I am asked this question frequently. Though Industry 4.0 originates in Germany, I sometimes wonder whether it has actually even come to the German electronics manufacturers yet. This is the problem when something radically different comes to a somewhat conservative industry. The resistance to change for established companies is very high, where past experience of so-called improvements has actually resulted in dramatic unexpected costs as unforeseen variables came into play, applicable from corporate-wide ERO systems down to a single engineering tool. Many say that there is good reason for leaving things as they are.
They are wrong.
The fact is that market changes, originating many years ago, are now on an exponential path. Distribution chain is all but gone, direct shipping, internet sales, cool fashionable technology are the market drivers. In times of economic caution, people still want their “toys”, but have become far more savvy about how to get them for a better price. Most of the cost of most electronic goods is in the distribution, so this is what gets hit first. The perfect storm now brings raw demand pattern to the factories. Renewed consideration of on-shoring, now called “reshoring” in order to be close to the customer, to deliver what is needed.
Industry 4.0, the realisation that something big is going to have to change, is based on these market drivers, it is not just the invention of some ideal. Flexible productive manufacturing is the key, though this may seem like an impossibility following current manufacturing practices, which it is, which is why they have to change.
Back to the question, will Industry 4.0 come to the US? Of course, the answer is “yes”, but, the manifestation of it may be different. As we see in Europe, the momentum of established companies, especially those involved in such complex manufacturing operations as electronics, find it very hard to accept change, and also hard to understand that such radical changes can be possible. This momentum exists also in the US, though what may be different is the approach. Companies in the US have shown themselves to be more pioneering than in Europe. Whilst established manufacturers will no doubt resist, young innovative companies will spring up, encouraged by opportunity and of course by current government incentives.
It heralds a new generation of manufacturing. Everyone can join, Europe, the US and beyond. Young entrepreneurial start-ups, or established companies with the vision, understanding and confidence to make the change.
Intrigued? See my latest interview on YouTube on the latest on Industry 4.0.