Food and beverage manufacturers be advised: “Industry 4.0” is about to shake things up.

Industry 4.0 (as in the fourth modern Industrial Revolution) is what some are calling the current wave of “digital connectivity of customer product, process and factory through the use of emerging technologies.” (In case you’re wondering, the first was the “lean revolution” in the 1970s, the second was the outsourcing phenomenon of the 1990s, and the third was the rise of automation in the 2000s.)

The automotive and banking industries, to name but two, have embraced the change, but the food and beverage industry has been slow to jump on board. Perhaps it’s because it all seems a bit like hype. Manufacturing execs who are suspicious might do well to listen to McKinsey & Company, business analysts who know what they’re talking about. They say that the trends at work in Industry 4.0 are capable of completely changing the way factories work.

The digitally connected future

Most food manufacturers are aware of the current trend towards digitizing machines. (Think self-driving GPS-guided tractors that fertilize crops based on banked data about harvesting history, collect and analyze soil samples and send the data to a central computer at the farm office.)

But beyond that, those with vision will need to recognize that the future holds increasingly connected links in the food supply chain, in which every stage along the line shares data with the others, to achieve optimal efficiencies. (Think supermarket shelves that automatically notify suppliers just in time when stock is running low; connected delivery trucks notifying the company when stock reaches its destination—all geared to delivering just the right amount of just the right produce at just the right time. That eliminates waste, and reduces costs.)

It is already happening in production plants, too, as assembly lines begin to employ robots, and as the more of the machinery depends on programmable logic controllers and shares data with other machines on the line.

Those who plan will succeed

This is all good news. As all of these increasingly complex machines collect, analyze, and share data with each other, the end result will be more efficient production and delivery, and higher profits for businesses.

But it will take some planning to prepare for this seismological shift. Businesses will need to create a “digital roadmap” to plan for future technology, data, and employee training needs.

Because employees will need to be trained. The manufacturing plant of the future will be increasingly complex. In the past, people have worried about automation and ever-more-sophisticated robots taking over the grunt work and leaving masses of humanity out of a job.

Retraining the workforce is key

Well, that’s not how it turned out in Germany, one of the most advanced manufacturing nations in the world. In that country, Industry 4.0 did result in a net increase in jobs. It’s important to note, though, that businesses needed to retrain their workforce. It’s true that the number of physically demanding jobs may decrease as the fourth Industrial Revolution takes hold, but they will be replaced. And, the jobs that will replace them will require people with flexible responses and the ability to problem-solve.

It’s a fact of life post-Industry 4.0 that manufacturers that want to survive in this new digitized environment will have to recruit, upskill, and retain staff capable of maintaining these highly complicated business operations.

Downtime is not an option

A critical part of Industry 4.0 will be maintaining the complex interconnected links in the chain. When one link goes, the whole chain is broken. We’ve discussed the astronomical costs of downtime before. Depending on the industry, it can cost a company as much as $200,000 per hour when production is down.

But that’s nothing compared to what it’s going to be in the not-so-distant future. Industry 4.0 will speed up manufacturing exponentially. That means it’s going to be exponentially more expensive when it all grinds to a halt because of electrical faults in one machine.

So, it’s going to be imperative to have staff on hand who can instantly troubleshoot electrical faults and get machinery back up and running quickly.

Skills training costs are a fraction of downtime costs

The costs of skills training in electrical troubleshooting is a tiny fraction of the astronomical price tag of production-line downtime. It’s a no-brainer: manufacturers who want to survive will jump on the Industry 4.0 bandwagon, and to stay on, they’re going to need train their staff.

Simutech’s modular Troubleshooting Skills Training System™ teaches a methodical, systematic approach to troubleshooting electrical faults that eliminates guesswork. It provides maintenance professionals with the opportunity to learn necessary skills to solve electrical faults, and get hands-on experience in a safe, simulated environment. Download a free demo today, or contact us for more information.

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