Challenges in manufacturing

I know lot of you have heard about industry 4.0 or X and there are transformation happening in the manufacturing. Europe seems to be a leader in pushing industry 4.0 and driving modern factories and why is US behind?. What are the challenges US is facing to move towards Manufacturing 4.0 or X or industry 4.0 or X. Why is digital transformation so hard and here are my thoughts

Challenges in today’s manufacturing

Plant Technology Maturity — This is a area where we lack a lot. The Factories or plant range from 60’s to current. The older plant have older equipment's and machinery which are not digital ready. The challenge here is these are equipment custom built and you have lots of them in a plant with various maturity in terms of technology and functionality. Unlike IT where the technology is more advanced. This pose a challenge when OT converges to IT because there is huge gap in technology in between them. IT wants secured devices but the OT devices are not able to deliver that. The older system has to retrofit with newer systems to support these initiative where there is huge investment involved. Not only that the sensors and plc also has to be high tech enough to handle all the security related functionality. Keeping performance and speed in mind as well. There are plants or factories still using paper or Excel to monitor their production but using systems like SAP for their business process. which pose huge threat because the manufacturing or production is not monitored or maintained digitally. Not only that the equipment’s in plant floor or factories are used for different manufacturing process and built and designed by some one else. They all have their own MES or Scada or HMI in built that doesn’t talk. So to bring all the devices in plant floor or factory to be able to connected devices involves lots of investment and training of employees and also culture change to transform to digital. Now there are some plants or factories who are modernized and it is easy for them to transform to industry or manufacturing 4.0 or X. Factories or plant with older and huge range in the ages of equipment's will suffer unless they drastically replace their equipment's or retro fit with new systems to make it digital.

People — The people who used to do the traditional work are now struggling as new technology makes them to be a smart worker. There is lots of training involved to make the traditional worker to make him smart worker. This means investment from the company side is necessary. Before doing this they have to digitize or modernize the plant or factory before so that they can train the workers in right technology or hire people to work.

Process — The process are designed in a such a way it was perfect for the 20th century and process is also best in class in it’s own way. But the new market and newer consumer demand more and quicker change than what it was before. This makes it harder for the older process and i am not seeing manufacturing looking at process and changing it as the world evolves.

So the above challenges makes it harder for systems to converge IT and OT. This will lead to lots of hybrid approaches which might make the system more complex. The Other challenge is there are business systems that they are all saying they have iot capability and not sure how that will work in scale.

The sensors, PLC and control systems manufacturer should first build devices that are secured and programmable to enable the transformation. Right now the devices are used to specific purpose and in future it has to able to re program based on newer technologies. Unless the systems builders who design and develop sensors, PLC and other control systems build a robust and scalable solution the digital transformation for manufacturing is going to be challenging.

With so many disparate(Different) systems as source with unique OEE’s how can we converge them to one or a set of model. Unless there is a tool or framework that makes all this simpler the transformation in manufacturing is going to be a hard thing to achieve. Is there a unified framework for all devices to communicate and talk to each other, will that be open source and here are some questions that i don’t have answer’s to but wondering the future. This applies to IT and OT systems. There are so many IT systems in a organization and makes it harder to get anything executed. How about getting skilled workers? and lot more.

These are just my thoughts and questions that i always seek answers for.

Please post your thoughts and comments.