For my previous article in The European, I put forward the question of whether Industry 4.0 will in fact be a revolution or a mere acceleration of evolution. Since then, I have spoken to more engineers leading Industry 4.0 projects around the world. In addition to this, I have personally supported New Zealand’s Callaghan Innovation team to deploy their first government-funded Industry 4.0 pilot programme, aimed at establishing what a typical SME should be doing right now and what gains can be made.
Breaking down Industry 4.0
One of things I’ve observed over the past year or so is that depending upon where you are in the world, there are both differing terms being adopted and differing focus upon the tools within the box. This presents a problem for CEOs – just what do we consume and, more importantly, what do we believe and invest in? To support CEOs, I use the following table (figure 1) to represent the tools and concepts, and where I believe focus should be right now for SMEs.
AI will be the revolutionary component of Industry 4.0. I’ve heard many experts liken it to being where the industry was with computers in the ‘80s and the internet in the ‘90s, a great technology, yet to revolutionise the business. Just like computers and the internet, AI will revolutionise how our businesses perform, and the early adopters of AI will outperform their competition. A very important question for any CEO at this point is whether you’re going to be early or late to the party.
What SMEs should be doing right now
l Collect data and organise it well – Most organisations already have an abundance of data, yet the learning from larger organisations heading down the path of AI has been that of “data puddles” existing in many different locations rather than one big “data lake”. Rectifying this afterwards can take a huge amount of time and resources, and in some cases render the data useless.
l Ask what algorithm-based solutions could be used with your existing data. This is not technically AI, but it is the utilisation of big data. I have recently witnessed an SME turn a $50,000 investment into a $3m outcome for the business using this approach.