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Industry 4 0….. All the experts would have you think is simple right ?

I think it’s fair to say, most people, deep down hate change.  And in most cases the people running manufacturing companies can be particularly slow to change. They are risk adverse after all and as the saying goes……. if it ain’t broke…

With the emergence of industry 4 0 , and the new generation of technophiles arriving over the horizon, I watch young and incredibly intelligent engineers deliver compelling visions of the future to industry leaders only to be met with indifference and scepticism.

“What on earth is wrong with these people?” the engineers must be thinking.  Here I am, doing what I am paid to do, looking for better and more efficient processes and “I’m painting them a picture of a better future and yet they’re determined to cling to the past.”

For the engineers and the technophiles involved, the picture, and the evidence is very clear. Businesses that invest in the future do and will win in the medium and long term; those that don’t invest will lose. I have to say overall, I agree with this notion, but I also know things are a lot more complicated in the real business world.

Good leaders ask lots of questions. They want supportive evidence. They want to know: ‘How will this technology integrate with our other aging systems?’, ‘How does this image of a smart factory fit with my brownfield site with its leaking roof and aging workforce?’ and most importantly, ‘Where will the money come from to pay for it?’

Nearly all business leaders are time poor individuals trying to serve two masters. They have to balance the expectations of their shareholders and board of directors with the demands and needs of their employees. As a ‘recovering’ engineer and an industry leader, I’ve lived in both worlds.

From experience I am all too aware that just as accountants crave facts and figures, and IT experts live in a world of 1’s and 0’s, all engineers like shiny new things and the challenge of installing the latest piece of kit. They, in their pursuit of the ‘new thing’ however, rarely consider the balance of priorities that their CEO has to think about. If they looked at the world though their CEO’s eyes they would understand that the CEO wants to know two simple facts:

  • How will it contribute to the overall productivity strategy?
  • How soon will I get a return on my investment?

In my experience the secret to getting any major Capex decision over the line is to focus on those two key issues while making myself personally accountable for the outcome.

The stumbling blocks many organisations face is the fact that boards keep tight control of the purse strings. Boards have become wary of large investments that fail to materialise on the bottom line. They see it as their duty to protect the shareholders from such exuberant follies. In my view, most would prefer to ‘slash and burn’ rather than ‘speculate to accumulate’. The knock-on effect is the leadership team stop asking for investment beyond the minimum needed to keep the lights on.

So, the question is how do we break this cycle and move forward? After all technology is vital for a business to survive and thrive in the short, medium and long term. The answer is to start small, get some easy wins on the board and then look to scale up. Convincing a company to invest in a shiny new ‘smart factory’ and be a world leader in Industry 4.0 overnight is a daunting task. Very few CEO’s or boards are going to swallow that one. The risks are simply too great, however starting with smaller ‘smart’ goals and taking it step-by-step is the way to go.

A balanced approach looking to the future is our thinking….

If you want help taking that first step on your Industry 4.0 journey, then please contact us. We’ll show you where to start and how you can achieve a rapid return on investment.

If you are interested, LMAC were recently interviewed around the subject of Industry 4 0 for The European. To see the interview click here

 

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