|| Written by Kevin H. Touchette

There are many breakthroughs in the fields of information technology, mobile communications and robotics. Consequently to these technologies, digital technologies are bringing companies to real change. These have a significant impact on their competitiveness, productivity, investment and employee skills development. Due to Industry 4.0, Quebec’s manufacturing SMEs are facing a new industrial revolution imposing new challenges.

WHAT IS INDUSTRY 4.0?

Industry 4.0, also called the fourth industrial revolution, was developed by the German government. Its objective was to gain and maintain a global competitive advantage in manufacturing companies. This revolution is characterized by intelligent automation and the integration of new technologies into the organization’s value chain. Furthermore, it consists of monitoring and controlling your equipment in real time by installing sensors at each stage of the production process.

Technology allows you to keep an eye on your production, which improves the quality of your products. It also helps you reduce – even eliminate – downtime. The data on your equipment warns you when to service the machines. They can also alert you to imminent failures. The new smart factories are characterized by continuous and instant communication between the various tools and workstations integrated into the production and supply chains.

Just like the mechanization, electrification, automation and globalization that preceded it, this revolution promises to have a remarkable impact on the way we produce and sell goods. It is integrated in the heart of industrial processes.

THE MAIN CHALLENGES

Connectivity of data and objects is the critical component of Industry 4.0. Connectivity of software, equipment, data, massive data to be processed and cybersecurity. These are all essential elements that create intelligence in a manufacturing system. A system capable of greater adaptability in production and a more efficient allocation of resources.

But the challenges facing companies with the arrival of Industry 4.0 are numerous. The main ones are:

  • The new skills required;
  • Data security;
  • Investment needs.

CHALLENGE 1: NEW SKILLS REQUIRED

In order to successfully transition to Industry 4.0, the manufacturing company must examine the new skills that are required. Together with these skills, it must deepen the need for qualified personnel. The major challenge facing the company is to train employees and recruit new resources. It’s about finding the most appropriate approach for the company to successfully reconfigure its value chain and preserve / build its competitive advantages.

German companies have decided to focus on the continuous training of their employees. Training resources internally is a much more accessible approach to begin the transition to Industry 4.0. However, this is not enough to successfully implement the factory of the future. Studies in Germany and the United States have shown that for the vast majority of industrial employees, the skills required for Industry 4.0 are not present. Quebec is facing the same thing.

CHALLENGE 2: DATA SECURITY

Data security is a concern for all companies that have decided to switch to Industry 4.0.

The multiplication of data and systems in the company highlights the importance of the computer security aspect. When technologies were connected to the internal network and centralized in the same building, securing everything was easier. The arrival of a multitude of connected objects, now imposes the management of cybersecurity when setting up the IT infrastructure of the company.

CHALLENGE 3: INVESTMENT NEEDS

Manufacturing SMEs must make significant investments, ranging from 7% to 9% of their turnover, to integrate new digital technologies. Thus, the development of an Industry 4.0 strategy and a digital plan is a must in SMEs. This will enable them to make better investment decisions for the acquisition and integration of new technologies.

The digital plan must be embedded in the strategic planning of the organization. Its objectives will be to optimize the current tools, draw up the plan for acquiring future technologies and ensure their cohesion and integration. All this taking into account the business model.

THIS IS THE TIME TO ACT!

In conclusion, the Industry 4.0 concept corresponds to a new way of organizing the means of production. The goal is to set up so-called smart factories to respond more quickly to the market, in a personalized way and at a lower cost. A strong culture of continuous improvement will undoubtedly be an asset for this transformation.

Industry 4.0 is giving ourselves the infrastructure and the means to innovate, be competitive and prosper. Considering the transformation already underway in Germany, France, the United States, China and Brazil, it is imperative that Quebec manufacturing companies take the digital turn to regain a dynamic position in the economy.

SOURCE

Ministère de l’Économie, de la Science et de l’Innovation du Québec (MESI) – Espace Conseils PME
Gouvernement du Québec, Plan d’action en économie numérique, 2016, 77 p.
Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)
Max BLANCHET, INDUSTRIE 4.0, Nouvelle donne industrielle, nouveau modèle économique.