Expert insights on how companies can get on board the fourth industrial revolution were among the highlights of the second day of the AUSPACK 2019 conference being held in Melbourne this week.
According to John Broadbent, founder of Realise Potential, businesses which are slow to adopt Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology will risk being left behind.
Broadbent told the audience that early adopters of this technology will find themselves at a significant advantage once the rest of the industry catches up, while those who delay their uptake will struggle to keep with the pack.
“The longer you kick the can down the road, the bigger the gap becomes,” he said.
According to Broadbent, the nine main use cases for Industry 4.0 and IIoT technology are asset tracking, automation, predictive maintenance, safety and security, smart buildings, customer engagement, data intelligence, product-as-a-service, and agile design processes.
The utility of properly gathering and analysing business data is huge, says Broadbent, and can save businesses time and money,
“How would you feel about sitting in your car with no dashboard, windscreen blacked out, rear view is where you were thirty days ago, and the managing director is in the passenger seat asking are we there yet? You wouldn’t drive like that, but people run their businesses like that all the time,” he said.
Broadbent later facilitated a panel comprising Paul Barber of Lighthouse Systems, Michael Parrington of Pact Group, Richard Roberts of the Open IIoT industry group, and Alan Spreckley from ABB, to discuss practical implementation of Industry 4.0 systems.
Spreckley said one major barrier to adoption of Industry 4.0 is change-aversion in businesses.
“People in general have a resistance to change. They feel too comfortable with where they are and what they have,” said Spreckley.
Broadbent argued that there is never a “right” or “wrong” time to invest, and that businesses need to get on board and constantly update themselves.
“The right time for continuous improvement is always,” said Broadbent. “It doesn’t matter when you’re doing well or not doing well.”
According to Roberts, one crucial early step in embarking on an Industry 4.0 project is forming partnerships, either internal or external, to ensure your business has the skills needed to operate the new technology.
“If you don’t have that expertise, you can look to bring it in, or you can seek out other experts in the area,” said Roberts.
Parrington agreed, saying seeking external help is one way Pact has tried to overcome the skills gap.
“We try to understand what we don’t know, and where we’re not skilled we bring people in,” said Parrington.
According to the next speaker, Peter Hern from Universal Robots, while Industry 4.0 is connecting machines through the utilisation of data and internet connectivity, Industry 5.0 will involve humans and machines working collaboratively.
Hern pointed towards the “cobots”, or collaborative robots, which are produced by his company, as emerging examples of Industry 5.0 practices. Hern emphasised that the developments in automation and robotics shouldn’t lead to fears that human workers employed in manufacturing will be replaced. On the contrary, providing robotic helpers can make existing jobs more productive, safe and efficient.
“What we find is that the human-robot collaboration is actually 85 per cent more productive than humans or robots alone,” he said. “It’s not about replacing human employees – it’s about helping them to do their jobs and stay involved in the process.”
Cobots that are specifically designed to work alongside humans, and according to Hern, can offer benefits such as increased productivity, lower costs, improving quality, boosting innovation, competitive advantage, and reshoring of manufacturing. They also free up human workers from repetitive, dull, dangerous or mundane tasks to focus on jobs that can bring more value to the company.
“Those who are slow to respond risk losing business to others who will embrace the future of manufacturing,” warned Hern.