There was a time when only large manufacturers could afford advanced machine tools and automation, but that’s not the case any longer. What is industry 4.0, and what does it mean for you?
You’ve probably heard about the Internet of Things (IoT). Industry 4.0 is the industrial IoT. It’s the newest stage of the Industrial Revolution to connect via automation and machine learning, and by analyzing data as it becomes available. Industry 4.0 for businesses means investing in new technology as it makes sense for your company.
In a release on Global Newswire, experts estimate the industry 4.0 market will be worth $210 billion by 2026. As 5G becomes more readily available and cities add fiber optic internet cables, more manufacturers and small-business owners see the advantages of tapping into the IoT.
If you’d like to tap into the possibilities, here are some tips to keep in mind. Any size budget can reap the benefits of new technologies.
1. Improve Productivity
Industry 4.0 is about looking at all the processes in your operation and seeing which ones can be automated or improved. Employees work on the things machines can’t do, and the technology handles much of the precision.
One example might be a factory with customized boxed sets. A robot can send the items down the line, but a human needs to check the arrangement and make sure the box is visually pleasing before it goes out to the customer.
Think about the grunt work of your daily processes and what might be easy to automate. There will always be a need for human workers, so don’t think of industry 4.0 as a way to replace your employees. Consider it a means of making their jobs more efficient.
2. Create Quality Products
Human error means you sometimes send out inferior products. You can use sensors and machines to track quality and improve it over time. Analyzing data improves your process almost immediately.
Program machines to watch for known issues. If you have a piece of equipment that malfunctions and impacts your product’s quality, place sensors on it to estimate when it might break down. Fix the machine ahead of the error.
3. Prevent Downtime
Sensors, data collection and analytics also help you maintain machines so you can avoid downtime. Small manufacturing businesses suffer when workers stand around waiting for repairs. In some factories, a single error shuts down the entire assembly line.
Maintenance is a big part of keeping a facility moving smoothly. Computers can notify you when a machine overheats, shakes a little or is off on the timing. An adjustment may be much quicker than a full repair.
4. Reduce Employee Churn
The Society for Human Resource Management estimates that replacing an employee costs about $1,500 for an hourly worker and more for salaried. There are many reasons people leave a job, such as boredom, feeling unappreciated and lack of growth opportunities.
What if you could shift focus to learning new skills while a machine takes over other tasks? What if you freed your employees up to be more creative? You can also use technology to track anniversaries and ensure you’re offering regular reviews and promotional opportunities.
There is an unseen problem with high turnover rates: You’ll lose your most experienced and skilled workers. Churn puts you behind the curve of competitors who keep the same employees for years.
Use industry 4.0 to make your staff’s lives easier. Talk to them about the tools they need to do their jobs well.
5. Optimize Inventory Control
Technology can help you keep careful track of inventory. A computer notifies you if there is a large order for a particular product and reserves become low. You can ramp up production where needed.
On the flip side of the coin, you’ll know if something isn’t moving and you need less of the item. You can also combine efforts from your sales and marketing teams. If you have too much of something, run a sale and advertise it to move inventory and keep cash flowing in.
Predictive analytics allow you to see past buying patterns and decide what new inventory will be best received. Technology can change your entire decision-making process.
6. Go Robotic
You’ve heard of autonomous vehicles, but robots are also helping warehouse workers fulfill orders and keep track of inventory. The World Economic Forum estimates robots will perform more than 50% of tasks by 2025.
Amazon is known for its innovative approach to e-commerce. The company uses a small round robot to deliver products to a picker, who then packs them into a box. The process saves the workers time and allows items to get from one section of storage to another with less effort.
How robots work with your business depends on your model. Manufacturers have more opportunities to automate things, but even a small mom-and-pop store can use a robot to clean the floors at night.
7. Save Money With 3D
Another way industry 4.0 allows small businesses to innovate is through 3D printing. Instead of spending thousands on prototypes, companies can now print a model right from their computer.
Do you need to make a minor tweak to your design? That’s not a problem with computer-aided design and a 3D printer. You can thoroughly test your ideas and make sure they work for your customer base.
It makes it faster to get a new product to market, and you’ll also avoid some major issues that could lead to costly recalls or refunds.
The Changing Face of Small Business
Industrial IoT encompasses a wide array of possibilities. Whether you automate production, add inventory tracking, or simply use robots to help with cleaning or order picking, you’ll be much more competitive as technology prices come down and more gadgets become available.
While there are still some challenges for companies on a budget, it’s smart to start small and implement changes. Over time, the IoT will become even more commonplace than it is. Your business will already be on the cutting edge, ready to embrace a new tomorrow.
Automatic robotic hand moving -DepositPhotos