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It was Robert Shiller, a Yale University Professor of Economics and Nobel laureate who famously said “You cannot wait until a house burns down to buy fire insurance on it. We cannot wait until there are massive dislocations in our society to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

This quote has been particularly pertinent over the last year, especially for manufacturers and distributors who have needed to contend with countless supply chain disruptions and operational inefficiencies. While many manufacturers and distributors are viewing Industry 4.0 as a reasonable assurance against future disruptions, there are still hesitations.

Industry 4.0 – Competitive Advantage or Unnecessary Expenditure?

Industry 4.0 has been a buzzword for well over a decade. While the market has spoken about the benefits of digital transformation for quite some time, many manufacturers have been particularly hesitant to embrace this ‘new normal’ due to perceived capital commitments and a lengthy implementation and payback process. Many believe that emerging technologies will be replaced by newer technologies in the near future – so what is the point?

Despite the hesitations of the past, the disruptions of the pandemic have proven that the uptake of Industry 4.0 is now indispensable in translating efficiency and productivity gains back into the business.

In order for Industry 4.0 to provide sufficient competitive advantage without being an unnecessary expenditure, manufacturers need to think about which business pain points they need to resolve, what these pain points are worth to them, and how their digital strategy needs to maximize ROI.

A Two-Tiered Approach to Industry 4.0

With those foundational needs in mind, manufacturers need to view industry 4.0 through two lenses:

  • Customer experience, and
  • Operational efficiencies

Industry 4.0 to Improve the Customer Experience

Investment in digital transformation should start with the requirements of the end customer in mind. During the pandemic, manufacturers realized the importance of connectedness to both suppliers and customers within their eco-system. Any delays in customer delivery could have resulted in long-term reputational damage and revenue loss. Here Industry 4.0 plays a vital role in real-time engagement. For example, chatbots or ‘digital citizens’ have enabled or augmented human ability by offering customers a 24/7 touchpoint.

In addition to providing real-time customer service, manufacturers have started exploring new business models to increase customer engagement through digital channels. For example – the endless possibilities of e-commerce as a new revenue model.

Improving customer service has always been a major priority for successful manufacturers and distributors, and the continued integration of technology within manufacturing should assist in improving it even further.

Industry 4.0 to Enable Operational Efficiencies

Over the last year, manufacturers have realized that with supply chain disruptions, data was of value in understanding their businesses’ stable source of supply and ability to maintain healthy inventory levels. For this reason, the rollout of Shop Floor Data Collection (SFDC), is regarded as one of the cornerstones of the Industry 4.0 initiative. It involves the real-time tracking of jobs against schedule and identification of any delays. Most integrated SFDC capabilities require an ERP, the SFDC software, the appropriate adapters, and software drivers to get all the information to where it needs to go and assist the business with real-time decisions.

Beyond the application of SFDC and automation, businesses should also invest in enterprise technologies such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Business Intelligence (BI) to achieve better clarity and transparency of information across the whole business to enable enhanced decision-making in real-time.

Looking Ahead

Ultimately, the customer always remains at the heart of your business. Without them, you have no business. The key is to invest in DX with their needs in mind. In that way, industry 4.0 needn’t be an unnecessary expenditure, but rather an investment into the future of your business. Manufacturers and distributors can also look at key technologies that resolve specific business pain points.

Yes, you do need some sort of insurance in place before the fire is ignited, but you can strategically select the best insurance to serve your specific needs. Industry 4.0 doesn’t need to be an ‘all or nothing’ investment.