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A new report on digitalisation in Australia’s industries indicates that there is still widespread hesitation when it comes to embracing Industry 4.0 technologies due to perceptions of high costs.
The Demystifying Industry 4.0: Helping SMEs lay the tracks for Australia’s digitalisation express train white paper follows in-depth interviews with over a dozen company executives and ongoing engagement with the local advanced manufacturing sector.
The report states that no industry sector or business will escape the impact of Industry 4.0, with disruptive changes already escalating rapidly across industries.
RMIT University’s Dr Ben Cheng, who led the project, said fear of cost and feeling overwhelmed with the complexity of linking older and newer technologies into a single data stream was still holding many local SMEs back despite the massive potential to be realised.
“The businesses we talked to mostly assumed Industry 4.0 implementation was inherently costly and therefore only within reach of large, cashed-up corporations,” Cheng said.
“Contrary to these perceptions, transitioning to i4.0 technologies doesn’t necessarily require major investment – there are more affordable technologies, such as data analytics, that can return significant value when expertly deployed within a manufacturing enterprise.”
The white paper suggests that getting started in transitioning to Industry 4.0 technologies, even at an entry-level, can yield direct bottom-line benefits and pave the way for higher returns as a business’s level of data maturity grows.
“For low-profit margin manufacturing operations, in particular, staying agile and with or ahead of the game is crucial. The potential impacts of incrementally increasing the efficiency of mechanical and human resources, cutting costs and reducing waste cannot be understated.”
The key requisites for success in transitioning to Industry 4.0 technology, as outlined in the white paper, were a commitment of top management, a deep understanding of one’s own business and the potential and desired level of transformation, and having a clear implementation strategy.
Cheng said many companies were struggling to get their heads around what the most relevant data was and extracting value from it.
“That deep understanding of your own business includes understanding what data you currently produce, or potentially could produce,” he said.
“Before investing in Industry 4.0 solutions, a business needs to develop a specific understanding of which data is most essential to capture, who within their organisation will use it, and how that data can be presented to these people in meaningful ways that meet their needs.”
The white paper also outlines the value of partnering with universities to get PhD researchers working on projects, or hiring recent university graduates, as ways to tap into the next generation of engineers with digital know-how.
Cheng said that while taking a business towards Industry 4.0 doesn’t have to happen overnight, there is still a need for timely action, particularly if competitors are already gearing up and introducing Industry 4.0 technologies.
“The Industry 4.0 express train is leaving the platform and playing catch up if left behind could be costly. It is important to be on that train and to keep moving forward as quickly and strategically as possible,” Cheng said.