It is quite clear that machine manufacturing market leaders are steering their product development in the direction of a redefined Industry 4.0 value chain. However, true innovation in manufacturing can be achieved in line with multiple factors, creating more or less value. It can vary from small machinery and production lines improvements, all the way up to changing internal processes and relations with suppliers and customers.
From what we’ve seen so far, there are four key areas for manufacturers wishing to improve their business: digitalization, cloud technology, individualization, and ecosystem maintenance.
1. When it comes to digitalization, leading machine and technology providers are challenged to excel in connecting the entire production line and all manufacturing processes in agreement with Industry 4.0. Basically, improvements in process management and production line engineering have the task of increasing productivity, while reducing costs and cutting downtime.
This is usually achieved by implementing a combination of individual machines sending sensor-collected data and receiving it, in order to be able to both analyze and control information using industry-standard APIs. It is also common to add extra features to create a competitive advantage and cover potential corner cases.
2. To cloud or not to cloud, or should it be a combination? This decision often boils down to measurement points, connectivity, data volume, security concerns and ownership, and data control. It is an important question with many pros and cons: here, it is crucial to focus on finding the “middle ground”, having in mind all the parameters influencing the choice.
3. Machine manufacturers are also faced with the paradox of standardizing their product, but still catering to the individual and particular needs of each client and production facility. In these cases, one normally chooses components and subsystems from renowned suppliers, with standardized but also flexible tools that cover most required functionality features.
Nevertheless, there are still functionality gaps: the end-user usually has requirements that need to be developed, while the premium manufacturer can only provide advisory and consultative services for this part.
4. As soon as a machine or a production line is put into action, the supplier service and maintenance responsibilities start. The great news is that new IoT and digital technologies can enable increased serviceability by focusing on topics like digital asset management, digital service, and maintenance guides, digitizing the swap and repair processes, remote monitoring, and predictive maintenance, as well as service-level agreements. This field has a lot of potentials to improve cooperation between the machine manufacturer and the operator.
For example, today we can easily expect solutions bringing together embedded systems, control layers, real-time systems, security, GUI expertise, cloud technologies, and big data. It is precisely this, a large complexity digital landscape, that challenges all sides involved in creating contemporary Industry 4.0 production lines: from component suppliers to machine manufacturers, plant engineers, and system integrators, all the way to business managers and plant operators.
Nevertheless, very few market players can apply and understand the latest technological developments, as well as convert this knowledge to a commercially outstanding solution. As a consequence, most of them rely on technology partnerships to add expert support and resources to their new and challenging projects; it’s where we usually see how the choice of this partner is critical for the outcome.
Some companies decide to go for one or more local freelancers, covering a particular aspect of the entire spectrum. Other, larger companies try to collaborate with universities and startups in order to speed up and innovate. Either way, the ideal partner should bring along as much technology experience as business knowledge and understanding, so that they can guide you in the right direction while making important, and sometimes long-lasting decisions.