Even if no one rolled out the red carpet, Industry 4.0 is here. In fact, the fourth wave of the industrial revolution—the one that will see massive business, technological, and societal change because of interconnectivity, smart automation, and a remarkable capability to access and better use data—has already changed companies and whole industries in ways few could have imagined even a decade ago.
That is especially true for discrete manufacturers.
In today’s manufacturing sector, winners and losers are separated by the ability to access and use data to constantly adjust their shop floor in a way that increases efficiency and profitability.
But before you tell your operations leader to go forth and make success in Industry 4.0 happen, there are a few things he or she will need to have to make your plant shine in a brand-new era of discrete manufacturing.
Your operations leader will need:
1. Comfort or experience with change management
Implementing new technology on a plant floor will cause changes to processes and procedures that may have been in place for years, if not longer. That means change. When change happens—especially change resulting from the adoption of technology designed to make a workplace more efficient—people can get very uncomfortable. That discomfort often takes the shape of being quick to label new technology as broken or inferior and even conscious and subconscious attempts to prevent progress.
That’s just human nature.
Unfortunately, technological progress has little patience for human nature.
While temporary challenges amid tectonic change are just a fact of life, your plant is far more likely to succeed with an operations leader who is comfortable leading a team through change. He or she needs to manage the short-term emotional needs of a team while still being able to navigate that team toward an inevitable outcome. Operations leaders like these are rare and invaluable. If you have one, make sure they know their value and importance to the company.
If you don’t have one, you may want to start looking.
Or you can start developing that next generation operations leader from your own talented pool of operators and shop floor personnel.
2. An innovative mindset
Industry 4.0 is new.
Success in a new era depends on having leaders with a natural eagerness to try new things. If you have an operations leader who is comfortable suggesting new ideas even (and perhaps especially) when those ideas are not adopted, then consider yourself well prepared for Industry 4.0.
An inclination toward innovation is a personality trait and a learned behavior. Some people are just naturally that way. They need to try the “new” new thing. Other people become that way through experience or learning. A non-innovative person sometimes only needs to see the new thing work once to understand that embracing innovation can have a big payoff.
Innovators aren’t just born.
And innovators aren’t just made.
They can arrive on the scene using either path.
What you can’t have on your shop floor is someone who reflexively dismisses a new idea or tool without ever giving it real consideration, and without ever really being willing to take a risk.
3. Management that is comfortable with a learning curve
In 2007, Pixar released an animated movie called Ratatouille.
It is the story of a rat who becomes the best chef in France. At the end of the
film, prominent food critic Anton Ego visits the restaurant, not knowing that a
rat prepared his food. When he discovers the chef behind all the good food
coming out of the kitchen, he is initially shocked and horrified—but by the end
of the film he has embraced his new friend and invested in opening a brand-new
restaurant with his rat partner.
"The new,” Ego says in a voiceover, “needs friends.”
Yeah, it’s a cartoon about a rat. And it is absolutely right.
The new does need friends.
If upper management at your plant is not a friend to the new, if they aren’t willing to take a few risks in the short term for a future far brighter than anything they can currently imagine, than they are doing it wrong.
Embrace the new.
Be its friend.
And stand beside your operations manager while they lead your plant to a better tomorrow.