Introducing Digital Factory 4.0, the future of effortless, connected, and proactive operations.
I’ve seen some things.
Back in 2000, I watched as the soaring dot com economy plummeted back to Earth. Then there was the gut-wrenching housing crisis of 2008. Still, I hardly envisioned a global pandemic that would drive 3,600 American businesses into bankruptcy in the first six months of 2020 alone.
The scope of these bankruptcies are unprecedented, yet they underscore an old business maxim: the time to prepare for a crisis is before it happens. In an unpredictable world, futureproofing your business isn’t optional. COVID-19 is one example of instability, but it’s easy to think of others geopolitics, climate change, and societal tension to name a few. And while every industry confronts these challenges, not every industry is similarly at risk.
Introducing Digital Factory 4.0
Manufacturers are particularly exposed to the economic impacts of COVID-19 because of their global supply chains, interactive working environments, and high sensitivity to downstream demand. These factors place them at risk from future crises as well. As a result, their post-pandemic planning must include process alterations for COVID-19 and a comprehensive strategy for whatever comes next.
Fortunately, in this digital day and age we have the tools to create resilience for this pandemic and beyond.
The first step is the complete digitization and connection of factory operations through automation and digital workflows. This will create what I like to call Digital Factory 4.0.
This factory represents a fourth revolution within manufacturing. In the first, steam power mechanized production; in the second, electricity created mass production; in the third, information technology automated and globalized that production.
Now, in the fourth, emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and the internet of things (IoT), are combining to digitize, automate, and transform the factory entirely.
Digital nervous system
Digital Factory 4.0 is based on a digital nervous system that ties the full manufacturing value chain together and makes all operations effortless, connected, and proactive. This nervous system consists of workflows that eliminate silos and create a connected enterprise of universal visibility.
On the factory floor, insignificant problems quickly ripple into larger delays down the line when machine operators lack the knowledge to remediate the issue. Something as small as a misprinted label can throw the entire production process into disarray.
In Digital Factory 4.0, notes detailing past machine fixes, a comprehensive knowledge base, and a workflow-powered connection to an outside technician are all accessible through a mobile device linked to the factory’s digital nervous system. Employees have the information they need at their fingertips, operations flow effortlessly, and overall equipment efficiency (OEE) is improved throughout the factory.
In the event of a larger breakdown, information about downstream effect is quickly cascaded to the relevant parties via automated workflows. Information captured in these workflows, along with that from IoT sensors, helps manufacturers better understand the trade-offs that limit or increase capacity.
Intelligent quality control
World-class operations extend beyond maintenance and information dissemination to quality control and product development—two areas of significant expense.
For example, when a manufacturer I worked with altered its pet food recipe, it unknowingly shipped bags with heavier individual pellets and thus more food than necessary. That compounded into a noticeable cost.
Digital Factory 4.0 addresses this problem in two ways. First, IoT sensors identify discrepancies immediately and trigger a disruption workflow that drives actions to resolve the complication before production is impacted. This is intelligent quality control. Again, it’s both effortless and connected.
Second, by digitizing product development—running simulations on a digital twin of the physical product—we can decrease parts per million (PPM) defective rates and proactively address quality issues that arise when we, for instance, change a recipe.
Along with improved OEE, decreased PPM translates to higher margins and greater profit, ensuring a sustainable and resilient factory.
Connecting teams and people
Most important, Digital Factory 4.0 connects teams, keeping the workforce healthy and engaged while managing for regulatory compliance. This is especially important as leaders consider how to safely navigate the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ServiceNow’s Contact Tracing app, for example, uses system data (badge scans, workstation location, etc.) to identify and isolate employees who come in contact with an individual infected by COVID-19. It’s one way to ensure a safe return to work, and it’s also indicative of a core tenet of connected teams: the use of employee data—on everything from common challenges to health and wellness—to build a sustainable workforce.
For example, many manufacturing injuries can be linked to addressable root cause issues. By aggregating and analyzing information on these injuries, we can pinpoint causes and shift processes. The data also informs other areas in the organization, such as risk, compliance, and workforce planning.
Digital Factory 4.0 is about getting access to this data on the assumption that all the information we need to perfectly optimize operations is readily available—if only we could see it.
With COVID-19 placing pressure on manufacturers like never before, it’s the organizations who digitize operations and unlock their data that will survive, reinvest, and continuously improve.
Tasker Generes is global head of connected enterprise at ServiceNow, crafting strategy for the connected enterprise leveraging IoT, BlockChain, and AI while also providing executive level advisory to help companies modernize, transform and innovate. He is the author of 87 patent claims around ConnectedOperations, ConnectedHuman, ConnectedSecurity and ConnectedService. Prior to joining ServiceNow, Tasker was chief technology officer at Amtrak and ran his own consulting firm Silos to Service Solutions Inc., bringing business and IT together to leapfrog their competition through focused service. Through his work at IBM as chief technologist for service management solutions, Tasker developed a deep depth of knowledge and experience in leading global service management delivery across process, technology, organization and information. At IBM, he also served as co-chair of LEAP (Leadership Education for Asia-Pacifics). Tasker earned his Master of Project Management degree from George Washington University School of Management and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of California, San Diego