Comment: Why manufacturers should evolve at the same rate as the technology they produce

Dean Challinor, general manager at Distec, explores the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution in manufacturing.

The Prime Minister of Belgium, Alexander De Croo, once said: “Every industrial revolution brings along a learning revolution”. From muscle power to mechanical power, we have evolved to where we are today, the fourth industrial revolution: the interconnectivity between the physical and digital world through cyber-physical systems such as “smart factories”, enabled by Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Make UK's  research indicates that 45 per cent of manufacturers have already introduced IIoT and AI technologies. Past industrial revolutions have taught companies that those who are slow or fail to adapt run the risk of falling behind as they struggle to remain competitive. Companies such as Kodak, who were late to the digital revolution and failed to keep up with digital photography, ran into financial difficulties. But what does all this mean for today’s manufacturers?

We are experiencing industrial change at speeds like never before. New operating models are emerging and regular disruptions to the market are changing how we work, teach, and entertain ourselves. Industry 4.0 is all about digitalisation and connectivity – how we capture, share, and apply data across the physical and digital realms. Manufacturers must now focus on implementing smart technologies so they can leverage the data and reap the benefits to remain competitive.

Why then are some manufacturers reluctant to adapt and update old technologies?

Increasing the cyberattack surface

A major concern associated with the digital revolution is the increased risk of cyber-attacks. As the third most hacked industry[1], manufacturing is already in a vulnerable position. Industry 4.0 connects previously isolated systems, which increases the attack surface enabling hackers to move more freely across the network. Without strong protections in place, bad actors can interfere with vital systems, steal data, or even sabotage production.

Manufacturers are concerned that by implementing additional smart technology it could potentially expose them to an increased level of risk as the smart factory’s dispersed network of cloud and on-premise processes can make it harder to detect and defend against attacks. Therefore, technology suppliers and connected equipment manufacturers need to commit to regular security and software patches and audits to avoid being the next victim.


For many however, the benefits of embracing Industry 4.0 far outweigh the above-mentioned pitfalls. Benefits such as: Collaborative working: Increased sharing of information doesn’t always mean increased risk. Manufacturing has always thrived on collaboration and working with a third party can often lead to greater innovation. Significant value can be created for both parties as well as for the economies in which such collaborations take place. Industry 4.0 technologies allow your production lines, business processes, and departments to communicate regardless of location, time zone or platform.

Less machine downtime: Embracing data sharing across a set network can make manufacturers more efficient as they are able to identify and fix bottlenecks locally without having to be on the factory floor.  This means less machine downtime as well as increased productivity and operational efficiency. As a result, the supply chain will become more resilient and agile, improving the response time to changing market conditions and customer demands.

Reaching Net Zero: The manufacturing and energy sectors account for at least 40 per cent of European emissions and are integral in the transition to a low-carbon economy. To reach the 2050 target, manufacturers must look to cleaner sources of energy to fuel production. Automating utility data collections through smart manufacturing technology will help in quantitating a baseline for Green House Gas emissions. Once a baseline has been calculated, smart manufacturing can be used to reduce emissions using methods such as digital twin optimisation and predictive maintenance.

Moving forward with Industry 4.0

Efficient maintenance scheduling, reducing time spent and spares used, increasing serviceability, decreasing downtime, and making optimal use of your human resource; all contribute towards reaching net zero.

As we progress further in Industry 4.0, by adopting IIoT, edge and cloud computing, analytics, AI and machine learning, manufacturers must be agile in their approach and work collaboratively to remain competitive. Industry 4.0 unlocks data barriers and positions manufacturers as forward-thinking technology leaders who value a data-driven culture where employees feel empowered to make intelligent decisions. The more we think about how to harness the technology revolution, the more we will examine ourselves and the underlying social models that these technologies embody and enable.

As Klaus Schwab said “technology is not an exogenous force over which we have no control. We are not constrained by a binary choice between “accept and live with it” and “reject and live without it”. Instead, use technological change as an invitation to reflect about who we are and how we see the world.

Dean Challinor, general manager at Distec