One of the explicit goals of Industry 4.0 in the long run is to empower autonomous machine decision making within production processes. This is a lofty goal—requiring highly visible and highly legible data streams combined with AI or machine learning integration—but it does have the potential to add considerable value to supply chain management processes. How does it do so? By freeing up human decision making capacity for larger-scale choices, and by automating the process by which data is turned into action—i.e. creating an implicit set of procedures for different situations that might emerge on the factory floor. In this way, manufacturers can build new efficiencies into their existing processes and drive towards an increasingly optimized supply chain.
In a recent poll, PwC found that while 60% of respondents were “dabbling” with Industry 4.0 technology, only 3% had truly achieved a working Industry 4.0 paradigm. To some of you, this might come as a big surprise. After all, Industry 4.0 has been the subject of countless news stories, opinion pieces, blog posts, and whitepapers in the last several years—almost all of them pointing out its unprecedented potential for changing the face of manufacturing. Some readers, on the other hand, probably aren’t surprised by this statistic in the slightest. Why? Because they know how difficult it can be to find and implement the kinds of technology solutions that make Industry 4.0 possible. Businesses often have to wade through jargon to understand what’s on offer, and a solution, once selected, might require large-scale operational changes that can be difficult to implement. To help mitigate some of these challenges, here are a few questions to ask yourself as you evaluate Industry 4.0 technology solutions for your manufacturing outfit.
Imagine for a moment that you’re planning to do some small renovations to expand your house. They’re straightforward enough that you can do all of the work yourself, but since you have a day job, you can only do the work at night. What’s the first thing you buy? If you answered floodlights, flashlights, or any other light-emitting piece of equipment, then you have the right mentality for success in the modern supply chain. After all, doing work on a house that you can’t see can be dangerous and inefficient. In the same way, trying to grow your business in spite of low visibility can prove not just difficult, but risky. To prove it, here are five way that end-to-end (E2E) supply chain visibility plays an important role in building a smarter, more efficient business.
Discussions around the effects of climate change have been among the dominant topics of conversation in the first two decades of the 21st century. As global leaders in government and business consider what steps must be taken in order to ensure the health of our natural resources and ecosystems, businesses can almost certainly expect changes to the way that supply chains operate. Many within the worlds of manufacturing and shipping are beginning to track their carbon footprints and overall environmental impacts, but still others are unsure of the potential considerations involved. If you’re in the latter camp, we hope that these four facts will help give you a grounding in conversations around green footprint optimization.
With a name like “intelligent planning,” it’s hard to imagine that many companies would express a strong preference to do the opposite. And yet, despite intelligent planning’s status as a potential value-added proposition with the ability to smooth out production and transport workflows, many businesses have been slow to implement smarter scheduling and operational planning processes. The reason for this is simple: many modern manufacturers are stuck in the past when it comes to data visibility and planning workflows. Production plans created with pen and ink or Excel spreadsheets can never provide the level of agility, flexibility, or transparency that a lean supply chain requires, but many companies’ planning workflows are unable to evolve do to widespread planning silos and shadow IT.
If you had walked onto a factory floor during the second or third industrial revolution, it would have been immediately obvious what was so modern about what you were witnessing. You would have seen raw parts being turned into complex products on a moving assembly line, or newly automated processes making use of modern industrial machinery and early computer networks. In the world of Industry 4.0, the so-called “fourth industrial revolution,” the differences in appearance might be more subtle. You might still see a mix of manual labor and automated, computerized systems carrying out various production tasks, while many of important innovation brought about by Industry 4.0 might remain invisible to you. You might even be prompted to ask, “what’s so modern about modern manufacturing?”
Administering an integrated supply chain in today’s manufacturing industry is a tricky proposition. No matter how carefully and thoroughly planners and managers work to reduce volatility and uncertainty in any number of variant-rich industries, the complexity of a global manufacturing and supply stream means companies must work harder than ever to ensure their value streams are responsive enough to weather potential breakdowns, disruptions, shortages, and other obstacles in facilitating effective supply chain management.
Think about the process of writing an email for a moment. How do you go about this task? Do you compose the email in one session without filtering what you want to say or the information you want to convey, only then to go back and reread and edit the email at some later date? Or (and perhaps mostly likely, at least for many people), do you compose the email and edit as you go, deleting phrases, substituting words, or changing ideas and adapting the information in the moment as necessary for the best possible communication?
Odds are the most common method of emailing is the latter where edits and alterations are made in real-time as thoughts, ideas, and information hits you during the composing process. Where the first example may be a relic of the past when typewriters or handwritten correspondence was the norm, digital communication and the capacity to edit, rewrite, and revise in the moment means greater maneuverability in creating moments for effective, streamlined, and more productive communication. Where writing and editing/revising were at one time two distinct processes, today these functions are more or less integrated into one function with a greater level of process efficacy.
For all the bluster about the latest and greatest technological advancements and developments in today’s global supply chain management, it’s important to remember what the true essence of supply chain logistics revolves around: putting the right product in front of the right people at the right time. It may sound simplistic, but as global partner networks continue to expand and already variant-rich industries continue to diversify, it becomes increasingly difficult to execute a very basic premise.
Achieving end-to-end visibility (E2E) in today’s automotive supply chain is like creating the perfect play in an American football game. The right players have to be on the field at the right time and used in the right manner in order to move the ball down the field and give the team the best chance to score a touchdown. Players move strategically about the field, anticipating how the opposing team will react, and responding to those reactions in ways that allow for the best chance of putting points on the scoreboard. Coaches write the plays, players execute them, and the success of each play is then reviewed by both parties to create future successes.
For OEMs and supply chain planners and managers, E2E visibility is the game and the solutions and platforms available to them are the players. Deploying these solutions, platforms, or strategies is analogous to coaches creating and executing plays, and getting a score is similar to an OEM experiencing enhanced productivity, growth, and customer satisfaction due to the reliability of production programs and delivery.