INSITE IT - Broad perspective article on "Digitalization and Industry 4.0"
Digitalization – an industrial plant construction tension field
Industry 4.0– this buzzword is on everyone's lips. Plant construction companies having huge expectations in new digital technology tools. The goal: Paperless documentation, flashing 3D models with live status updates of the construction site and increased efficiency. But, who is paying for the innovations and who implements the new processes in organizations?
High customer expectations
In various areas, digitalization is nothing “new” anymore. It’s already an indispensable part of daily life. Especially in classic distribution logistics, the degree of digitization is enormous and already implemented in high complex scenarios.
Also, the industrial construction industry wants to benefit from new technologies and improved ways of working. There is a strong wish to shorten the construction period and reduce the cost – not only in logistics but throughout the whole process of industrial plant construction.
Differentiated company expectations
Many plant-building companies see the advantage of digitization in the increase of efficiency: Better predictability, optimized logistics and site management and centralized data management involving the subcontractors. A transparent process with automated steps is the desire on this end.
The essential capital of industrial plant manufacturers is know-how and employees. Ultimately, they decide on success or failure of new software projects
Existing digital solutions
Several digital solutions are available which cover the whole process of building an industrial plant. From engineering and parts list, to logistic process, material tracking as well as integrated deviation management and installation tracking. Management or daily/weekly reports are just the result out of that.
However, the traditional, often rigid structures of existing ‘historic’ companies make it difficult to (re-)build the digital process. Therefore, the failure is not because of the will itself but because of complicated internal company conditions, which make a rapid implementation of digital tools impossible. Due to a lack of flexibility in various corporate networks, there is an increase in search for cooperations with young, innovative start-ups. That´s how established companies gain access to external know-how and are able to respond more quickly to market opportunities and changes.
Who is paying for digitalization? Who has added value here? For plant engineers, industry 4.0 is difficult to calculate. Keywords such as big data and other megatrends are constantly in the room and promise to be the best solution– in theory.
No building without groundwork!
The truth is: The biggest challenge in digitalization projects is to set up clean processes – the basis forevery change. Different departmental emperors, a wide variety of ways of working, various in-house-custom-made solutions and the "we-always-did-it-like-this” mentality are usually the real obstacles to digitization projects.
Software can support processes and make good companies even better. But an app alone does not solve a problem.
The strikingly flashing 3D model of a system with live status updates is praiseworthy, but difficult to implement without clean processes – starting with engineering, bills of materials, purchasing and shipping through to installation on the construction site.
The first step is the most important!
First, digitalization must be transformed from the holy catchword to a benefit for the respective company and each involved employee. Even if it is difficult – forget the all-in-on device suitable for every purpose. Through the definition of small steps, a rapid prototype ("proof of concept") and quick first successes, one immediately receives corresponding tailwind and can start working on a holistic implementation and build trust in the new solution.
The essential capital of industrial plant manufacturers is know-how and employees. Ultimately, they decide on success or failure of new software projects. Clear advantages for the user, substantial workload and a modern and simple operation are mandatory.
Collaborating with innovative and specialized partners is a great way to take a foothold in the virtual world of tomorrow and gain a competitive advantage. Whether this may offer an immediate financial benefit, is not clear for now. As with many investments, the fruits will only be harvested mid-term.A transformation to digital processes is necessary for plant manufacturers in the most diverse areas. Standing still leads to a long-term competitive disadvantage.
Completely turn away from technological change will probably not be a permanent solution for companies.
That´s why they should keep in mind: Who does not go with the time goes with the time!
This term originates from projects in the high-tech strategy of the German government. It is widely used in Europe for all kinds of computerized manufacturing, technological innovations and for industrial digitalization.