May 11, 2018 – We speak to Eric Logan, U.S. Advisory Managing Director at KPMG LLP, for his thoughts on industrial robotics and the evolving manufacturing environment.
• The current industrial robotics landscape
The industry has been preparing for the increased use of automation for quite a while. In fact, KPMG’s own research indicates that robotics is expected to grow by 23 per cent over the next three years, meaning the ability to deploy in an efficient and effective way is going to be critical. If you look at the robotics industry, historically, the bulk of the impact has been in areas that weren’t specifically manufacturing related or designed for new robotic systems. However, as the demand for automation increases, the industry is shifting.
In the past, we saw manufacturers invest in robotics simply for discrete tasks — using a robotic arm to move an item from one line to another. Today, for Industry 4.0, robotics is one link in the chain. Now, we’re seeing a lot more cobots and automation that is real-time data driven. In Industry 4.0, different components are interconnected within the manufacturing environment where one doesn’t really exist without the other. Yet the true potential exists when these components are also connected to key activities outside the manufacturing environment. We tell clients that confining any of these discrete elements to ‘the four walls of the manufacturing floor’ means losing a good deal of the potential benefits of Industry 4.0.
The fact is today’s robots don’t exist in a vacuum. They are consistently fed with an immense amount of information that enables them to complete multiple tasks. For example, in a storage facility, a robot can determine what item to pick based off of the schedule in the facility. The robot can make ‘decisions’ based on the data it’s fed versus performing the same discrete task over and over.
• Some barriers that hold manufacturers back from adopting the smart factory
We have a number of clients who ask us how they can implement Industry 4.0. We tell them all the same thing: first, take a step back and evaluate your strategy. The type of technology an organization implements must be integrated with the business model, the organization and the output, and there must ultimately be buy-in from the individuals there. Having this kind of ecosystem view also takes into account an organization’s mechanisms for communication and network infrastructure, like a methodology that pulls big data into a Cloud application that feeds AI information to the machines. Because of all the necessary infrastructure that is part of the connected factory, implementing Industry 4.0 means that manufacturers must take a topdown holistic approach as opposed to a project-specific approach.
In my view, this is where a lot of organizations fail. They don’t look at integrating technology holistically, but rather as one-off opportunities. Industry 4.0 should be seen as a system of opportunities that work together to deliver a specific return, and that return is not always just an economic return. It should be a specific return – or set of returns – that is driven by the organization’s strategy.
Two challenges manufacturers need to overcome to have a better connected environment are data analysis and data security. The key is ensuring you have the correct data storage methodology, the right data analysis tools, and that you’re using the data appropriately.
The collection piece isn’t as hard today; the real challenge is determining what data is important and how you analyze it to make it useful and help increase manufacturing output. There is so much data today that manufacturers are overwhelmed with the amount they’re able to collect. There are organizations that have opened separate centres just to hold the data they’ve collected without having an understanding of how to appropriately use it. And of course, when using Cloud technology that crosses the boundaries of the manufacturing floor, cybersecurity becomes a significant concern.
• The rise of industrial robotics
Robots are definitely driving manufacturing efficiency; in some cases, they are working with humans and in other cases, they are working beside humans. In many cases, people implement automation to define greater repeatability and reliability — as opposed to having humans perform the same task. A bunch of new jobs have opened up thanks to robotics. People doing data and analytics and process automation will have new opportunities because this is a growth industry.
There has to be intent behind how you roadmap for Industry 4.0 and how you integrate it into your business. Robots today are much more driven at the interface by some type of artificial intelligence. The reality is today’s technologies extend beyond the four walls – it’s about connectivity in an interactive hub. We’re seeing a huge revolution of automation and it’s reaching all areas of the manufacturing operation – including the front office, back office and supply chain. It’s not just about putting a robot on the floor. It’s important to think through the whole organizational structure and how it could be impacted.