Most prognosticators have pretty much agreed that Industry 4.0 is going to radically change the world of manufacturing through big data, cyber-physical systems, and internet of things (IoT) integration—but not everyone agrees on exactly what this new paradigm is really going to look like. This might seem like disagreement, but in reality it’s part of the point: Industry 4.0 is going to look different at different companies. It’s even going to look different during different seasons, or for different production flows. An easy, consistent definition and an easy set of IT expectations is anathema to the whole idea of the fourth industrial revolution.
If you ever go to Las Vegas, you should be advised that casinos heavily frown upon card counting, and it’s easy to understand why. A game like blackjack is supposed to be more or less random in terms of what cards are dealt when, which puts the house at an advantage. Over the course of several hands (before the entire deck has been reshuffled), however, a careful observer can note the proportion of face cards that have come out in order to come up with a rolling estimate of how likely or unlikely they are to come up in future hands. This puts the player at a real statistical advantage over the house—at least until the casino politely (or not so politely) asks her to leave.
Industry 4.0 technology is making its impact felt all along the supply chain as we enter the third decade of the 21st-century. Alongside IoT sensors, GPS trackers, smart pallets, and robotic picking technology, the progress made in supply chain management software has been unstoppable. Whereas once Excel sufficed to layout a strategic plan and track forecasting, today this method is becoming increasingly outdated and outpaced by more collaborative options. These new systems allow for real-time updates and enable real-time collaboration on planning documents by multiple stakeholders at the same time.
From 2018 to 2019, Gartner’s outlook on Industry 4.0 adoption seemingly became a little less sanguine. It’s certainly not the case that their opinion of the potential of this massive industrial paradigm shift has lessened in any way, but the focus of their Industry 4.0 predictions for 2018 was how CIOs could find useful models of successful digitization, while for 2019 their focus was on dealing with the gap between expectations and reality that numerous industrial businesses are encountering with new technology. Again, it’s not that the outlook on Industry 4.0 itself is any less rosy than it was a year ago, but it seems like we’re reaching the point where real implementation hurdles are beginning to show themselves.
Wouldn’t it be nice if supply chains could run themselves? Well, between automated scheduling, production machinery, and even logistics planning, you can achieve a fair approximation using the right tools. Even so, there are plenty of places along the value chain where things can go sideways. The headaches may be less frequent, but they are no less real. No matter how seemingly care-free your supply chain, there are aspects you’ll want to closely monitor to ensure that smooth running continues. Crucial to each of these is the visibility into your processes that comes with Industry 4.0 technology and a solid supply chain management solution.
Have you ever headed out for a family picnic, only to arrive and find your favorite meadow has been dug up to make way for a new housing development? Or left the house for a walk, and had it start pouring rain once you were ½ mile away? Did you have a contingency plan for that picnic, a backup location already selected? Were you carrying a raincoat in your backpack on that walk? These are examples of real-time planning in the regular world, but the concept transfers directly into the manufacturing realm in the form of being able to adjust and pivot as necessary. This real-time planning ability relies on more accurate demand forecasts, better visibility into the production line, and greater reporting functionality. In order for your company’s APS (advanced planning and scheduling) to be effective, let alone real-time, there are some contingencies that you’ll need to take into account.
Depending on your background, when you were a child your parents might have told you that your Christmas presents came from Santa Claus. From a supply chain planning perspective, this would have made things difficult for you, since your only source of information was fairly opaque, and you had little insight into the distribution mechanisms for toys and gifts. As a result, you were stuck jumping through whatever holiday hoops were presented to you, whether that was mailing a letter to St. Nick or putting out milk and cookies the night before. Once you realized the truth, however, all bets were off. At that point, you knew that the things that wound up under the tree just came from the toy store, and if you were feeling enterprising you could change your supplier relations to arrive at more favorable terms.
Has your supply chain management situation changed recently? We’d wager it has. With the introduction of Industry 4.0 technologies to the value chain over the last few years, things have been changing at an ever-increasing pace. Where once there were information silos, spreadsheets, and clipboards, now there are SCMS solutions, AI-powered advanced analytics, and IoT sensors. Rather than being the purview of autonomous managers acting in their own departments’ best interests, there are CSOs (chief supply chain officers) acting in the best interest of the whole company. And along with that shift has come a renewed understanding that the company’s best interest is generally synonymous with the customer’s.
There’s a coffee shop down the road known for ham & cheese croissants. So you stop by one morning only to discover that they’re out. The barista says they only get 3-4 each day and that they’re generally gone before 8:00 AM. The 2 people behind you sighed and said they were looking for the same thing. This is the best (and smallest scale) analogy I’ve ever seen for poor demand capacity planning. The shop knows there is a demand for the item, and they know the bakery makes more than they order, yet they never have enough to even come close to meeting demand. Leaving many unhappy, and unsatisfied, customers debating the breakfast options down the street. For you, the demand capacity planner, this is the scenario you dread more than anything—being unable to meet your customers’ demands and losing them to competitors as a result. Follow along with the following steps, and you’ll be on your way to avoiding this situation by keeping production and demand evenly matched.
The manufacturing industry is in a bit of a pickle. Emerging technologies are coming at it from every direction, as digital transformation and integrated supply chains are being touted as the solution to all their woes. Industry 4.0, Logistics 4.0, AI, IoT, RFID, there are enough buzzwords and acronyms to make even the most seasoned production planner’s head spin. What’s a planner to do? As with so many areas of life, the key is to move one step at a time. See if any of the following five challenges apply to you, and if so, start by addressing them. Then, when you can see your way clear of that challenge, you’ll have a better understanding of what to address next for the greatest impact.