Industry 4.0 is transforming how organisations in almost every industrial sector operate. Australian manufacturers must embrace the potential these technologies can offer if they are to remain competitive and continue to grow. By George Harb.

The Australian manufacturing industry has endured a number of challenges over the past decade. When you consider the Global Financial Crisis (GFC)the growth of overseas manufacturing (particularly in China), and the end of Australia’s automotive assembly operationsthere have been a number of events that have posed significant threats to the industry locally. 

Despite these challenges, the sector has remained a valuable contributor to the Australian economy. In fact, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the manufacturing industry contributes approximately $100bn to Australia’s annual GDP and employs around 900,000 Australians. Moreover, employment in the sector is expected to continue to increase over the next five years. 

Gaining an advantage from Industry 4.0  

While the manufacturing sector is expected to continue to grow, it must embrace modern technologies, such as those that encompass Industry 4.0. This new era is best defined by the deployment of digital technologies to transform every aspect of manufacturing and industrial operations. According to the World Economic Forum’s Readiness for the Future of Production Report, Australia is positioned as having “high potential” for Industry 4.0. To achieve this potential, Australian manufacturers must not rest on their laurels; they must continue to invest in digital innovations and integrate new technologies into an increasing range of processes and supply chains. By doing this, the Australian manufacturing industry will experience new opportunities and benefits. 

Underpinning Industry 4.0 is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), whereby the vast majority of equipment and machines are connected to the internet via IIoT devices such as sensors actuators, tags, beacons and receivers. This provides manufacturers with a wealth of data and greater visibility into the performance of equipment and processes for better decision-making, helping to identify areas for improvement and innovation.  

For example, consider the transportation of perishable goods. By monitoring and analysing the temperature and conditions of goods in transit, organisations can use the data to better provision for their safe and timely delivery in the future. 

Manufacturing around the world is currently undrgoing a renaissance as these new connected technologies help to improve the uptime of serviceable equipment through predictive maintenance, improve the track and trace of goods as they move through the supply chain, and ensure factory part bins, for example, are replenished at the optimum time. Manufacturers are leveraging IIoT to create automated “smart factories”, which increase efficiency and reduce costs, while enabling them to better use human resources to monitor and innovate processes. IIoT technologies are allowing manufacturing to run faster and smarter, becoming more self-aware in terms of how production operations are managed and optimised.  

By deriving actionable insights from connected devices, manufacturers will become more competitive – armed with information-backed decision-makingtailoring products to consumers’ specific requests through customisation, which will lead to better customer experiences. Many manufacturers worldwide are incorporating IIoT devices in their products to capture and analyse how customers actually use the products, which then inform new product upgrades and releases. In addition, data from IIoT technologies is being used to lay a foundation for delivering new business models and associated services such as remote diagnostics.  

Managing increased complexity from Industry 4.0 

While the potential for benefits is great, incorporating Industry 4.0 innovations also presents new challenges for Australian manufacturers. Integrating and managing a few IIoT sensors is simple; however manufacturers today can deploy thousands of IIoT devices to conduct different tasks. These all connect to a network via different methods: LTE, LPWAN, Wi-Fi, bluetooth, satellite, and ethernet. As of yet, there are no common standards or connection methods for these devices.  

With more specialised IIoT applications appearing and with IIoT devices being initially deployed to solve specific use cases (for example, machine monitoring or fleet management), many manufacturers are finding themselves with multiple IIoT platforms, often from different vendors. On top of this, new technologies like digital twinning and collaborative robots are entering production operations. 

In this complex environment, Australian manufacturers must think carefully about how they integrate and govern different types of devices and technologies, how they manage an ever-increasing volume and velocity of data coming from these devices, and how they analyse and derive insights from the data so that operations can be optimised.  

Industry 4.0 is also not simply about the IIoT devicesit becomes a complex digital ecosystem of people, systems and things. In this latest industrial revolution, manufacturers are evolving their environments from liner-based systems to complex digital ecosystems where manufacturers, suppliers and partners work together more collaboratively. Manufacturers must think differently about how they share information, including potentially sensitive product and manufacturing details, not only within their own plant walls, but also with external ecosystem members.  

Data security and privacy are among the biggest considerations for Industry 4.0 adoption among Australian manufacturers. The modern manufacturing process has a consistent flow and exchange of sensitive, mission-critical information moving from different devices, platforms and ecosystem participants. It’s imperative this information is captured, transmitted and stored properly and is not compromised. Failure to do so can have a costly and damaging impact not only on vital operating technology and processes, but also on the reputations of ecosystem participants. Secure IIoT networks will underpin all future Industry 4.0 and digital transformation initiatives.  

Preparing for success in Industry 4.0  

Realising the promise of Industry 4.0 and the IIoT is not for the faint of heart, but Australian manufacturers can prepare for success by carefully assessing business goals for each deployment of these new technologies. Australian manufacturers must also adopt comprehensive, secure, centralised IIoT platforms which can help them gain maximum value from Industry 4.0 investments. These platforms should:  

  • Provide digital backbones to which all Industry 4.0 technologies can connect. 
  • Provision, connect and manage all devices and technologies, regardless of connection method.  
  • Integrate other IIoT platforms specific to use cases.  
  • Integrate Industry 4.0 technologies with manufacturing and business processes.  
  • Securely collect, manage, and analyse data. 
  • Facilitate secure information sharing between manufacturing operations and key ecosystem partners. 
  • Scale to allow Australian manufacturers to meet changing requirements of the challenging Australian manufacturing market. 

The best centralised Industry 4.0 and IIoT platforms will also enable an identity-centric, zero-trust approach to ensuring critical devices and associated data streams are protected from tampering or misuse. These platforms automatically sense and establish secure connections with devices anywhere in the IIoT architecture. They deploy identity and access management capabilities to clearly define the role, purpose and lifecycle of each device, system or person within the connected ecosystem and to allow only appropriate access to data and devices.  

While the Australian manufacturing industry has endured a number of challenges and threats in recent years, it is still uniquely positioned to make a significant impact moving forward. In the age of technology and connectivity, it’s now more important than ever for the industry to embrace Industry 4.0, investing in innovative solutions and integrating them into manufacturing processes.  

By doing so, the Australian manufacturing industry will thrive. 

George Harb is Regional VicePresident – Business Ecosystems at OpenText APAC.