Can SME Manufacturers benefit from Industry 4.0?

Is Industry 4.0 the domain of the big manufacturing corporates or can SME’s leverage real competitive advantage from digital transformation?

Early Adopter

Wrekin Sheet Metal is an established business in Telford that fabricates and finishes components and products from steel and aluminium predominantly. The business is recognised for the efficiency with which it satisfies customer orders, particularly in the current landscape of tactical supply chain management. Their innovative outlook saw them embrace Industry 4.0 early. While some believed this would only benefit corporates, they are seeing real competitive advantage.

Lean manufacturing

In the corporate world of manufacturing Industry 4.0 sees integration of disparate IT systems and technologies delivering the digitisation of entire value chains. However, Wrekin Sheet Metal saw Industry 4.0 transition as an opportunity to digitise certain areas of their operation to support core organisational strategies. One of these was to create a lean digitised manufacturing process that would create a set of unique and valuable competitive advantage from improving environmental impact to predicting when to order raw materials and ensuring orders were delivered to time and budget.

The Journey

The transition to Industry 4.0 requires both vision and investment. “It’s important that this is driven from the top down with a keen eye on the benefits digitisation brings and the return on investment it generates,” explains John Kennedy, Operations Director. “The advantages we see are spread across the organisation. Our processes give us real time data that allows us to understand current operational efficiencies and supports our continuous improvement ethos.”

Transition requires initial foresight and an innovative outlook. “Our board is progressive, so introducing Industry 4.0 as a cornerstone of the strategic plan for success may not have been as arduous as those who are working in companies with a more traditional outlook. While the transition aligned with our future strategic roadmap, we also needed to be clear how the digitalisation process would safeguard economic, social and environmental sustainability. Practical issues including staffing and data cyber security all need to be addressed,” explains John.

Wrekin Sheet Metal’s transition to Industry 4.0 has been smooth as they saw the process as a journey rather than a destination. Their journey continues using big data to drive continued excellence and enhancing efficiencies.

Disruptive

Industry 4.0 transition has revolutionised the manufacturing process at Wrekin Sheet Metal creating an environment that is both adaptive and customer centric. It informs new business models that make the company truly disruptive in the market place. Their transformation has bridged the gap between high level information technology and floor level operational technology. This brings intelligent data insights that powers innovative adaptability across their factory.

They can control materials flow automatically to eliminate downtime and operate at the lowest level of inventory possible. They are also able to adapt line conditions, down conditions, material supply, and other variables automatically.

Effective MES

Tracking Production

From raw materials to finished goods we track production.

At the heart of Wrekin Sheet Metal’s Industry 4.0 strategy is a tailored Manufacturing Execution System (MES). This provides effective monitoring and synchronisation throughout the factory to achieve high productivity and ensure responsiveness to market demand. Wrekin Sheet Metal use high speed internet connectivity, high quality software and reliable controllers tailored to their metal fabrication plant. The system provides a holistic overview of their production environment that informs maintenance plans and energy efficiency measures. It delivers complete, accurate and accessible data from the shop floor allowing management decisions to be based upon real time data. “We can track production for each and every client from raw materials to finished goods. This is critical as it provides us with detailed insight into current conditions on the plant floor allowing us to optimise production output. It gives us control to meet production KPIs from downtime management for overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) through to production analysis, resource scheduling and materials track and trace,” reveals John.

 

Predicting the future

Wrekin Sheet Metal’s experience of adopting Industry 4.0 has been transformational. It has informed reduction of operation costs and increases in efficiencies that would not have been possible without the big data their system provides. SMEs across manufacturing can gain significant competitive advantage adopting Industry 4.0. This should not be viewed as the corporate domain. SMEs should look at Industry 4.0 and begin to embrace the data it can bring. Effective analysis of the data and prudent management decisions are all part of the process. An innovative management team that drive Industry 4.0 culture through the organisation is as important as the technology. Wrekin Sheet Metal are already predicting where this can take their industry in the future. While the data being collected is descriptive telling them what is happening on the shop floor they are managing it to provide diagnostic information about their plant to inform prescriptive measures. However they increasingly are using their information dashboards to gain predictive insight and make future investment to enhance their business models and competitive advantage further. Connecting big data and machine learning analytics is set to deliver intelligent data round the clock providing constant insight into current and future operational performance, driving progress, quality, compliance, and innovation.