SMEs often think they’ll get left behind in the era of Industry 4.0 but, argues Access Group’s Andy Brown, digitisation can enable them to compete more effectively.
As in other industries, the full force of Industry 4.0 has not yet been fully felt in manufacturing and engineering. We’re now rapidly moving towards a time when digital technology is the norm, rather than the exception, and it’s clear that those who fail to embrace it will be at a competitive disadvantage.
According to research from PwC, as many as 72% of industrial companies expect to achieve advanced levels of digitisation by 2020.
Manufacturers now see digital technology as their weapon in managing production more effectively, improving transparency in the supply chain, assuring quality and compliance, and cutting costs, all of which help increase their bottom line.
Just as digital technology has made it easy for anyone to publish a book or build a website, so too has it put SMEs on a more equal footing with larger suppliers. As reported by Mintel, “software capability and availability, combined with long-term trends surrounding mobility, Big Data and increasingly artificial intelligence” are now driving business growth.
Big or small – technology is paving the way for all firms to increase their capabilities and secure more lucrative contracts
Using innovative new software, small firms can demonstrate compliance with QA standards and ISO 9001 as robustly as their bigger rivals, ensuring they are not the ‘weak link’ in the supply chain. The fact that this software is scalable also means they can tailor the system according to the size of their budget and operations.
This was certainly the case for Southampton-based elastomer manufacturer Martin’s Rubber, which makes hundreds of different parts, including bespoke rubber mouldings, gaskets and seals. It had variable batch runs and lead times that vary from ‘while you wait’, to more than a year for products in the defence sector.
Although the company moved away from paper-based shop floor data collection some 20 years ago, and subsequently developed its own business software systems, it recently recognised the need for greater automation of processes.
Another priority was to reduce its reliance on bespoke software that was difficult to develop and a risk to futureproofing the business.
For Martin’s Rubber, the journey towards Industry 4.0 involved the integration of three software packages: Mestec Manufacturing Execution System, Access ERP and Access Orchestrate Scheduling.
By improving the accuracy of shop floor data, production managers are in a better position to report on what stock, labour and materials are needed for manufacturing.
It comes down to empowering managers to run their departments with greater precision, identifying possible shortfalls before they become a problem. On top of avoiding costly delays, integrated systems like these enable them to reduce hands-on work, while identifying potential capacity within their teams to take on additional work.
There’s no doubt that Industry 4.0 is redefining traditional jobs, skills and operations. Naturally, some are anxious about what it means for the labour market. However, I firmly believe that it creates more opportunities than challenges.
When time-consuming manual processes are eliminated, production managers can spend their time improving efficiencies throughout the supply chain.
Today, it doesn’t matter if a manufacturer is big or small – technology is paving the way for all firms to increase their capabilities and secure more lucrative contracts.
* Andy Brown is divisional sales manager at Access Group