Are Indian manufacturers ready for Industry 4.0?

With the emergence of new opportunities and challenges, Industry 4.0 is no longer just a concept, but a reality that defines how manufacturers automate and adopt technologies that make them smarter.

By Jason Low

You snooze, you lose! That’s probably the best phrase to sum up what manufacturers across the world are experiencing in today’s highly competitive landscape. With the emergence of new opportunities and challenges, Industry 4.0 is no longer just a concept, but a reality that defines how manufacturers automate and adopt technologies that make them smarter.

A nation’s economy is tightly intertwined with its manufacturing output. According to the World Trade Organization, 80% of the global trade activity between all regions is classified as manufactured goods, versus 20% as services. It is no wonder then that India is a top pick as an upcoming Manufacturing hub of the world especially, with the government’s “Make in India” initiative. A lot of other initiatives like sector specific subsidies and changes in labour laws, are helping India transform to a top-in-class manufacturing infrastructure. In fact, the Deloitte Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index has estimated that the manufacturing sector may eventually form 25-30% of the country’s GDP.

Industry 4.0 will shake things up for manufacturers

One key insight from the study is the rise of Industry 4.0 or the emergence of smart factories in the region. Manufacturers will be able to gain visibility of their goods at every stage of production. In addition, the increased operational visibility will allow these manufacturers to ensure that its people are accounted for and optimize their productivity on the plant floor. Finally, smart factories also benefit from increased security and safety.

To accomplish that, employees and plant floors are equipped with a range of technologies such as wearable technologies, Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) solutions, and Real-time Locationing Systems (RTLS) to achieve visibility over every aspect of their operations, including goods, assets, and processes.  The study estimates the number of manufacturers in the region supporting fully connected factories would nearly triple over the next five years to reach 46 percent by 2022, significantly ahead of the worldwide average.

Technology adoption is non-negotiable

While there are lingering concerns that automation and robotics will eventually displace the low-skill jobs on the factory floor, many industry experts and economists concede that it will be an irreversible trend. The earlier the manufacturers shore up technology and start upskilling the workers, the less painful the transition will be later.

In today’s vast and busy factories, it can be daunting to do everything manually, not to mention extremely slow, inefficient, and prone to mistakes. According to survey by 2022, 72% of factories will arm their workers with mobile technology such as handheld computers, printers, and scanners. Wearable and voice-directed technology are on the rise too, with 65% and 51% of respondents planning to implement them for the workers. While it’s relatively new, it unlocks potential for monitoring worker safety and locations in the factory, therefore allowing operation managers to quickly attend to workplace safety events and more effectively allocate manpower in different stages, leading to improved productivity.

Voice-directed technology too, is proving to be popular for large companies managing immense factories. Many of the big manufacturers are also relying on voice technology to efficiently coordinate for just-in-time (JIT) shipments, which are typically hectic and labour intensive.

RFID, a cousin to barcode technology and a building block for IoT, is also playing a key role in connecting the factories from point to point, corner to corner, by giving much more information than what is traditionally printed on a pallet, including detailed work instructions, bill of materials, and tracking numbers, helping workers better move the goods through a production line. Today, RFID is used to vastly improve order accuracy and traceability of an item. By 2022, only 9% of the factories will be devoid of RFID.

Finally, RTLS are becoming popular among manufacturers too. Manufacturers can deploy RTLS to collect critical data about assets including location, stage, and condition – actionable information for factory managers to make better business decisions. Unsurprisingly, by 2022, more than 55% of factories will be furnished with RTLS.

Manufacturing is no longer about simply making things. It will be about making high-quality things in the precise moment when they are needed – and even where they are needed (with 3D printing). With trends such as mobility, robotics, automation, and IoT, the competition is heating up in the manufacturing industry.

Jason Low is APAC Lead for Specialty Printing Group at Zebra Technologies.

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