Machine Shops: Own Your Industrial Revolution

It’s time to launch a new industrial revolution in your own shop or plant. Call it [Your Shop Name Here] 4.0.


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Don’t worry too much if you can’t name, or give dates to, the three industrial revolutions that have preceded the fourth Industrial Revolution said to be underway these days. And it’s not a disaster if you can’t explain everything referred to by the term Industry 4.0. Concentrate instead on applying the digital technology that makes the most sense for your company right now.

Whatever we want to call it, the underlying concept of using computer networks to gather lots of data from connected devices and turn that data into actionable information is a big deal. This development enables shops and plants to make better decisions about manufacturing processes, thereby leading to substantial increases in productivity, product quality and efficiency. Facts and figures, not guesses or wishes, will drive manufacturing. However, each company will have to join this revolution on its own.

And that’s my point. Your shop’s revolution (perhaps refer to it as Your Shop Name 4.0 or My Industry 4.0) has to be real, doable, practical and even personal. Make it work for your shop; make it work for your job. For companies that rely on machine tools, installing a machine-monitoring system is likely the first step. Taking this step in the context or framework of a larger 4.0 plan is recommended because it clarifies where the effort is headed, even if all the details of the vision are not yet settled. (I believe it’s OK to make this a figure-it-out-as-you-go process, with an attentive planning team to guide progress). At least identify what comes after machine monitoring. Perhaps it is a new DNC system, a comprehensive preventive/predictive maintenance program or other evolutionary step.

Having a Your Shop Name 4.0 plan can also be a marketing tool. Let your customers know what you are doing. Have a 4.0 page on your company website to outline your long-term goals and short-term objectives. Update it regularly with progress reports. Many shops already publicize their lean manufacturing efforts because customers expect to see the added value from such ongoing programs. Do the same with your 4.0 program. Make it clear that your revolution is ultimately about your customers getting greater value.

And like the so-called “lean journey,” Your Shop Name 4.0 is an open-ended process. The transition to data-driven manufacturing must be supported and sustained by a genuine commitment to “keeping on moving on.” Sweeping revolutions do not happen overnight.

Will every Your Shop Name 4.0 program succeed? Possibly not. I do believe that the chances for success are high, though. My faith is based on the fact that, unlike the shift to steam-powered mechanization in the 1800s, electric motors and assembly lines in the 1900s, and computerization in the 1960s, the infrastructure for shopfloor connectivity is broadly supported beyond the industrial sector. Adapting technology, rather than inventing it, is a head start with clear advantages. Pathways are being opened for us. That said, every Your Shop Name 4.0 program will be a uniquely pioneering adventure. Embrace it. Do it. Own it.