Industry 4.0 and you

When people hear the phrase “Industry 4.0”, the thought process each goes through can be quite diverse. “What does it mean?” “How can I afford robots? Where do they fit in with what our company does?!”

These are all reactions that we have heard to Industry 4.0 in the past and will continue to hear. Whenever you see Industry 4.0 mentioned, presented on or discussed at events there are always pictures of CoBots interacting with workers, robot behind cages carrying out high risk activities, people wandering around factories with Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) headsets on.

There is a perception out there that because you cannot afford Robots, CoBots, AR or VR, you cannot “do” Industry 4.0.

I completely disagree with that.

I recently had a conversation with the Managing Director of a concrete batching plant at a conference. He came to me and immediately said “I can’t afford Robots or Automation - Industry 4.0 isn’t for me.” We had a coffee and discussed some key points of pain in his process; one of them being how to maintain the temperature consistently, so the material properties of the concrete were maintained throughout the process.

I suggested that he start to think about working on a small improvement there. Capturing live data at the source; a small temperature sensor connected to their network could provide live data, which his team could start to analyse for trends and information. This would provide hard facts about the temperature fluctuations in the plant; what patterns there were and how they can be managed and controlled, ultimately delivering a more consistent process and higher quality product.

The key to making sure Industry 4.0 works for you is applying it in the right place, at the right time and to the right scale. At its core, it is a set of principles which just so happen to be framed around a significant number of emerging technologies. It is about digitally enhancing and enriching your business’ outputs; be that through more efficient handling and interpretation of data, increasing production efficiencies through robotics or using digital simulations to better model your business processes (that list is not exhaustive!).

In one of my previous roles, I have seen Managers get carried away with the ideas of automation and the associated benefits; improved efficiencies, reduced labour content and cost, higher levels of quality. All those are great - there’s no denying it, but what does it mean to the team on the shop floor who currently make the product?

What did the creation of the steam powered tractor and mill mean to the thousands of people who ploughed the land with horses, or weaved blankets by hand each day?

It meant change. The absolute key to establishing and embedding Industry 4.0 is taking your people with you along this technological journey/transition. Engagement with every level of the business to understand their emotions, their hopes, their fears and their questions which need answered.

To finish, I would like to propose a question. What does Industry 4.0 mean to you and your business?

The answer can be a simple one, or a complex one. My favourite response is three words: “A starting point.”

Because ultimately, that’s exactly what it is. 

Article written by Dr David Stewart, Engineering Director, Scotland at HSSMI, the High-Speed Sustainable Manufacturing Institute. David is coming to Inverness on Monday 1 October to contribute to an event on Industry 4.0  12:00-16:30 pm at #hellodigital, An Lochran, Inverness Campus.

Book online at 

Hosted by HIE, this event brings together a practical look at what Industry 4.0 means with case studies and practical advice. Contributors to this event include:

High-Speed Sustainable Manufacturing Institute (HSSMI)

Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC)

CENSIS the Centre of Excellence in Sensors and Imaging Systems