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Industry 4.0 has long been hailed as a new frontier for Asia’s businesses, particularly the manufacturing sector which is the lifeblood of many of the region’s economies. Tommy Leong, President, East Asia and Japan at Schneider Electric shares how Interoperability is essential to the uptake of Industry 4.0 technology in Asia.

Tommy Leong , President, East Asia and Japan, Schneider Electric

In today’s reality, as the region rebounds from the major economic challenges of COVID-19, aiming to capture a larger share of global manufacturing, Industry 4.0 should be championed as a survival tactic for Asia businesses. The advanced technological capabilities available today have the potential to dramatically transform the efficiency and expand the capability of the region’s industrial powerhouses, with 65 percent of businesses in the region believing Industry 4.0 tools could help them recover from the current downturn, according to a survey of industrial clients by Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific (ITAP).

According to McKinsey research, Industry 4.0 and digitisation technologies have the potential to optimise productivity, reduce waste and deliver better products and services, potentially delivering productivity gains worth $216 billion to $627 billion in Southeast Asia alone. This is no surprise as Schneider Electric has been supporting the introduction of IoT technology in the region, we have seen that promise begin to be realised.

However, despite the clear opportunities presented by connected technology, there remain several barriers standing in the way of full adoption of Industry 4.0 solutions as well as a general wariness, especially in a region with such a diversity of equipment providers, OEMs and legacy infrastructure.

Couple these challenges with the current economic uncertainty and likely hesitation among many companies to invest large amounts of capital and is becomes clear that the promises of Industry 4.0 may struggle to be realised. And while businesses are optimistic about the potential of new digital technologies, these companies will not have the capacity to see these advantages unless the approach is reassessed and a longer-lens view of the benefits of greater inoperability is taken.

Interoperability is absolutely essential to the uptake of Industry 4.0 technology across the region. Without the ability to transform vast data sources into usable insights in an easy, cost-effective and scalable way, and production optimisation, the region will not be able to cement its place as the world’s manufacturing hub in a re-made economy.

 

The Case for Industry 4.0

As the regional economy looks to rebound and, in some cases, radically transform, Industry 4.0 technology offers manufacturing companies the opportunity not only to play to their existing strengths and implement faster, more flexible and efficient processes and networks to capture greater market share, it will allow businesses to realise new growth opportunities.

Asia has worked hard to secure its spot as the world’s manufacturing hub over the last three decades by leveraging a committed and increasingly skilled labor-force to produce many of the manufactured goods the world’s consumers most needed and desired.

If Asia is able to realise the potential of Industry 4.0 technologies then it is likely that it will continue to lead global manufacturing. This will require a lowering of the barriers to new technology adoption to create greater interoperability and openness between existing and new digitisation systems, for greater efficiency, optimisation, innovation and sustainable production.

 

Interoperability to ease Industry 4.0 Adoption

To thrive in a disrupted business landscape, manufacturers need to ability to seamlessly integrate production across platforms. This is where interoperability come in, which is the ability to deal with a number of different products across networks, some of which are known to us and others that are not known – and maybe those that do not yet exist. Interoperability means delivering a form of integration that is repeatable and extensible, without an onerous amount of time and effort on the manufacturers part. It connotes a high degree of connectivity and openness, often using established protocols to bring the value of multiple data streams together.

Over the past three decades, the region’s manufacturing giants have sourced their machinery over from dispersed providers and with varying standards and processes. This means data analysis has long been siloed and is one of the greatest barriers to adopting data-driven processes that can transform full manufacturing systems. Interoperable digital systems can integrate the varying data flows from separate manufacturing systems and networks to provide a holistic view of the process efficiency.

In Singapore, manufacturers such as Sanwa Group have been able to integrate their systems, creating a model factory where industry partners can collaborate together using the Schneider Electric EcoStruxure platform. Sanwa has used the interoperable platform to achieve extensive visibility over their production energy usage, production data and their machinery’s electrical health status, enabling them to make better informed business decisions. By investing in interoperable and open systems that can communicate, integrating and combining the data from legacy technology, Asia’s manufacturers will be able to deepen their understanding of their business performance and make qualified, data-driven decisions to better their output and optimisation.

The same principle applies to property and facilities. Asia’s manufacturers tend to manage multiple facilities, sometimes across borders. Open and connected systems that allow for greater remote management, as well as consolidated data analysis and the opportunity to optimise processes from a far will also generate significant productivity and efficiency gains. For clients such as Gansu Qilianshan Cement Group, AVEVA’s interoperable process control systems were able to help them to realise their smart manufacturing ambitions across two of their plants simultaneously, achieving visibility of their energy use and allowing them to optimise operational elements. Seamlessly deploying this technology allowed them to save more than 675,000 USD in electricity costs over 2019.

Manufacturers in the region that have embarked on the digitisation journey using plug-and-play interoperable platforms have seen great resilience in despite the economic situation. During the pandemic, our own Batam Smart Factories were able to remain live because engineers could monitor and manage multiple functions, systems and locations remotely. These tools have helped them to achieve a 40 percent improvement in on time delivery, and over the year a 44 percent reduction in machine downtime and five percent savings in energy costs, despite the challenges of remote management.

Interoperable platforms such as EcoStruxure help to alleviate the barriers to Industry 4.0 adoption by being quick and easy deploy and importantly by allowing businesses to have full control their processes down to a per-sensor or per-control unit basis. By combining smart controls and state of the art industrial grade network technology, manufacturers across the region can maximise productivity in a highly cost-efficient manner, and one that has minimum impact on existing processes, outputs and staffing requirements.

Given the hazy economic outlook following the COVID-19 pandemic, we must give businesses across Asia all the tools to re-cement its place as the world’s manufacturing hub, and interoperability is key to the quick and successful deployment of these tools.

 

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