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From factories to a network of knowledge hubs – The eternal evolution

Industry 4.0 demands that manufacturers take a bold step into the unknown and invest heavily to remain competitive.

Vinh Quang Nguyen / March 28, 2023

While some organizations have already made notable progress, others have just begun their journey. Why is the Fourth Industrial Revolution moving so slowly?

From a global perspective, the Nordic countries are well positioned for the digital transition in the coming decade, with a high skilled workforce and a society that has high adaption of technology in most aspects of daily life. Due to high production costs, the challenging macroeconomic condition, and the intensifying global competition, Industry 4.0 represents a window of opportunity for Nordic manufactures to demonstrate resilience and gain an unrivalled competitive advantage.

The vision of the fourth industrial revolution is filled with promise for manufacturers, but wide-scaled digital transformation across the sector is still left unseen. Emerging technologies such as IoT, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Cloud and Edge computing, Cobots and wearables, will have tremendous business impact. New technology compels manufacturers to reconsider their business models and value chain – which is a time-consuming process that requires significant effort to accomplish.

The scalability challenge and how to tackle it

In the manufacturing world, making informed decisions on different levels of the organization has long been essential to deliver on time, maintain quality, and prevent unplanned downtime. Today, the vast quantity of data created on the production line has grown past the analogue processes and manual analysis ability to process and derive meaningful information. This is where the array of interconnected Industrial IoT technologies play a vital role in bringing factories online and providing real-time contextualized data to support rapid decision-making across various business processes.

Let us take an example of how a network of connected smart factories can give companies more precision and finesse in the way they operate and help them become more productive and sustainable. Executives gain the ability to adjust production based on demand across different geographies – as seen in the pandemic, when recovery was uneven across the globe. For the operation engineer this can translate into better plans through the traceability of raw material and time spent on earlier production runs, and the visibility to live-track deviations in an on-going run.

When bringing life to the vision, many mature companies go for the proven approach of starting small, in the form of a proof-of-value/concept to demonstrate the value, then rapidly scaling the solution across all plants to maximize the benefit. Starting too small or specialized when implementing the digital solution runs the risk of limiting and undercutting the potential value. Ultimately, this approach can lead to manufacturers directing the digitization effort into fitting the factory site’s uniqueness, which slows down the transformation journey.

Global scalable solutions that execute locally are no mean feat. To address the challenges early, moving to a network of smart connected factories can contribute to creating a standardized solution that can cater to the nuances of each individual plant.

Technical solutions are only part of the picture

As the 21st century industrial revolution is primarily driven by technology advancement, the paradox is that a slow-paced digitizing journey can be due to a sole focus on technology itself. Companies who succeed acknowledge that the process reaches far beyond a technical concept, and that one aspect takes centre stage in the transformation: people. There's no getting around it. Conquering the digitalization journey never starts with the technology, it starts with winning the hearts and minds of the people involved. It is a process that requires a long-term commitment as well as a strong north-star and strategy spanning across the whole company.

A typical key challenge when addressing the human aspect is the working culture and the discrepancy between the traditional roles in IT and in the plant. Engineers on the operational side have been taking care of the continuous operation of the factory for decades; it's in their DNA. Their daily pressure of maintaining a constantly running factory often takes precedent over spending the efforts to contribute into the company’s digitalization initiatives. On the other hand, the IT department has been on the organization’s supporting end with deep IT competency, but it does not necessarily have the experience of how a practical process runs on the shop floor, or know-how about operational technology (OT).

Underestimating the time required to build mutual understanding and trust between the parties from the start can be a fatal mistake in the long run. As IT professionals will increasingly play a critical role in empowering the operation engineers and optimizing the production processes end-to-end. This is why digitalization initiatives that run in silos might lack the business perspective and involvement from the end-user needed to achieve the desired outcome. In the end, the technical solutions are only part of the picture. The new practical processes and a unified way of working will be as crucial throughout the journey.

It is very natural that individuals react to a big change at first. Demystifying the approach by onboarding factory workers early on in the process goes a long way, as the diverse team will be in a better position to redesigning a process that meets the real user needs and makes the new technology work for them – and also increases the willingness to adapt when the solution is in production.

The digitalization journey is a continuous learning process

Staying focused and committed to the digitalization journey, even when faced with challenges and setbacks, is of utmost importance. Although the journey may, at times, feel like a jungle of endless obstacles, Rome wasn’t built in a day. The digitalization journey is a continuous learning process and digital maturity is an evolving target for all the actors involved. Success and failures, regardless of their size and magnitude, should be recognized and celebrated as milestones. Over the course of time, the progress made will amount to the revolution that once was envisioned.

A qualified partner like Tietoevry provides continuous progress and tangible outcomes during your digitalization journey. With over 25 years of experience, we have enabled Nordic companies to execute their vision by co-designing strategies and digital roadmaps. We have built scalable Industry 4.0 solutions that cover data capture from edge to industrial cloud, contextualization, and transformation of data into advanced analytics, prediction models, and visualizations. We run globally scaled solutions end-to-end, while ensuring the security of new digital processes and maintaining the physical location of data to ensure Nordic's sovereignty at all times.

Learn more about Edge services here.

Digitizing industry

  • The 21st-century industrial revolution is digital. Industry 4.0 – also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is the next phase of digitalization in the manufacturing industry.
  • Part of the transition is driven by the interconnection of technologies like Cloud computing, Edge computing, the internet of things (IoT), Big data analytics, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, and advanced robotics that is integrated into the shop floor and throughout their operations.
  • The vision holds significant potential in the way companies manufacture, improve, and distribute products.
  • At the core, the benefits can be summarized as a lights-out factory that is highly digitized and autonomous; Smart products that are connected and self-aware; intelligent assets which are self-correcting and predictive; and empowered people – through real-time knowledge and data-driven decision support.
Vinh Quang Nguyen
Tietoevry alumni

Vinh was leading edge computing and IoT enablement and has experience from taking new ideas to the market. He is passionate about building the future IT backbone of society to enable next-gen services.

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