Imagine life inside a data-driven factory of the future.
In this connected environment, lean production lines are flexed in real-time to take account of inventory control.
Smart machines talk and co-operate with each-other, enabling mass customisation and the adjustment of production planning based on real demand.
Meanwhile, sensors monitor every aspect of plant performance, meaning that any potential maintenance problems can be flagged up before costly downtime occurs.
This journey to the seamless merging of the physical and digital worlds is already happening across manufacturing sectors – in automotive, aerospace, electronics and chemicals, to name but a few. Commonly referred to as the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), it holds the potential to transform production methods - revitalising business models and driving profitability in the process.
Indeed, according to professional services network PwC’s recent report, by 2020, Industry 4.0 is expected to bring an average cost reduction of 3.6% per annum across industries globally, totalling a saving of $421 billion each year. No wonder Industry 4.0 is the hot business topic of the moment.
Inside Vodafone, expertise in key enabling technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) means that Industry 4.0 principles are being applied across key manufacturing sites.
Take our Vodafone Automotive plant in Varese, Italy, which produces electronics and telematics technologies for fleets, vehicle manufacturers, and motor insurance companies. In this state-of-the-art facility, Industry 4.0 is resulting in a faster, more flexible production environment, and changing the way that workers go about their daily tasks. These innovations mean Varese has been selected as a tier one supplier to the main carmakers.
Varese has always been a forward-thinking place. Key systems and equipment like Surface Mounting Technologies, robotics and 3D printing have traditionally been used to make it one-of-a-kind. These days, digitisation is being applied across many other areas of the facility, resulting in further production efficiencies.
For example, the use of IoT-enabled architecture has encouraged the adoption of lean production, based on cellular manufacturing which was originally made famous by Toyota. Smarter control of raw material flow means that the Varese plant has progressed from the use of sequential assembly lines to just-in-time operation, based on a far higher degree of automation.
Other manufacturing improvements have also taken place. An automatic storage system, designed to Vodafone Automotive specifications, means electronic components are remotely linked to assembly lines, improving the speed and accuracy of supply and boosting traceability. And a 3D vision system with automatic optical inspection has been installed, ensuring that real-time quality checks can be carried out across the line.
But Industry 4.0 isn’t just about technology – it’s also about people. From an organisational point of view, factories of the future will offer additional employment opportunities in areas such as data management and analytics. Softer skills and managerial attributes such as problem solving and teamwork are also likely to play a more central role in the new operation. And that shift requires careful consideration and planning.
Subsequently, here at Vodafone Automotive we are running a gap analysis on both our processes and people at the Varese plant to enable us to understand our current capabilities compared to what will be required in the future.
Many of our production activities rely on specialised and certified operators. By digitally monitoring these workers, their skills and competences can be meticulously assessed, and future training and development plans can be put in place.
The role of the design engineer in the digital era is also starting to change. Now, these specialists are expected to have a deep knowledge of production processes. After all, the first customer of any design engineering activity is the production team, and design for manufacturing is going to take on increased importance in more connected factory environments. Digitisation permeates in a systemic manner – and we have to be fully prepared, right across our organisation.
All these initiatives combine to create a bright future for Varese, which as well as being a tier one supplier to carmakers. Further implementation of Industry 4.0 activities will deliver real benefit. Production will become more flexible, maintenance will be reduced, and energy consumption levels will fall.
We expect further quality yield improvements and a move towards zero defects as visibility and traceability continues to improve across the plant. And continued digitisation will also lead to better employee engagement and satisfaction, as arduous tasks such as manual handling are removed.
It’s clear, then, that Industry 4.0 has the potential to create enormous value - both inside Vodafone and across industry as a whole. First movers are transforming into digital enterprises throughout a host of key verticals, increasing competitiveness and boosting their return on investment.
Yet this journey to digitisation cannot be delivered through technology alone. It needs cultural acceptance from all of the workforce, along with the right blend of skills put in place.
Varese has taken giant steps on route to becoming a fully-integrated factory of the future. That knowledge and experience makes Vodafone Automotive the perfect partner for any vehicle, fleet or user-based insurance company looking to create the connected products of tomorrow.
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