Manufacturing Revolution – Industry 4.0, automation and the future of production (part 2)

Industry 4.0 is a huge talking point in manufacturing these days. With its greater data retrieval, improved flexibility through automation and increasing push by the world’s leading ERP software firms, it is no wonder that businesses are investing in this increasingly digital future.


In part 2 of our interview, Alan addresses how industry 4.0 greatly improves the efficiency of production, how to the manufacturing revolution is changing the way data is collected/used/stored in the production setting, AND, how to get companies to adopt new technologies – even when it may seem cheaper or more convenient to stay in the past.

Jean: Where exactly does SAP fit into this improved digitization? And perhaps what exactly does D4M bring to the table in that regard?

Alan: There are a lot of technologies that are associated with the Digitization of the manufacturing process. Our particular focus is in the slice that we, as an organization, support. As a service provider, we have a high degree of skills and capacity in SAP. Certainly, when we look at supporting organizations in their journey to industry 4.0, it isn’t necessarily just wholesale changes of ERP or MES or anything else, but we like to help our customers to accomplish those goals with those technologies. The technologies that we support certainly are often developed or are included in the SAP suite. But, both the ERP environments of SAP and S4HANA are technologies that absolutely support the digitalization of the manufacturing and operations processes.

Alan: In addition, we also have some very core manufacturing technologies that we support from Dassault systems, including Dassault MES – which the product name is Apriso – as well as advanced planning and scheduling. But, the footprint of those technologies is very broad.

Alan: There’s a lot that we can do to help support our customers in those areas.

Jean: Can you elaborate a little more as to what SAP is doing for Industry 4.0 – with S/4HANA particularly in mind- as there’s quite a few manufacturing companies out there that don’t necessarily know what it is.

Alan: As stated earlier, Industry 4.0 is all about two key phrasesintegration and data. Industry 4.0 is all about getting access to data in real time, and the technology required to leverage that data to make decisions rapidly. S/4HANA, is arguably the best tool for supporting the data hungry concept. S/4HANA uses technology that has been developed specifically to increase the availability of data in real time and increase the speed at which that data can be looked at, analyzed, processed, and leveraged for effective and useful information. So, S/4HANA uses the HANA database. HANA stands for High Availability Network Appliance. But, what it means is that all the data – or should I say, transactional data – that is used by a company sits in memory.

Alan: As opposed to being stored in a digital storage device, transactional data is in memory so that when a routine or a business process is being executed, it can look at all of the relevant data in real time and quickly come to a conclusion. With traditional ERPs, the job would keep running, doing the job overnight, creating/issuing the report that is not only extremely voluminous, but require that somebody needs to look at the next morning in order to come to some conclusions that data now can be available as opposed to real time in a dashboard. That data then can be leveraged for various digital processes to again, make decisions and come to conclusions extremely rapidly. So that those processes can be streamlined. We talked about some of the benefits that were achieved and some of the automation factors.

Alan: In 1990, 25% of operations in a factory were automated, today it’s 75%. And digitalization is just doing those types of advancements for a lot of customers. SAP S/4HANA and the peripheral tools that go around, are designed to support that kind of an effort.

Alan: And, from the Dassault perspective, Apriso and/or EMS can also leverage that data in real-time or near real-time in order to make decisions quickly and rapidly. Furthermore, the algorithms and the artificial intelligence associated with both of those tools means that we can take that data that is quickly and easily accessible and process that data in ways that we know make sense very fast.

Alan: Decisions and processes can then be modified very fast in order to keep the benefits, efficiency, and the effectiveness of the operations at a high level.

Jean: When exactly did this industry 4.0 trend start and when do you think it will become a reality? Because with S/4Hana’s looming deadline, it’ll soon be mandatory for S/4HANA to be implemented by 2027, if I’m not mistaken.

Alan: Good question. So, industry 4.0 is a reality right now and companies are at various stages of adopting industry 4.0 concepts. No manufacturer who intends to still be in business within the next 10 years is not paying attention to this, or – at least – trying to pay attention to the idea of Industry 4.0.

Alan: What is “industry 4.0”? Well, in the 1700s, you had the first industrial revolution, right? And you had steam engines and waterpower, and you created machines that could support mass production. Instead of doing everything by hand, in the 1800s there was second industrial revolution. And, now, we start getting into data, communication, and transportation with the advent of the telephones, telegraphs, cars and so on.

Alan: The manufacturing process continued to mature. The third industrial revolution, which really happened in the latter parts of the 1900s and the early 2000s, factories were starting to automate a lot of production processes, but it’s still relied on human input and human control.

Alan: The fourth industrial revolution, which is really happening now, is the next level of manufacturing automation and has a focus on connectivity and data. The purpose is to drive efficiencies to levels unseen before, so business make better decisions through this seamless creation and analysis and communication of data is really the core of industry 4.0.

Jean: It seems as though – based on your historic context – that you’re implying this is an extremely revolutionary and important step in the processing of factory production. Will this increase in data gathering be implemented in a way that, say, automate the process decision making process in some way? Let’s say, for instance, a plant is under efficiency in some way. Let’s say an automotive manufacturer is not making enough cars or parts or something. Would the system have some sort of AI in place that would allow it to just to seamlessly make that change and increase productivity?

Alan: Absolutely; but, let’s just go with an example to see if I can explain it a little better. I have a customer who has a very large and complex manufacturing process. They manufacture some industrial equipment in 2023. However, if you go on their production floor right now, they were stuck in 1977; they were recording production information with a sharpie and a piece of cardboard at the cell level. This is not a small business; this company has a very large product portfolio. And so, when they are transitioning from one product to the next, it was always a complex process, involving tooling, process, set up, materials, resources that are qualified to do it, and all the rest of that stuff – all being outlined with pencils and notepads.

Alan: Traditionally, all of the planning – whether on literal paper or in an ERP system – was done manually. We recently implemented an advanced planning and scheduling system that leverages real-time data from ERP about materials, about resources, about the status of machines, about who was on the plant floor that day to create for this client. Algorithmically, they are now able to rapidly create a production schedule for the day that will accomplish the KPIs that they’re looking to accomplish.

Alan: For the client, they enjoyed the on-time delivery, minimal set up and downtime to maximize their production capacity and, it is having a revolutionary effect on their capacity. They were able to invest in this advanced planning and scheduling solution, again, leverages that real-time data.

Alan: Their improved efficiency made them able to create more product with the plants; instead of having to build another factory in order to support more capacity. They were able to just do it via the efficiently scheduling brough to it.

Jean: It seems as though the more people I talk from D4M, the more that this issue of just “outdated planning” becomes a thorn in the side of the industry that just will not go away.

Alan: I don’t think anybody’s insisting on being stuck in the past. It’s a tough concept to grasp sometimes; “how I can take my already text production process, trying to accomplish our strategic goals, on time performance, and whatever other strategic goals are AND understand that how data/decisions alone can have a significant impact on capacity – as opposed to just adding more capacity”.

Jean: What are your suggestions on getting factories to update their scheduling software when sometimes they’re unwilling to make that change? How do you suggest that people finally take the time and money to just finally improve their scheduling software?

Alan: For 99% of Manufacturing professionals, I don’t think companies “lack the desire” to do it; it is more of a lack of an understanding of what the costs, benefits, and eventual value that is going to come from automating some of those processes.

Alan: A good way to start that journey or to extend that journey would be to evaluate what can be accomplished and what the benefits of that level of automation are likely to be. We’ve been doing this long enough now that we can pretty easily assess that and provide information to companies, to manufacturers about it.

Alan: What you should consider doing, what the possibilities are or what you should consider doing? How much it’s going to cost to do that? How long it’s going to take to do that And then – most importantly – how quickly you’ll see the derived benefits from making those changes? Nobody makes IT decisions anymore, just because it seems like the cheapest most convenient thing to do.


Alan: Companies are demanding to understand and know what those tangible benefits are going to be to justify those projects. But, every company wants to accomplish some of those goals that are the promise of an Industry 4.0. So, let us help you do it. Let us help you analyze and assess your data goals so it doesn’t take a tremendously long time to to put together a roadmap and understand the benefits of what you can/should be doing in order to become a world class industry 4.0 manufacturer.

D4M is a privately owned company specializing in leveraging digital technologies to accelerate manufacturing clients to their transition to Industry 4.0. With long tenure and hundreds or successful projects, we are confident that our approach and experience provides the roadmap to help bring clarity and efficiency to your manufacturing operation.

To find out how we can help with your SAP environment, or to learn more about how we rolled out SAP to 60 locations in 60 months, reach out to us today. Contact form and office numbers listed below. 

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D4M International is an IT consulting company focused on transforming manufacturing and operations for optimal performance with SAP and DELMIA. 

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Leaders in Automotive, with expertise in other industries with advanced manufacturing, we operate in North and South America as well as Europe, enabling us to support our clients globally.

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