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Industry 4.0 is on course to transform manufacturing. It refers to the intelligent networking of machines and processes for industries with the latest technology innovations and enablers. Based on the adoption of real-time, interconnected, and transformative technologies, Industry 4.0 empowers companies to increase productivity and asset efficiency while delivering a larger number of customized products or batches with higher quality.


Until recently, supply chains were measured on efficiency. Today, manufacturers are facing the combined challenges of a changing buyer journey, increased demand for products at a lower cost, a rise in trade volatility, and a global pandemic, so new technologies will bring enormous benefits.


A successful transformation relies on having a high-functioning, interconnected ecosystem. This applies both to the cross-communication of technology on the factory floor as well as the external partnerships needed to bring new skills and capabilities into manufacturing facilities.


SAP, Verizon, and Hitachi have partnered to do just that. I recently participated in a webinar hosted by SAP, Bring Real-time Solutions to Industry 4.NOW, with leaders from Verizon and Hitachi. We discussed how manufacturers can benefit from advanced technology, and how we are supporting customers throughout their digital journey. It was an informative session that touched on many aspects of Industry 4.0. Here are some of the key topics we discussed:


Challenges in manufacturing


Manufacturers have faced uncertainty and increased expectations for some time. Companies are challenged to reduce costs, increase productivity, and improve quality and asset utilization, while maintaining consistent delivery, despite fluctuating and disruptive demands.


While these pressures existed before COVID-19, the drastic shifts in supply and demand introduced a new level of difficulty. This has resulted in manufacturers needing to produce smarter products with better quality during times of volatile market demands, especially the one that we're living through right now.


More than ever, manufacturers need access to digital technologies that enable the gathering and analysis of data across machines and business systems to drive business value. In short, the key tenets of Industry 4.0.


The Industry 4.0 ecosystem


As companies move from the assessment to the planning and deployment phases of Industry 4.0, partnerships will be key. More than 70% of the world’s transactions touch SAP systems, which makes the company a natural ally for maximizing the value of Industry 4.0.


SAP’s strategy for Industry 4.0 addresses four defined areas of benefit:


  • Intelligent products: Built and configured to meet exactly what customers need.

  • Intelligent assets: Linked to all processes and dynamically maintained.

  • Intelligent factories: Using data and intelligence to run as autonomously as possible and deliver customized products at scale.

  • Empowered people: Equipped with all the tools and information they need to do their best work.


Verizon brings these benefits to life via an innovation platform that leverages wireless connectivity (4G, 5G) and software-defined networks along with edge-computing to address the demands of the real-time enterprise. By connecting massive arrays of sensors, devices, sensors, and machines and harvesting data off them for processing at the edge Verizon enables enterprises to obtain real-time visibility into its operations. With Verizon's 5G and MEC or mobile-edge-compute offering, businesses will be able to re-invent the way they engage with end-customers and leverage the intelligence from a myriad of smart connected devices to transform the speed and accuracy of decision-making.  Manufacturers gain from low latency and high reliability, advanced speed and throughput, service deployment and energy efficiency, and mobility and connected services.


During the webinar, Arleen Cauchi, Managing Director of GTM at Verizon, discussed how the partnership can benefit customers. “Businesses who are looking to innovate and transform their businesses need to marry the network, the emerging technologies, with the business applications, so this partnership accelerates ideation and innovation. It accelerates the customer’s ability to move from what is possible, to implementation.”


The partnership is completed by Hitachi, one of the world’s largest manufacturers. The Hitachi team brings expertise and industry credibility that has been gained through helping more than 1000 companies digitally transform over the past 20 years. This vast experience gives customers the reassurance of peer support and access to insights from Hitachi’s own journey to Industry 4.0.


Jack Roman, VP of Hitachi’s SAP Practice, explained: “We help companies take technology from SAP, from Verizon, and put it into practice. One of the most important tasks of that, perhaps the most important initially, is to create business value.”


Industry 4.0 benefits


The informative webinar outlined several key use cases for manufacturing and demonstrated how SAP, Verizon, and Hitachi are co-innovating and creating pre-integrated solutions to deliver transformative solutions for manufacturing customers.


For example, companies can use sensor data to improve efficiencies on the factory floor, in the warehouse, or in the distribution center. Sensors can deliver all types of data including visual, vibrations, and temperature in real-time. This data can be collected using 5G, analyzed at the edge, and via the SAP applications in the cloud using AI/ML algorithms - so that a company can make faster decisions to reduce scrap, minimize employee injuries, enhance quality control, and improve inventory management.


“A key concept to grasp is that these new technologies that are now available, are enabling solutions that were either impossible or just too costly in the past,” said Cauchi. “It will change how businesses operate, the data they collect, and the services they provide.”


Real-time intelligence gives plant managers visibility at every step of the production process, driving business value without the need for new assets. Through data, customers can gain insight into how to get more from existing plants and machinery without having to make new capital investments.


Roman explained, “These new technologies allow companies to solve problems in real-time for things like digitizing your end-to-end supply chain, taking care of health and safety, taking it from compliance and reporting to proactively monitoring what is happening in real-time.” He continued, “There’s really no more limitation to what you can store and analyze, and it really makes using things like AI and predictive analytics feasible.”


This is critical during times of economic uncertainty. Industry 4.0 has proven particularly helpful in finding solutions to pandemic-related challenges. Sensors can be repurposed on the shop floor to track employee health or adherence to social distancing guidelines. For desk-based employees, the adoption of cloud solutions in areas like collaboration and digital workspaces means that work can be conducted securely from any location.


Start your Industry 4.0 journey


The adoption and acceptance of new, smart technologies in manufacturing will take time, and it begins with having the right approach.


Shifting stakeholder mindset is key so that when processes are updated or investments are prioritized, Industry 4.0 is top of mind. Doing this proactively is less disruptive than waiting until a cataclysmic event like a failed asset – or a global pandemic – forces the change.


“It’s especially important today,” said Roman, “when there are so many ‘unpredictables’ that are impacting business.”


The pandemic has also shown that, to some degree, the adoption of Industry 4.0 is unavoidable. The way that solutions have pivoted to support COVID-19 requirements is an example of just how flexible the technology can be. Whether it is now or later, technology will sweep through the manufacturing sector.


There is no single roadmap to Industry 4.0, so to maximize its positive impact, business leaders need long-term strategic planning with clear objectives. When manufacturers are ready to start their journey to Industry 4.0, we’ll be ready to help. As Cauchi concluded during the webinar, “In the end, we deliver a reliable team and ecosystem for fast and secure end-to-end solution deployment.”


For guidance on developing your company’s Industry 4.0 strategy, register for the webinar replay, ‘SAP, Verizon, and Hitachi bring real-time to Industry 4.NOW: Edge for Digital Supply Chain Manufact...

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