Connected Factory Solutions and Industry 4.0

One of the great promises of Industry 4.0 (a phrase I promise I’ll only use once in this post), is increased connectivity in manufacturing operations across factories.

The convergence of a number of technological innovations created networks where there were silos, feedback where there was silence, and data where there was mystery.

There’s a name for these kinds of networked operations: connected factories.

But when we talk about connected factories, it’s often about the kinds of technologies that enable connectivity. Or we champion connective software and solutions as an end in itself, something done for its own sake.

In my observation, connectivity isn’t just about technology. Fundamentally, the connected factory is about empowering workers to evolve their work. It’s about outfitting workers with the tools they need to transform their operations themselves.

Here’s why.

Illustration - "Digital transformation is a human initiative"

What is a Connected Factory Solution?

Connected factory solutions generally refer to some combination of technology including IIoT, edge computing, and smart sensors use to improve visibility and control on the shop floor.

With connective technology, we don’t have to wonder what’s happening when a machine runs, because we now have the communication infrastructure and analytical techniques to turn operational data into insights.

We don’t have to wonder what operators are doing on the line, because manufacturing applications and seamless human-machine interfaces help us understand the human component of production.

But the definition of connective technology is less interesting than what it enables.

A connected factory solution enables humans to make informed decisions in real-time. It improves visibility throughout the value stream, making it possible to identify and target improvements. And it creates workflows that match how manufacturers work.

So what this means is that workers aren’t just digitally connected. In reality, they also have the ability to draw on their years of experience in manufacturing to shape production in meaningful and impactful ways.

Digital Transformation is a Human Initiative

Those closest to manufacturing processes understand them best.

Digital innovation isn’t putting a bunch of sensors in a factory and calling it a day. At its core, connectivity is a means to an end.

Rather, it’s giving workers the ability to transform manufacturing from the bottom up.
Empowering workers with digital tools on the shop floor allows them to make data-driven decisions to evolve their own processes.

Think about it. Transformation is an ongoing process. It can’t be something that happens once and then, voila! A factory is transformed. The nature of transformation is such that it has to happen in increments and it has to occur at every level of an organization.

When it comes down to it, it’s people who are really going to create change. It’s people who are going to identify areas that require improvement. And it’s people who are going to operate and innovate with digital technologies.

How Connected Factory Solutions Empower Workers

Over time, manufacturing work transformed. All of a sudden, operators were tasked with completing the assemblies that were too complex for robots.

Engineers had to borrow from software development and data science toolkits. Manufacturing technology was designed for IT, not shop floor workers.

In the connected factory, front line workers can now take charge of their improvements. After workers start to understand digital technology, they start to think through it. This is the most exciting moment. When workers think through technology, they’re not just replicating their analog processes with digital tools. Rather, they’re starting to reinvent their work–reinventing what’s possible–by working within a digital medium.

One of the most exciting parts of building Tulip has been seeing how our customers build applications that we hadn’t thought of or configure use-cases that we hadn’t anticipated.

That’s what empowerment looks like to me.

Digital empowerment is when workers can take control of their operations and rethink what’s possible.

Curious how Tulip can empower the workers in your connected factory? Get in touch for a custom demo today.