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So you wish to leapfrog to Industry 4.0

Like any evolutionary process, a new approach is first experimented, then attempted, adopted and finally internalized. In management research few scholars have argued that organizations are nothing but a bundle of routines and processes which over time emerge as key differentiation among organization

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Dr. Shantam Shukla is Lead Innovation Officer for Forbes Marshall

If you have visited any discussion or presentation on Industry 4.0 or IoT, there is a good chance that you would have come across a slide highlighting four major revolutions that the industry has undergone so far. Starting with mechanization of manufacturing facilities through coal and steam power in end of 18th century, to use of electrical power in early 20th century, followed by use of electronics and IT in as recent as 1970s to finally the fourth revolution that we are now discussing as cyber-physical integration of systems; the technology adoption in industries have come a long way. Given that we are in midst of Industry4.0 adoption, many of our industry leaders are grappling with questions as to how to go about integrating these new production methods in their  industrial processes. My experiences interacting with industries across sector suggest that an honest and critical assessment of current process maturity is critical to understand need and roadmap for Industry 4.0 implementation in any organization. Existing process practices and awareness of process dependencies emerge as couple of key factors that determine the speed of Industry 4.0 adoption or ability to leapfrog in this journey.

Like any evolutionary process, a new approach is first experimented, then attempted, adopted and finally internalized. In management research few scholars have argued that organizations are nothing but a bundle of routines and processes which over time emerge as key differentiation among organization. In this light, the last stage of internalization of practices across different stages of technology evolution emerges as an important step in determining adoption and ability to leap frog practices.

Consider an automotive plant in Japan which first experimented with a robot in 1971 and in 10 years period by 1980 the number of robots in that plant had increased to nearly 730. It is nearly 40 years since; however, robotics adoption is still in its nascent stage in India and is much a celebrated introduction in businesses.  According to IFR, robot adoption in developed industries such as US where roughly 189 robots for every 10,000 workers, in China this figure drops to 68 while in India we have hardly 3 robots for every 10,000 workers. The argument here is not to promote robots but to highlight that many showcasing industry 4.0 practices in organizations from these developed economies have been on that industrial trajectory for some time now. Especially when evaluating business case within your organizations in India, it would be useful to evaluate the maturity of Industry 3.0 practices of automation and IT in your processes to understand readiness to adopt the next stage of manufacturing. It may be possible that with excellence in industry 3.0 practices alone, you may be able to compete successfully in the market for now. Consider, 3D printing another versatile Industry 4.0 technology where an organization with high level of maturity in digital development process i.e. use of CAD/CAM and PLM are in best position to maximize 3d printing potential. Without consistent use and adoption of these underlying practices one may still use 3D printing but its benefits may be limited. In essence identifying yourself in the technology trajectory is critical before you join the bandwagon of new technologies in industry.

At the other end, we also have organizations which have mature internal processes but may still need to evaluate industry 4.O adoption from an ecosystem perspective. A connected supply chain is a wish for any purchase manager in a large organization. However, even today the adoption of technology across the value chain diminishes rapidly as we move away from OEM. Experiences from India suggest that industry such as automotive are in a fair position to connect value chain for first two level/ tiers of suppliers. In other sectors, it is largely the efforts of individual organization than ecosystem support for building connected value chains. It is important to note here that this poor experience in automation and connected performance of tasks across organizational boundary is not because of lack of technology or any limitations related to technology. These limitations result from the existing practices in the business ecosystem where one cannot assure that external stakeholders will be keen to adopt practices which you may find useful for your system. Long story short, it takes two to tango and so does connected vision in Industry 4.0 requires at least two groups to be on same level. Thus, building synchronicity across digital development of discreet processes, whether internal or external is important, to ensure that your efforts do not get stymied.

As industry 4.0 discussions grows intense smart organizations would need to reflect inward before taking a call to leapfrog the technology adoption cycle in their context or engage in identification and fast adoption of missing links in their processes for meeting their long term competitiveness in industry. Certain independent technology or physical processes and practices in organization may be considered for leapfrogging, however, complex connected processes with significant human element, also discussed in a prior article here, may benefit from series of steps or smaller jumps and not leapfrogging.

Authored by Dr. Shantam Shukla, Lead Innovation Officer, Forbes Marshall

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