The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Smart manufacturing. Digital transformation. Industry 4.0. Call it what you will, the current trend for automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies is disrupting how we produce and deliver goods today, and transforming the manufacturing workplace of tomorrow. By Terri Hiskey, Vice-President – Product Marketing Manufacturing at Epicor Software Corporation.

There is strong evidence that at an economy-wide level, business investment in digital technologies results in higher productivity over the long term. Manufacturing processes that were once standalone and analogue are becoming increasingly digitised. This facilitates development of “smart factories” that are significantly more flexible, transparent and customisable. A recent Epicor study found that over half of global businesses are assigning a high priority to IT investment.

The adoption and deployment of Industry 4.0 within Australia has the potential to significantly improve the competiveness of the advanced manufacturing sector. In 2016, the Prime Minister’s Industry 4.0 Taskforce was announced, with an initial aim to connect Australian and German industry leaders to collaborate and share information on Industry 4.0. The Taskforce now plans to create a network of Industry 4.0 testlabs, built in partnership with industry leaders to improve the competitiveness of Australian manufacturing industries through adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies and workforce transformation.

So there’s no doubt that Industry 4.0 will soon have an impact on your workplace if it hasn’t done so already. With machine learning capabilities and connected equipment enabling businesses to automate the production line, humans can up-skill, take on new duties, add greater value, and focus less on repetitive tasks. They can therefore expect to be employed in more interesting, challenging roles in the future, helping their personal development and growth.

According to a recent survey by the Ai Group, the relatively low use of networked technologies (as proxies to IoT) suggests Australian manufacturing is still in the early stages of embracing the technological foundation of Industry 4.0. Digital investment is very important for manufacturers that wish to increase their Industry 4.0 capability.

Industry 4.0 will involve a significant shift in how people work – specifically their mindsets, habits and remits. Here are three such workplace attitudes that will need to change.

  1. ‘That’s not my remit, talk to a different department about it’

Industry 4.0 is breaking down the traditional silos that separate the different departments within a business, with enterprise resource planning (ERP) software playing a crucial role. ERP software acts as a single-source for business intelligence in the age of Industry 4.0, presenting employees with real-time data when they need it, bringing departments closer together. That data might include information about the status of a project, updates on a partner’s requirements, or analytics about customer trends or equipment maintenance schedules. For example, jet-engine makers GE and Rolls-Royce now routinely collect data from their products as they fly around the world to schedule maintenance. In doing so, they stand a better chance of reducing aircraft downtime and keeping up with customer demand.

When sales teams, management, and production line staff alike can access real-time information like this, they can optimise conditions on the plant floor and improve orders and production output. In short, sharing data makes manufacturing more agile, bringing the days of moving in silos to an end.

  1. ‘If you want it like that, you’ll have to wait longer’

Industry 4.0 is dawning a new age of personalised manufacturing, combining customised production with the speed and on-time delivery expectations of today’s consumers. This is the age of the customer, and customers demand bespoke products, fast.

One of many companies putting this into practice is German cereal manufacturer MyMuesli, which makes personalised breakfast cereal for customers out of a collection of 80 different grains, nuts and fruits. The very fact that a product like muesli can be customised on a grand scale is testament to the rapid progression of Industry 4.0, and to MyMuesli’s successful digital transformation.

Intelligent and integrated systems play a vital role for manufacturers that want to put their customers first, delivering instructions to machines about specific customer orders as they progress along the production line, in an inversion of normal manufacturing. In the case of MyMuesli, each package moves around the factory on an intelligent product carrier, which tells filling machines what to add to each muesli box according to individual customer orders.

  1. ‘A machine can’t do it better than me’

Industry 4.0 requires a cultural change in the way humans work with machines. Not only will employees be able to work closer across different departments, sharing real-time data and insights to make accurate decisions in the workplace; they will also be able to have some tasks automated by machines, allowing them to work on new, less tedious tasks instead, and crunching delivery timescales.

This involves a significant change in the industrial environment, a fresh approach to workplace dynamics. One example of this change is the 45,000 robots recruited across Amazon’s 20 fulfilment centres. Taking instructions from digital databases and ERP systems, and working alongside Amazon employees, these robots pick and haul packages weighing over 300kg at the fast pace needed to keep up with customer demand. They do a job that wouldn’t be safe for humans, and staff can expect their job roles to become more digital and less manual as a result.

While the technologies associated with Industry 4.0 are transforming business processes, an often-overlooked challenge is managing the inevitable shift in workplace dynamics, which is crucial to supporting the successful integration of Industry 4.0 technologies.

The three points above are fitting examples of attitudes that need to shift, as manufacturers break down barriers between departments, embrace customisation, and work in tandem with machines. It’s up to employers and their teams alike, to embrace these changes and change their mindsets, as they grow their businesses in the Industry 4.0 world.