Manufacturing collaboration: The fundamentals of sharing

Australian manufacturers are still wary of new technology and big data, according to industry experts. Manufacturers’ Monthly visits the second Industrial Internet 4.0 summit in Sydney to find out more.

The majority of Australian start-ups and small manufacturing businesses are avoiding big data at the expense of climbing the value chain, according to industry champions.

The dawn of Industry 4.0 is still escaping a country used to going it alone – with several frontline professionals declaring a lack of trust in the Australian consciousness the root problem.

Over a two-day event at the Sydney Masonic Centre last month, the second annual Industrial Internet 4.0 summit heard speakers from all walks of manufacturing discuss the benefits, and obstacles, digital disruption presents a divided industry.

For some, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is an opportunity to unite the value chain, an audience heard – despite a hesitance within the ranks to share and cultivate.

David Hart, CEO for Dematec Automation, considered the difficulty in persuading companies to take the plunge without first understanding the definition of “meaningful data”.

He notes real-time visibility as a benefit – so that “the manufacturer can see an issue and deal with it before it became a problem”, such as stoppages and production downtime.

“IIoT provides an opportunity for those SMEs to realise some benefits from automation digitisation, which they may not have traditionally been willing to invest in,” he said.

“All of this means it is essentially to lower the barrier to get the business going; to use digitisation techniques by starting with something small and to then build that up as your business begins to evolve.”

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By capturing meaningful data, a business can add value propositions to its production line, according to Hart, who suggests IIoT opens up opportunities for continuous improvement.

“The business needs to have outcomes in mind, a willingness to implement change and to be able to do something with the information they get back from the production of their assets,” Hart continued.

“IIoT is a great enabler for SMEs to reach their productivity, quality and performance benefits that automation can bring.

“The cost of getting started is really as low as it has ever been, which makes it easier to take the plunge and to start to explore the benefits you can bring to the business.”

Issues of trust

There is still a lot of uncertainty that goes hand-in-hand with a wave of new technology, according to Mark Goodsell, executive director for the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council.

During the event, he joined a panel to discuss how Australian manufacturers can make Industry 4.0 a reality.

“What collaborative model could encourage manufacturers to integrate?” asked Frank Zeichner, CEO of the IoT Alliance Australia.

Goodsell said that, like others in the industry, he doesn’t have the answer, but says an answer could be found by first understanding the culture of Australia’s manufacturing mindset.

“Just after the global financial crisis (GFC) and at the height of the mining boom, [former Labor Party leader] Peter Beattie was asked to go around the country and find out why a lot of Australian companies weren’t taking advantage of this global resources boom,” Goodsell said.

“We were supplying the holes in the ground but we weren’t supplying a lot of other value and the real issues that came out of that was Australian companies don’t tend to collaborate.”

Essentially, it came down to a lack of trust, he explains.

“Whatever it was about our previous economic model that allowed you to run a fairly successful business is now hurting us in a globalised world,” Goodsell said, “and I guess, with IoT and the information of the world of physical goods, the tyranny of distance is now completely absent.

“We have made a lot of progress in the area [of trust] but I think we need to do more work on what trust in commercial relationships looks like and what we actually mean by trust and collaboration, so people have something to hang their experiences on.”

Dr Sue Keay, CEO for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Robotic Vision, Science and Engineering faculty at the Queensland University, also said that a cultural change is required if the nation’s manufacturers are going to embrace, and share, data technology.

Keay discussed how artificial intelligence is enhancing efficiency around the manufacturing space.

“Australians, in general, like to be self-sufficient and solve problems in-house, even if they are aware that they can fall back on specialist integrators,” she said.

“Given the amount of data and new technologies that are coming at such a high pace, you need to get to that point where those collaborative partnerships can exist to keep you on top of all of those [new technologies].”

Giving IoT meaning

The general consensus is that Industry 4.0 shouldn’t be feared.

Part of the problem, according to Shaun Westcott, CEO for HMPS Automation and Robotics, is that IoT has a different meaning depending on whom you talk to.

“The way we understand it is the merging of physical and cyber assets into forming the cyber-physical manufacturing role,” Westcott said.

“It can be interconnected and networked between machines and ultimately between factories, creating what we refer to as smart factories.

“IoT will enable big data extraction and, when we start to ask ourselves what is the difference between ‘Industry three’ and ‘Industry four’, the ability to extract big data through the cloud and overlay analytics of cognitive capabilities of value chain optimisation ultimately [creates] e-commerce networks.”

Automation is “the first building block” towards that ideology – not only for the large corporate companies, but Westcott stresses its benefits for the small-to-mid manufacturing markets, where collaboration is key to opening new doors.

“We believe that any manufacturer who doesn’t go down the line of IoT will be buried in the sands of time,” he continued.

“In the future, we see IoT as being the building blocks in an environment were factories will be able to balance their production with demand cadence through collaborative smart supply chains, using artificial intelligence and flexible network assets.”

Westcott says he is advocating an “evolutionary approach”, which, he insists, will also facilitate the acquisition of new skilled labour.

“When we talk about the transformation of manufacturing, we also need to understand that there needs to be a consummation of workplace skills,” he said.

“Knowledge and competencies need to be built within existing environments so people can start to utilise this new technology.”

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