Challenges and solutions for the digital transformation and use of exponential technologies
Around the world, traditional manufacturing industry is in the throes of a digital transformation that is accelerated by exponentially growing technologies (e.g. intelligent robots, autonomous drones, sensors, 3D printing). The pace of change reflects ’Moore’s law’ on the speed at which information technology-driven change happens. Companies and their industrial processes need to adapt to this rapid change if they are not to be left behind by developments in their sector and by their competitors.
This study investigates the extent to which Swiss manufacturing companies have already positioned themselves in relation to this digital transformation and the opportunities the switch to ’industry 4.0’ offers them.
- Increase competitiveness: a clear majority of companies surveyed believe that the digital transformation to industry 4.0 will increase their competitiveness. Only a small minority of companies see this transformation affecting their current business, although they believe that major change is inevitable. A few individual companies argue that industry 4.0 could slow down the trend towards relocating production to low-wage countries, but this argument overlooks the fact that, as a result of automation, the trend towards relocation is often driven more by the need to produce goods locally in new growth markets than by the ability to produce goods more cheaply.
- Utilise opportunities and reduce risks: industry 4.0 represents a number of major opportunities for Swiss manufacturing. It will open up new ways for companies to integrate their customers’ needs and preferences into their development and production processes, including via direct data-sharing with their machinery. It will also make it easier to analyse machine data, helping to enhance quality and avoid faults in the production process. In terms of risks, companies believe that the digital transformation to industry 4.0 could further increase the already heightened cyber risk to manufacturing industry. Leading manufacturing companies are taking a proactive approach to both opportunities and risks.
- Adjust talent and IT resources: most of the companies surveyed note that in many areas, they do not have all the staff they need to make the digital transformation to industry 4.0. One-third of companies have an appropriate IT infrastructure in place for the switch to industry 4.0, but just under half believe that their infrastructure is not wholly suitable. The remaining companies report that they lack the appropriate infrastructure for change on this scale. If the digital transformation to industry 4.0 is to be successful, however, it is essential that businesses invest in appropriate skills and an excellent IT infrastructure.
- Develop potential for individual business segments: research and development (R&D), procurement and purchasing, production, and warehousing and logistics are currently at the heart of the digital transformation to industry 4.0, while sales and services are the segments with the greatest potential to benefit from it. In these segments, more strongly individualised solutions have the capacity to take manufacturing into a whole new era of customisation. This will require the sector to switch from the ’push into the market’ of better products for their customers to an individualised understanding of customers’ needs and specialised, industry-specific solutions (’pull from the customer’).
- Use impetus from exponential technologies: a majority of companies surveyed agree that the key technology 3D printing (additive manufacturing) will accelerate the transformation of the Swiss manufacturing industry to industry 4.0. According to our survey findings, only very few manufacturing companies are so far making full use of the scope offered by 3D printing technology in their development, production and logistics processes. Just one-halve of those surveyed plan to invest in 3D printing technology in future. Most companies are only just beginning to use this new technology and there is a risk that they may miss the opportunity, because some companies have already been working with 3D printing for several years and are developing the next generation of applications. The same can be also said for other exponentially growing technologies.