions specialist, offers workshops that teach equipment users how to optimise their systems.
Stevenson said often SMEs, as well as larger businesses, will seek technical support as soon as there is an issue.
“Being able to go online and diagnose a problem in-house can reduce downtime and increase efficiency not to mention saving the need for a service call. We can help upskill our end-users’ staff.
“We offer a raft of training courses around machinery safety and legislation. We also offer specific courses on how to work with robotics.
“It’s about training them to make their systems safer, more secure and more efficient. It’s a huge part of our business with 10-15 per cent dedicated to training.”
As well as training staff in using the technology available in their facilities, Stevenson suggested ensuring security measures are in place to minimise the risk of system failures. “Cybersecurity might not be a major issue for SMEs, but for any corporation it is going to be a greater consideration into the future. It’s an issue if you get disrupted productivity.”
With individual businesses, governments and organisations assisting and creating programs for SMEs and start-ups, implementing Industry 4.0 is becoming more of a reality for all Australian businesses.