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5 smart tech practices to gear up for the new industrial revolution

5 smart tech practices to gear up for the new industrial revolution

The world has been through three recognised industrial revolutions. The first came with the invention of steam power in the mid-1700s. The second, around one hundred years later, harnessed electrical power for mass production. The third, another hundred years after that, was built on electronics and information technology. Today, the fourth industrial revolution is fast gaining traction around the globe.

The first thing that sets this revolution apart from others is how disruptive it is. Past revolutions occurred at a relatively slow pace, like long waves in the ocean. It took almost 50 years for the impact of the first industrial revolution to be felt. Today, technological change happens like a tsunami – you see small signs at the shore, and suddenly the wave sweeps in.

These five smart technology practices will help you prepare your organisation for the impact of the new industrial revolution:

1. Prepare for the smart factory

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will give rise to what is called the smart factory. Here, all elements of a plant including machines, products and virtually the entire environment are networked with each other and connected to the internet. As a core component of Industry 4.0, a smart factory incorporates intelligence in design, manufacturing, equipment, business and operations.

The smart factory marks some unprecedented changes for manufacturing work teams, such as:

  • Flexible production capabilities to respond to changing demand
  • Greater speed through smarter production processes
  • Greater efficiency with building materials and energy
  • More intelligent logistics through technology solutions that support product manufacturing from the customer sales cycle through final delivery

IIoT and big data serve as the ‘smart’ in a smart factory. IIoT turns manufacturing machinery and the supply chain into intelligent agents that generate data, and analytics tools pull in that big data for self-learning. Work teams that harness this self-learning can move from being reactionary to becoming visionary because they grasp this technological evolution.

2. Make big data work for you

On the factory floor, it is already impressive how sensors, instruments, cameras and other data collection devices are being deployed en masse to record and track a wide range of operational processes. The IIoT is enabling organisations to capture actionable data from machinery across all their manufacturing facilities.

For work teams, data analytics will play a growing role in the fourth industrial revolution. This means everybody on the team will have a graphical view of all data anytime, anywhere — not just line managers. A picture of machinery health and other related data will always be a few taps away.

Three types of analytics will start to help you and your work team make the most of your big data:

  • Descriptive analytics using data aggregation and data mining to provide insight into the past and answer: “What has happened?”
  • Predictive analytics using statistical modelling to understand the future and answer: “What could happen?”
  • Prescriptive analytics using optimisation and simulation algorithms. The output can offer possible outcomes to operations and maintenance scenarios and answer: “What should we do?”

It’s important for your team to factor analytics and data into the work strategy and learn to tell data-driven stories about progress (and not see the analytics as intrusive).

Think of the team in the future that wants their employer to purchase new technology or an improvement system to extend their manufacturing platform. The investment makes sense to the technical people on the floor. Executives, however, aren’t such an easy sell. But the informed and empowered work team can now present compelling data that enables them to speak to executives in their own language.

3. Endorse automation on the manufacturing floor

Another outcome of the fourth industrial revolution is automation. Indeed, it’s a sensitive topic across many industries as automation is going to disrupt work teams. Executives smell cost savings; employees fear the unemployment line. This clash between employees and management ultimately needs to become a platform where both parties seek out the opportunities and benefits that automation delivers to the business, and how to redefine employee roles in the future.

operational excellence

To gain the benefits you’re seeking from automation — whether it’s freeing up skilled hands for more important work or reorganising your staffing structure — you’ll need to consider the following:

  • Streamline your current processes or create new ones that account for the savings and other benefits automation brings to your manufacturing floor
  • Implement lean manufacturing best practices
  • Throw out spreadsheet project management and implement a flexible cloud-based project management tool

While digital manufacturing will become the mainstream production model within the next 10 to 20 years, equipment automation should be done not to replace humans, but to help them. Humans and machines need to collaborate to produce higher quality products more efficiently.

4. Embrace mobile technology

Billions of people already reach for their smartphones and mobile devices first for information, collaboration and business interactions. However, the manufacturing industry is still relatively ‘immobile’ in the technology stakes. Industry 4.0 will change that by pushing mobile usage on the manufacturing floor for managers and technicians who need on-demand access to data. No more creating pivot tables in a spreadsheet; instead, think graphical rendering and reporting of data and statistics for machinery across the line.

5. Introduce cloud computing

With the dominance of IIoT, data and analytics, cloud computing is fast becoming the platform of choice because of its flexibility and affordability. While the cloud isn’t new to some industries, manufacturing firms are somewhat behind on this trend. The retiring of legacy applications and mobile apps will help push this trend on the manufacturing floor. Forward-thinking teams and organisations are already moving to the cloud.

Teams reporting for work in a smart factory can expect the following:

  • Cloud-enablement of legacy systems
  • Cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP)
  • Proactive tools including analytics for scheduling of system maintenance
  • Sophisticated software alerting for system and machine failures

Change can be frightening and the temptation is often to resist it. But change almost always provides opportunities — to learn new things, to rethink tired processes and to improve the way we work. The industrial revolution has only just begun, and the transformation it will bring is cause not just for excitement, but also for hope.

But before you join the revolution, first find out why you need a sufficiently high level of operational excellence to capitalise on the looming transformation.


The TRACC framework helps organisations build standardised and integrated good practice and performance capacity across their Plan, Source, Make and Deliver functions. Simultaneously it accelerates their collaboration and alignment capacity to build world class end-to-end value chains, enabling the organisation itself to become the ultimate source of sustainable competitive advantage.
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