March 29, 2019

Why Mid-Size Manufacturers Should Care About the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Good, bad or otherwise, disruption is inevitable. At least, that is what we’ve come to expect. In the modern age, we’ve experienced three industrial revolutions to-date—steam and water power, electricity and assembly lines, and computerization. Yet, another is coming. Are you ready for what’s next?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will be a fusion of technology that blends physical, digital, and biological systems. Essentially, knowledge is becoming available to accelerate innovation in all fields. As in past revolutions, many legacy approaches and investments will be de-valued or completely displaced.

No one truly knows what impact 4IR will have, but experts believe it will be far-reaching and life-changing. It has the power to transform the way we live, work, and interact with the world. Among others, the connection between the physical and digital world will likely affect manufacturer’s productivity, quality, and needed skills within the labor force.

What we do know is the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be rocket fuel to those who embrace innovation. Leaders will be pushed to abandon traditional ways of thinking and, instead, move towards the path of disruption. It’s not just about reacting to day-to-day responsibilities, but thinking strategically about the future. In short, opportunity lies in a fundamental shift of perspective. For those who can identify connections between market needs and emerging technologies, success is up for the taking.

Technology: So Many Choices, So Many Questions

Determining which technologies to use and how best to employ them is both a gift and a concern. With more choices come more questions. Technology breakthroughs including robotics, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, fifth-generation wireless technologies (5G), additive manufacturing/3D printing, and fully autonomous vehicles will compete for attention.

This increased capability begs the questions: Where do you begin? How much automation is right? What should be measured and what is the data used for? How can workers find a path to new skills and remain relevant? How does one qualify and prioritize investments for the coming revolution? To answer these questions, manufacturers must not lose sight of what’s truly important. Technology is no doubt a driver into the future, but only as it enhances key sources of value creation in business:

  1. People – Are you creating spaces where people want to work, and will thrive? If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to put your people first. Out of all the technologies at our fingertips, people will continue to be your greatest asset. Empower them.
  2. Structure – Is your building, production lines and processes efficient and effective? Infrastructure is going to play a major role in the success or failure of your business. Smart, connected manufacturing facilities will have a clear advantage over less sophisticated competitors.
  3. Supply Chain – Do you connect with suppliers and customers in a meaningful way? As the collaboration between stakeholders becomes a necessity for creating transparency, it will become critical to analyze how the Fourth Industrial Revolution impacts the supply chain.

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