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2016 Manufacturing Leadership Summit: Industry 4.0 Pioneer Calls for Global Standards to Make M4.0 a Reality

Posted By Paul Tate, June 08, 2016 at 7:49 AM, in Category: Factories of the Future

Detlef-Zuhlke-.gifThe journey to Manufacturing 4.0 is going to be a rocky road unless industrial companies and international bodies act swiftly to deliver useable interoperability standards that allow modular, plug-and-produce, integrated production lines to become a rapid reality.

That was one the key messages from German Industry 4.0 pioneer Dr. Detlef Zühlke, Executive Chairman of the 47-member SmartFactory Technology Initiative, during his keynote session yesterday at the 2016 Manufacturing Leadership Summit in Carlsbad, CA.

Zühlke sees a fundamental change in global customer demand happening over the next few years – moving from the emphasis on ever cheaper products and devices that has dominated many world markets over past decades, and often based on high volume manufacturing in in low-wage countries, to a more immediate-delivery, highly-customized product paradigm that meets emerging modern demand patterns in the decades to come.

Fulfilling these new needs requires the adoption of highly flexible, more automated, intelligent, modular production systems, he says.  This is a trend that he believes also promises to help redress the global manufacturing balance back towards more advanced economies of the world where labor costs are not the only determining factor.

“This maybe the start of a new world economic structure,” argues Zühlke, “because those countries who have based their business models on low-cost production will have to look for something else to drive their growth, while developed countries should prepare for a new levels of demand for their production expertise in quality and customization. New digital technologies will be the solution to increasing their production, productivity and prosperity.”

Yet harnessing that technology requires a change of approach to our current production platforms, dramatically transforming the structures of factories and breaking down the hierarchical approaches we’ve had in the past.

“In the future, it will be a much more dynamic world with production, products and people all connected on a more horizontal basis,” he says.

But to turn that dynamic future vision into a practical reality, the Manufacturing 4.0 world urgently needs multiple layers of standards so that standardized modular components can be easily integrated into a single, interconnected production line, with rapidly replaceable and extendable units, like using a set of Lego bricks.

Such a ‘plug and produce’ approach will strengthen the ability of companies to achieve mass customization, and deliver ‘batches of one’, at the same speed as high volume production. 

But that will only work if we have a set of standards, driven by industry collaboration, and covering every aspect of these new M4.0 digital platforms – from electromechanical elements, connectivity, and interoperability, to smart product apps, and new digital service platforms – so that all parts of future M4.0 production systems, and associated market-driven business models, can work together effectively.

The brave new world of individual customization can only work if it is underpinned by predictable common standards, it seems. 

Written by Paul Tate

Paul Tate is Research Director and Executive Editor with Frost & Sullivan's Manufacturing Leadership Council. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Council's Board of Governors, the Council's annual Critical Issues Agenda, and the Manufacturing Leadership Research Panel. Follow us on Twitter: @MfgExecutive

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