K 2016 was all about Industry 4.0. Nearly every machinery company was touting the promise of the fourth industrial revolution.
But we've been wondering for a while: Which processors are using Industry 4.0 technology? What's been the cost, in time and capital? Are there real benefits?
Last week's special report on Industry 4.0 took a comprehensive look at those questions.
Until now, most of the stories you've been seeing about plastics manufacturing and Industry 4.0 have quoted machinery company officials. This report was different. Our concept was to focus on processors who are using the technology. We spread a wide net, and our team talked to molders and extruders in North America, Europe and China.
The Industry 4.0 movement may have started in Germany, but it's spread across the globe in the past few years.
Initially, I was figuring that we would find interesting companies through our contacts in the machinery sector. I thought the machinery suppliers we've been quoting on Industry 4.0 for the past two years would put us in touch with customers that are beta testing their technology.
But in far more cases, we found processors who were trailblazing the path on their own. Often, their key allies are suppliers of ERP, MRP and MES systems. (For those of us who need a reminder, those acronyms stand for enterprise resource planning, material resource planning and manufacturing execution systems.)
One thing we've discovered: There's no single strategy for implementing Industry 4.0.
Do processors need to hire an Industry 4.0 expert or a team of experts to make this work? Not really. It's more a matter of combining all the expertise and all the tools that they already have at their disposal. You've likely already got the software and the hardware, since modern factories are loaded with controllers and sensors.
The processors we talked to for our special report had teams of bright people on staff already, and for most, the shift to Industry 4.0 has been gradual. It's more of an evolution than a revolution. There are some exceptions, as some companies have built new factories with a specific goal of optimizing everything for Industry 4.0.
I predict that at K 2019, we'll hear more about Industry 4.0 from processors themselves, and we'll learn more about the best practices and benefits from the few that have jumped into the technology pool with both feet.
And all the companies that have just dipped their toes in the water will realize what they've been missing.