Industry 4.0 and Operational Excellence consultants Part I

Industry 4.0 is the buzzword today. The scope of Operational Excellence in industry 4.0 is still a mystery. Will there be a significant difference in the method of implementation from today and the days of industry 4.0? This is one question that bugs most of the OE consultants around today. There is no doubt that with Industry 4.0, fundamental changes are expected to come – the keyword is DISRUPTION. In Industry 4.0, machines exchange information among themselves; components report where they are & receive information about where they need to go at what time, control programs react when machines fail and parts are produced almost without human intervention. It is a boon. Machines taking care of themselves and objects starting to communicate with each other. Soon, each company will be a digital organization. Typically, a scene has been created that in Industry 4.0, robots will take over the humans and we will all be relieved from our professions.

Excellence is nothing but the pursuit of perfection. It has no end. Have we ever found a great difference in the implementation methodology of Operational Excellence over these years – Difference between today and what 10 years ago? One would find hardly any. There may be differences but limited to a great extent. However, this does not mean we should not be attempting innovation in the process of implementation. This is the key. In the upcoming years, manufacturing companies will face varieties of challenges.

 a.    Exponential changes

For Operational excellence experts, change is not new. In fact they are the agents of change. However, it is the rate of change we are discussing here. We are in the days of exponential changes. What we study in the first year of graduation is becoming obsolete by the time we complete our graduation. What we designed and produced today needs upgrade tomorrow. We need to be geared up as to handling this change – Adaptability, flexibility & agility are the essential keys. They are needed in the methods, machines and most importantly among the people.  Let us not forget that machine & methods will never complain but Man will!

 b.   Low volume – High mix

The demands of customer/ consumers are ever-increasing. Days have arrived that consumers would not like to have a part that is similarly possessed by others. They are willing to pay more to have a product with a personal twist in it. This means low volume – high variety. This would make the processes bit complex for the manufacturers. This challenge is not only for the manufacturers but also for supply chain as customers would not wait.

 c.    De-skill

The forthcoming days will face a major challenge of finding the skilled labour work force. The kids of present-day labours are tomorrow’s engineers. Finding the skilled work force who can work on shop floor has become difficult. Hence, the equipment has to be built in such a way that it suits the modern trends – user friendly with less of human inputs on field. The present generation is at the vague end of their professional career which means a lot of experience & expertise will wane and need to be replaced within a short period. The gen-next, that is digital-savvy, raised by internet, has to fulfil the void created. It has its own strengths and weaknesses. This transformation will bring challenges meaning more opportunities.

d.   Go Green

If not for the Government’s sake, for the sake of humanity, to pass on the abundance of Mother Nature to the future generations, Go-Green is an inevitable initiative. There will be enormous pressure on each manufacturer to reduce the carbon foot-print. Go-Green is no longer an optional feature or an obligation but has become a competitive advantage.

e.   Cost – Where is the money?

With all the changes around, another factor that will remain constant is – Yeh Dil Maange more (this heart needs more). Get more with less! Staying competitive in business means retaining customers, which mean give them more value for their money while maintaining the bottom line.

Hence, as to get different results, OE experts have to try out something different, something innovative. Innovation only can help us tackle the challenges of tomorrow! To make the transformation, operational excellence should put the new technologies into right use. Industry version 4.0, in general, is referred also as Industry of digital technologies. We need to ascertain the current state. What is the status of industry in India right now? Are we still in Industry 2.0 or we have moved onto 3.0 waiting to cling onto 4.0? What do we expect from 4.0 and what have we achieved so far? With regard to Operational excellence, how industry 4.0 supports it and how Operational excellence can be a part of industry 4.0?

Days are gone when single brain with own expertise and in-depth knowledge engaged in innovation. Courtesy, technological advances, the globe has shrunk to the size of a ball (or you can term Earth has become flat) and hence networking has become easier. Real time networking across the globe enhances collaboration. This collaboration acts as a catalyst to innovation. Meaning, innovation has to happen in collaboration with others. Operational Excellence experts have to collaborate with technological experts (as to understand the technology and how it can be used in implementing OE) and manufacturing organizations.

Operation Excellence Catalysts have to involve themselves right from the conceptual stage itself. 3P – Production preparation process is the key. IDM or Innovation Development Management is key. Inculcating KaizenÔ or Lean from the conceptual stage. This is not so different from any Operational excellence project – providing a structure, engaging the members, guiding the processes, communication, gate reviews, and above all change management. The additional aspect here is to engage business and technology together with a clear end-result in focus.

As we were discussing about innovating the Operational excellence toolbox, we should also realize that we, as operational excellence practitioners, should have the basic knowledge, if not in detail, on new technologies evolved. We should be aware of what the new technologies are capable of today and what about their future changes. It is easier said than done. Hence, collaborating with the technology experts is the key. The technology experts bring in their expertise and applications, which will provide us insight on HOW to practice OE in digital age.

One might wonder, “…Then what is the role of Operational excellence practitioners here as the technological experts do everything!” Let us not forget one thing – technology experts are not OE practitioners. Let us all agree that innovation per se, needs to be evolved, structured, guided and managed as to get the right results. The onus is on coordination and accountability. This task is ably done by OE practitioners. It is the OE practitioners who will advise why there is a need of innovation, who will collaborate with whom, which technology has to be adapted and how. They will also explain why technology is needed and what the benefits are against doing this in traditional method. Let us remember one fact – Industry 4.0 is not taking over from Operational Excellence but is complementing.

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