5 steps you should take to successfully onboard Industry 4.0’ & make your discrete factory digital, connected & smart

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Industry 4.0, connectivity, smart-factory, digital factory, digitalization, IIoT… sound familiar? These certainly aren’t new terms in our discrete manufacturing industry.

Still, with the recent evolvement of technology, the variety of new industry 4.0 solutions, the extensive knowledge of plant managers and the competitive arena, these terms now represent a real change in our ecosystem and are more relevant than ever before, making it to the mainstream.

Simplifying and optimizing manufacturing processes goes beyond simply reducing cost and waste, making smart decisions, optimizing supply chain collaborations and more.  

Industry benchmarks and predictions:

As always, way-paving enterprises that have already joined the game, show very interesting  benchmarks and present substantial growth due to digitalization.

Digitization will account for 30% of total revenues –  

Industry predictions are very optimistic; IDC’s Manufacturing Predictions 2018 report predicts that the ecosystem landscape will change dramatically due to digitalization, saying that “by 2020, 60% of the G2000 [top] manufacturers will rely on digital platforms that enhance their investments in ecosystems and experiences and support as much as 30% of their overall revenue.

In addition “75% of all manufacturers will participate in industry clouds, although only one-third of those manufacturers will be monetizing their data contributions.”

Smart manufacturing will speed up execution by 25% –  

The growth in revenue obviously means that execution time will change dramatically as well, as ICD predicts:“by 2021, 20% of G2000 manufacturers will depend on a secure backbone of embedded intelligence, using IoT, blockchain, and cognitive to automate large-scale processes and speed execution times by up to 25%.”

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What about discrete manufacturing?

Looking specifically at discrete manufacturing, it seems that this vertical (or should I say ‘our vertical’) will heavily rely and significantly invest in  IIoT. BCG predicts the growth in spending on Internet of Things (IoT) worldwide in 2015 and 2020. Discrete manufacturing shows a 30 billion Euro growth in spending by 2020, and along with transportation, logistics, and utilities,will account for 50% of overall IoT spending.

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When it comes to discrete manufacturing growth in general, industry leaders’ predictions are optimistic – in our latest IIoT Survey (conducted jointly with SME) we asked 400 C-level manufacturing executives across a variety of verticals about expected growth due to digitalization, and almost all respondents (93%) mentioned that they expect single or double digit growth over the next three years; 54% expect double-digit growth. Only 7% expect their business growth curve to stay flat or to drop.

Predictions aside, the growing trend of factory digitalization is already happening, with clear advantages to players adopting IIoT technologies.

Raj Batra, president of the Digital Factory Division of Siemens, talked about this “do or die” situation in the 2017 Siemens Automation Summit saying:

“More than 50 percent of the Fortune 500 has disappeared since 2000 and the main reason cited for this is digitization…Companies large and small have to learn there’s a lot to gain from digitalization and a lot of risk by not going down this road.”

Digitalizations’ main benefits

Before we dive into the ‘holy grail’ of 5 Steps to Onboard Industry 4.0, let’s just say a few words about why digitization is such a game changer for manufacturers and discrete manufacturers specifically.

Here are just a few clear advantages:

  • Revenue growth – First, the most important benefit is the bottom line. IIoT is there to boost efficiency and to dramatically lower production costs. McKinsey & Company estimate that IoT has a total potential economic impact on factories that is valued at 1.2-3.7 trillion dollar a year by 2025. How much money can it save you? Depends. You will have to reach out to  a leading discrete manufacturing IIoT solutions (such as Plataine) and ask for a detailed analysis.
  • Meet the deadlines – Meeting delivery deadlines while maintaining quality is a key performance indicator for every discrete manufacturing site manager. Nothing helps reaching this KPI at scale more than a smart IIoT solution. As more and more manufacturers join industry 4.0, the standards continue to get  higher and higher. Manufacturers can no longer allow themselves to be constantly late if they wish to maintain their prestige.
  • Shop floor control 24/7 – Digitalization, let alone IIoT cloud-based solutions, provide plant managers with the ability to monitor and control the shop floor, on the spot or on the go, by presenting information collected via digital platforms in real time. This control is priceless and allows industry players to minimise harm.
  • AI-based optimization – Humans are smart, that’s true. But humans have memory capacity limitations, physical limitations and humans make mistakes. They also are not always capable of making optimal decisions that consider all parameters. That’s when technology comes to aid.  A quality manufacturing IIoT platform that includes optimization capabilities alerts you about the most important and critical data insights in real time, and recommends optimization steps that can transform your entire production operation.

Optimization is the main potential of Industrial IoT!

Being able to optimise production, to increase asset efficiency, to provide inventory visibility, to lower downtime, to minimize waste, to reduce changeover time, to optimize capacity…all of this at scale.

  • Quality control & predictive maintenance – maintenance is a big issue that can lead to substantial downtime or damage product quality. Making sure that maintenance or quality faults are prevented from happening before they cause serious losses is one of the top benefits of smart manufacturing digitalization.
  • Human resources optimization – Making a factory connected and smart does not mean that the factory’s employees are obsolete. Actually, digitalization of factories might have the opposite effect; it can make people, as well as machines, more productive by providing access to the right information at the right place and time and by opening communication channels.
  • Optimize working processes – besides optimizing the ‘work’, digitalization is also about optimizing processes and methodology,which is far easier when everything is connected via the same dashboard with a great UI.   


5 major steps you should take to leverage IIoT for your discrete factory:

 1 . Estimate existing gaps

Every project starts with a list of current gaps and weaknesses. When making a transition towards a connected factory, or before implementing an IIOT optimization solution, it is only natural to have some major gaps, whether it be in your machinery, your work methods, your employees or elsewhere. Knowing these weaknesses in advance might help you understand where to focus your efforts. Important: some of these gaps are ‘a show stopper’ and some can be treated later on, without holding back smart IIoT implementation. I advise to do your homework and know in advance how to treat each gap. How? Consult with manufacturing IIoT software providers that match your type of factory. They will assist.

  2 .   Explore and prioritize technology partners



Investigate which technologies better fit plants like yours and can deal well with the specific industry you belong to. For example, discrete and complex manufacturing are very different from other manufacturing industries and require specific types of technology. 

Explore deeply the features and apps of the solutions that you investigate. Only a few will fulfil the optimization promise they all talk about. Make sure the solution you choose not only collects data but also offers optimization steps and helps you make the right decisions, otherwise you have gone only half way.

Consider important parameters such as security, onboarding support and training, ongoing support level, executives expertise in your industry, compatibility with future levels of scale, integrations with your existing platforms, references and of course, pricing.

Deciding on an IIoT solution isn’t a simple task. Expect this process to be long and to have multiple steps. Make sure you assign the right people on your team for this task.  

 3 . Define needs – Make sure you stick to YOUR specific needs

Adapt the digitization process to your specific needs. For example, you can start small, from a single asset (or app) and scale to more assets or sites. On the other hand, you can connect your entire shop floor. It’s up to you. My advice is not to bite off more than you can chew and work with a partner that can support this strategy.  

4 . Incorporate intelligent sensors

Everybody uses sensors. No doubt about it. Sensors are responsible for generating the data that is collected and analyzed. The question is which sensors are being used… or more importantly, how the selected solution “talks” with the sensor that you already own or are about to add. Top II0T solutions will probably offer a deal that includes the sensors as well (their own or via 3rd party integrators that they work with). Make sure the technology you incorporate offers  RFID / BLE sensors, as well as temp sensor (these are quite common), Machine PLC sensors and so forth.

What sensor should you have, based on your machinery? Again, consult with IIoT solution experts . It’s the best way to know exactly what is missing and what solution is right for your organization.


   5. Smartly onboard  / kickoff the project


Prepare your factory for digitization that’s coming: Hire the right person to drive the process (maybe even hire that person before step 1 starts…) and plan for the change in inventory (storage, for example). Create work processes and standards. Lay the groundwork – it will be worth your while. Most importantly: consider the training. Training annoys everybody. It consumes time and effort, it’s hard, it adds to the load. But, you must be very strict here. Your success depends on team engagement. Don’t get to a point where the new IIOT solution isn’t used, or used partially.


It’s not a question of whether to digitize your factor, but rather a question of how to do so. Moreover, it is not a question of whether or not to use a smart IIoT solution, because ultimately it will help you optimize your production processes. The benefits are endless, but there are also risks and challenges.

My advice for you is to understand the transformation that it will bring, know the benefits, properly estimate the efforts and impact time, and lastly – select the right vendor.  Only a selected number of experts can lead you through your digital transformation and fulfil your specific requirements.

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