It has been more than ten years since the concept industry 4.0 began to be heard in different sectors. As is often the case in many cases, where he was first heard of It was at a fair: in Hannover, at its Industrial Fair 2011. Little by little, it spread to all areas of the world of manufacturing and business, until in 2016, within the framework of the World Economic Forum in Davos, it was extended to all levels.
The number of years that has passed since then may suggest that all the steps have already been taken in the industry to renew itself and move towards it. But the reality is that in many sectors of industry, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is still some way off.
To achieve this there are still obstacles and barriers to overcome. Only in this way will companies have everything necessary to leave old processes behind and take full advantage of new technologies.
Main barriers to industry 4.0: outdated systems
The Companies and factories that have outdated IT systems, equipment and infrastructure have the main obstacle on their hands for progress towards industry 4.0. In addition to replacing the systems, they will have to face a significant financial investment, and changes in organization and management. Also to new processes, which will only arrive with the appropriate selection of what they need to achieve a smart factory.
In addition to the right hardware, they will also need to choose the software they need to run the systems and perform day-to-day tasks. They will also have to choose one or more partners to implement all or most of the changes. And they will have to take into account that the selection of infrastructure, if not done properly, can also lead to interoperability problems, misconfigurations, lack of security and instability.
To overcome this barrier it is necessary to update. But you don’t have to do it just any way, but with planning. Before doing anything, it is necessary to analyze the status of the systems and their level of update. Also see the operation of each piece of equipment and the system in which it is installed, and check how it relates to the systems of other departments. That is, updating systems must be addressed jointly throughout the company, because otherwise there is a risk of leaving entire departments and processes isolated.
The previous obstacle can lead us to this, which occurs when only some systems are updated without taking into account how they relate to the rest. Many companies and factories have been operating practically new equipment for decades, and other much older ones, at the same time. Just because these are still in good condition. These older machines and systems typically lack features and equipment that more modern machines already have. For example, sensors of different types and Internet connectivity, basic to convert a factory into smart ones.
Connecting these machines to the network, and providing them with sensors, can be complicated, but in many cases they can be updated with the necessary elements to do so. Of course, if the machine in question does not support renewal, the most advisable thing to avoid a problem when converting a factory into smart is to change it for another updated one with the necessary connectors. If you can, just update it and use integration software to connect systems, machines and equipment with computers in a data center or with the cloud.
Investing in an ERP system can also facilitate the planning necessary to move production and its planning towards an updated manufacturing process execution system, so that it manages even at the machinery control level. With it, production departments and those on the factory floor working with the machines will be able to exchange valuable information for decision-making.
Resource and budget limitations
Starting a smart factory, as we have seen, requires a fairly heavy investment. Especially with regard to the installation of IoT systems that can be used with existing machinery. It still goes up more if it is necessary to replace it, or adapt it to achieve this. In addition, it is possible that the control and execution systems use different standards, so it will be necessary to unify them if this is the case.
All of this means that the costs of deployments, and the difficulties of convincing a company’s managers that it is necessary to do so, greatly affect the implementation of smart factories. If possible, the changes can be made in stages, and begin by making the minimum modifications to modernize the equipment and processes, and gradually expand them.
Older factory and enterprise systems had very few Internet connections. This has changed over the years and the arrival of new technologies and processes. Nowadays, a factory has many vulnerable points to attacks, so Cybersecurity is a real obstacle for a company to get the most out of industry 4.0.
Protecting the multiple attack vectors that can arise in a factory adapted to Industry 4.0 is complicated. Especially with threats like the Stuxnet malware, which more than a decade ago affected all types of systems, and even industrial machinery. Or Petya, which six years ago caused several production stops at manufacturing plants.
If a factory has multiple connections of machinery and production systems, one solution to protect it as much as possible is to use cloud-based software. By always being updated, these systems are more protected. In addition, cloud infrastructure can offer security at various levels, something especially important in the case of Internet of Things systems.
Another solution, in case of having to have greater local control of systems, is to launch private 4G or 5G networks. In these cases, those responsible for their deployment and management control the spectrum they use to transmit data from the sensors, which provides more security. Of course, standard cybersecurity systems can always be added to all this, in addition to limiting access to IoT systems to workers and systems that have to use both the hardware and the data they collect.
Having a workforce with the necessary training to take full advantage of industry 4.0, once systems and infrastructure that allow it are implemented, is another of the obstacles that companies face. For starters, hiring staff with the necessary skills is not always possible. And those who already work in them do not, in many cases, have the necessary knowledge to change the way in which they carry out certain processes.
Therefore, the most advisable thing is to properly train workers. They must know not only how to change the way they work, but also how to interpret new information, and identify problematic processes and solve them. In addition, it is advisable to hire new profiles, generally experts in robotics or digital twins.
Changes throughout the company to reach industry 4.0
To make the most of Industry 4.0, it is not only necessary to make changes in factories or in certain production departments. It is also changes need to be made at higher levels. Thus, the management of companies dedicated to any industrial sector that want to take advantage of what industry 4.0 offers them has to change their mentality and make the entire company change it.
They can start by knowing exactly at what point it is necessary to change processes, which departments have to carry out the first tests of changes, or how to coordinate with the rest so that the tests are successful and then deploy the selected changes.
Before making any changes you can help identify use cases and points in which variations can be made with a contained investment and effort. Above all, it is important that these changes generate a quick and noticeable return on investment. In this way, everyone in the company will understand that modernizing, even if it means having to face obstacles and difficulties, is beneficial.