Industry 4.0’s ‘Factory of the Future’ is already here. The technology and ideas that underpin Industry 4.0 are transforming the way that manufacturers operate and providing the insight and information required to build safe, sustainable, and agile production facilities which can keep up with current and future demand.

Despite this fact, many manufacturers still rely on processes and procedures that are traditional, often manual and ripe for improvement — perhaps because of a perception of the size and scale of change required to adopt an Industry 4.0-enabled approach. 

Getting Started 

Industry 4.0 and IoT are great for introducing new and innovative methods into the manufacturing process, but the key is to start simple. It is easy to get blown away by the many features Industry 4.0 has to offer — but there is no point investing in technology that will not be used. Identifying the largest or the most glaring issue, making a plan and then breaking it up into small steps — achievable with minimal investment— can deliver compound value to production.  

1. Streamline Product Changeovers  

Inefficient product changeovers are one of the main causes of downtime on production lines — which can soon add up to a significant loss in capital. The time taken to carry out a changeover can be reduced by ensuring that production workers are prepared ahead of time. This requires little more than a monitoring solution set up to provide a real-time product count, with a corresponding alert to let production staff know when a production run is coming to an end. 

Coding automation software can, for example, monitor printers and send an automated alert when a production run is 15 minutes out from completion, allowing production staff to get prepared ahead of time. For example, this simple change can reduce changeover time from 30 minutes down to 15, enabling more runs to be completed within the working day and eliminating overtime.

2. Limit Manual Data Entry 

Worldwide, operator error is one of the top causes of labeling mistakes — which, if unnoticed, can cause costly product recalls. Even if caught early, the cost resulting from an incorrect code, in terms of rework and wasted stock, can soon add up. It is, however, very easy to correct without requiring significant changes to production processes. 

Simple automated solutions can replace the need for manual data entry on production lines. For example, a barcode scanner can be utilized to populate product labels automatically based on an existing production order. Or, with another simple application of IoT technology, printers can be set up to populate label templates automatically from a central database. 

To simplify further, in a facility with multiple production lines, coding automation software can be used to network printers together, and then automatically populate product label data from a central location — like a production office. Taking a step further, automated vision systems can also be used to automatically check product labels and reject incorrect codes to further minimize the risk of coding errors.

Anecdotal reports say that up to 30% of production downtime is due to coding errors. By removing the need for manual data entry and code inspection, this can be reduced to 0%. 

3. Improve Reporting 

On traditional production lines, machines often work in siloes, with monitoring and reporting left up to production floor teams. When issues arise, reporting of the root cause may not always point to the real issue. 

Integrating line machinery with coding automation software can provide greater visibility of how a production line is operating, helping manufacturers to identify exactly where errors are arising. This can improve reporting and allow manufacturers to understand what improvements need to be implemented to increase production line efficiency and correct causes of downtime. 

This can also be taken a step further to produce production reports providing accurate, non-biased information on production line performance based on print counts, rejection rates, product changeovers and time shifts, for example. 

4. Realize the Benefits of Integration 

Industry 4.0 isn’t solely about new technology — it’s about making the most of the technology that already exists.

By allowing machinery and systems to work together, manufacturers can improve their production capabilities. For example, integrating machinery with an existing ERP or MES system via coding automation software can offer opportunities to automate product changeovers and production schedules. 

Integration with existing planning systems can also autonomously retrieve and distribute product information to multiple printers located across a production facility, ensuring the right code gets onto the right product at the right time.

This is particularly beneficial in industries requiring variable data printing for regulatory compliance, such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices and horticulture (e.g. the new ‘Plant Passport’). 

5. Empower Your Workforce  

In his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Professor Karl Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, called for leaders and citizens to work together to “shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”

Traditional production lines can be stressful places to work: high pressure, fast-paced and prone to error. Industry 4.0 can allow workers to make more productive use of their time and reinvent production lines for maximum efficiency, so that workers are focused where they matter most — instead of menial production tasks. 

At its heart, Industry 4.0 holds the potential for more qualitative enrichment of factory work, providing operatives with a more interesting working environment, greater autonomy over workplace tasks and opportunities for self-development within the workplace. 

Continue the Journey 

Industry 4.0 is not an ‘all or nothing’ commitment. There are stages of progression that manufacturers can pursue and aspects of Industry 4.0 that can be utilized to increase production line efficiency without fully automating all aspects of production. 

By automating simple processes and utilizing the production data that Industry 4.0 and coding automation have to offer, manufacturers can develop a better understanding of their production lines and realize the additional benefits that further automation may bring.  

The key is to start by addressing the small issues that add up to make a big impact. By overcoming production bottlenecks, manufacturers can increase efficiency and obtain more information about their production processes, which in turn can pave the way for more creative solutions in the future.

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