Could you reap the rewards of a Smart Factory? 

Manufacturing is going digital! There is no doubt about it. The ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ is in full swing, and that was clear to see at this year’s Smart Factory Expo. The Manufacturer magazine organised this year’s event, which is described as Europe’s biggest and best digital manufacturing showcase, boasting an impressive – 6,000 attendees, 150 exhibitors and 200 presentations.

We attended the show to instil our understanding into the journey some of our clients and many other manufacturing companies are on right now. If you weren’t lucky enough to make it to the event, here are our key takeaways as to which trends will take the smart factory landscape by storm over the next few years.

Enabling, not replacing people

Smart Factory thinking is not about replacing people; it is about empowering them with new technology. The Annual Manufacturing Report 2019 asked respondents what they understand is the power of smart factory technologies to accelerate innovation cycles and improve the efficiency of manufacturing processes. An overwhelming 91% agreed that the workforce becomes much more engaged when they can work smarter, working alongside machines instead of operating them. Who wouldn’t want to remove the mundane tasks from their day job? As a result, productivity increases and you can make better use of your time. Now you can spend saved time on tasks that add better value to the business. Technology will make jobs redundant. It’s up to business leaders to protect their people and nurture adaptability and re-skilling.

A leading defence company spoke of using automated workbenches for its engineers. Sit at the workstation, login, and the machine recognises you as a user almost immediately, adjusting the height of the seat based on your saved requirements. Furthermore, the system will distribute workload and offer both short and more in-depth instructions to the engineer depending on their saved competencies. This is an impressive example of humans and machines collaborating effectively to increase output capacity in the factory.

Value chain alignment

Constant alignment of the value chain can deviate the focus on a smart factory strategy. If the entire ecosystem of a company is not industry 4.0 prepared and ready, then don’t expect much. The ecosystem we refer to includes a whole company, but also the likes of its suppliers, customers, competitors and distributors. A businesses ecosystem should align for it to collaborate effectively. Success would involve the ecosystem aligned to the same ways of working and thinking in the digital world. This might include adopting the same new technologies and upskilling the entire workforce.

It’s all about the people

There was an overarching thought throughout all the seminars we attended that people should be at the centre of any strategic business change. It is essential to involve your people in the change process from the very beginning. Project management statistics show that when people are included in transformational change from the research and design phase through to the full concept stage of a new product or service – they are generally more likely to embrace rather than oppose the change. There are endless ways to involve everyone, even if only in the form of communication. Install TVs on the shop floor and communicate in this way, ask for feedback and take staff ideas on board. At the end of the day, their opinions are only as good as the technologies you provide them to make their conclusions.

De-risk with data

You are de-risking your business if you choose to optimise its data and processes digitally. There is no use in using advanced systems to collect in-depth data and then doing nothing with it. Industry 4.0 techniques include higher levels of automation, connectivity and integration, which doesn’t necessarily mean to replace human presence. Instead, managers can take pro-active actions to reduce cost and downtime based on the analytical data that digital systems can provide. The key is to ensure the data is collected and analysed to provide intelligent insights. Ultimately, this allows you to continuously monitor machines and people for production quality and performance, feeding the information back to stakeholders enabling more informed and faster decision-making.

Think out-of-the-box, don’t buy in this way

Nothing in Industry 4.0 should come off the shelf. GAMBICA is the UK’s Trade Association for Instrumentation, Control, Automation and Laboratory Technology. The company helps provide insight and influence to its members, so they can be more competitive by increasing their knowledge and impact. Back in 2015 and still relevant today GAMBICA explain of Industry 4.0 that ‘it is important to realise that it is a concept, not a product or off-the-shelf package. It refers to connecting up people, devices, machines, products, material and systems so that they can communicate effectively, access large amounts of data, make autonomous decisions and improve flexibility’.


Cybersecurity is a huge talking point right now. It is especially critical to business transformation projects. The right technology can streamline production and optimise operational efficiency. It can also play a part at keeping the good stuff in and the bad stuff out. According to Swivel Secure, ‘despite being the third most targeted industry for a cyberattack, manufacturing is one of the least prepared’. Information Technologies (IT) and Operational Technologies (OT) need to collaborate and can no longer be siloed, separated divisions. Keeping the two separate will hinder development into the understanding of threat and risk management. Gone are the days of manually working through lists of alerts on an intrusion detection system (IDS). Technology must work mutually with people and processes to understand as-is and detect improper activities. Let’s stop only talking about security and make the choices now before progressing further on your digital journey.

Invest for tomorrow, TODAY

Manufacturing is facing its most significant transformation in 250 years. It is both an exciting and challenging time to be at the helm of a fourth revolution. Now is the time to protect your supply chain. Embed smart technologies into your manufacturing processes. Plot your course to build a full understanding of your businesses efficiency and effectiveness in a competitive market place. Contact us today to talk about what we can do to support your smart factory journey.