In September 2014 I was appointed as senior expert manufacturing, Industry 4.0 at Bosch Software Innovations. One of my key tasks is to apply all the experience I have gained during my career to help develop IT solutions in the manufacturing environment, with the ultimate aim of tailoring these solutions even more closely to our customers’ individual needs. I act as a kind of mediator, which means people ask me lots of interesting questions, especially users in manufacturing. I would like to share some of the best ones with you in this blog post.
What we’re also seeing is the emergence of an entirely new profession – and even a new kind of career profile – in the Industry 4.0 context.
My career highlights:
- I spent 3.5 years working as a project manager for the production of special-purpose machinery. This primarily involved planning, developing, and commissioning production lines for Bosch locations in various countries including China, Brazil, and France.
- I spent a further 3 years working as a senior expert for international production coordination, focusing on the planning and tracking of investments, production planning, ratio projects, and the Bosch Production System.
- I have spent 12 months working as senior expert manufacturing and team leader for data mining. My job involves all sorts of different tasks, many of which you can read about below.
Challenges for Industry 4.0 experts
I had the benefit of six years’ experience in special-purpose machinery manufacturing and production coordination. So what challenges were at the top of my daily list of priorities?
At the end of the day it was always about creating the right foundations to ensure that we could manufacture products at a profit and at an exceptional level of quality.
When I was working in special-purpose machinery manufacturing, I focused heavily on how we designed, developed, commissioned, and optimized our production lines. Provided you do a good job in the planning phase, then the question of how reliably and successfully the whole system will eventually run is ultimately decided in the commissioning phase. However well you plan, you will always be faced with some problems – you simply have to be realistic about that.
And that was my job as a project manager: to identify each and every one of those problems and find an effective way to eliminate them once and for all so that we could continuously improve the production line. That job taught me just how useful IT solutions such as manufacturing execution systems (MES) can be, for example when you’re optimizing plant performance or analyzing problems with processes. But I also came to realize that some data can actually be misleading when you’re trying to improve things if you don’t have a sufficiently clear understanding of the context and origin of that data.
In my production coordination role I specialized in planning and monitoring production capacities and investments in a globally active business unit with 11 manufacturing sites. The main focus was to ensure we made adequate use of our production capacity and to pursue a strategy of continuous improvement in production costs so as to achieve specific productivity and earnings targets.
Qualification for Industry 4.0 experts
Today I’m one of the software specialists at Bosch who are driving forward the IoT with new software solutions and concepts. So why did I make the switch? And what qualified me to take on this completely new role?
I was tremendously pleased and excited when I got the chance to take my experience from the production arena into an IT company that develops innovative software solutions for the very area I had been working in. Until I made the move, I could have been a potential customer of Bosch Software Innovations myself!
Industry 4.0 is an application of IoT principles and technologies in the manufacturing environment. In my view, that essentially means bringing together web-based IT technology with production and process engineering in order to achieve things like exploiting new ways to improve manufacturing; it’s basically moving another level up from the ongoing development of automation and lean manufacturing.
I like to play the role of a mediator between the engineers in the manufacturing company and the IT experts in our company. My primary goals are to better understand our customers’ needs and to develop the best possible solution in joint discussions with the customer, but sometimes I’m actually clearing up misunderstandings between the two sides. That typically involves issues such as availability requirements for IT systems in manufacturing and the planning and implementation of software updates.
Day-to-day work of Industry 4.0 engineer
What does my day-to-day work involve nowadays? Who would I recommend this kind of career to?
My day-to-day work is a continuous shifting back and forth between IT and production tasks, but also between our customers, our own company, and any partner companies that might be involved. And all these tasks are closely interlinked with broader business management issues and an international context. The key things that help me deal with these issues professionally and competently are my interest in and enthusiasm for IT and data, and the operating experience I gained in manufacturing environments.
If you want to work together with customers and partners, jointly laying the foundations for successful collaboration, you need good communication skills and the ability to listen and see things from other people’s perspectives.
Benefits of Industry 4.0 for production managers
Virtually all the solutions currently on the market for manufacturing environments bear the label ‘Industry 4.0.’ Where do the most benefits really lie for production managers?
I think it’s very important to look beyond that popular façade of Industry 4.0, because ultimately the primary goal is to boost your competitiveness. New solutions can be a part of achieving that goal if you’re willing to combine innovative IT technology with the extraordinary expertise that Bosch has built up in manufacturing, plant engineering, product development, and sensor technology.
But the key for me is not to focus on the technology itself (e.g. RFID, tablet computers, augmented reality) but, much more importantly, to focus on the benefits and uses. The aim of Industry 4.0 is to give companies a sustainable competitive advantage. So people should view it as an enabler – a means of tackling specific areas for improvement that are derived from medium- to long-term business requirements.
To get a clearer idea of which areas typically need improving, we carried out a survey of production managers in the Bosch Group and in other manufacturing companies, primarily in Germany. The results of that survey suggest that the benefits people primarily expect from Industry 4.0 are increases in output, reductions in the internal failure costs, and lower costs for maintenance and servicing.
Against that backdrop, I always advise customers that they should start off by conducting an in-house assessment of each area of responsibility and deciding at which points they would like to use software solutions to enhance competitiveness. As a rule, you can then work with the customer to turn this into a successful basis for deriving and implementing tailor-made solutions. The idea is not that your solution should find a suitable problem, but that the problem should find a suitable solution!
Industry 4.0 challenges of the future
What are the principal challenges that production planners will face over the next five years?
One of the key aspects of Industry 4.0 software solutions is to put more of a focus on the people who work in industry, including production planners. Instead of having to proactively monitor production data, the idea is that production planners automatically receive notifications about IT systems of any anomalies or deviations that occur. In addition, methods such as data mining are opening up new opportunities to use existing data to gain additional insights that are not yet available in many places (e.g. correlations between individual steps in the production process) and to forecast future trends on the basis of historical data (e.g. malfunctions, scrap rates). This suddenly gives production planners the ability to proactively prevent problems instead of constantly being derailed by unforeseen problems and the urgent solutions they require.
I would argue that this will give production planners more scope in the future to maintain a more concentrated and targeted focus on continuous improvement. Future IT systems will be more likely to provide useful information on areas that could be improved. But the tasks of analyzing this information and effectively implementing a suitable response will continue to form a key part of a production planner’s work.
Industry 4.0 – where to focus on?
What do I think should be the number one focus of people who want to benefit from Industry 4.0 today?
On the one hand, you have the vision of Industry 4.0 with its autonomous, flexibly interacting cyber physical systems (CPS). We obviously need to keep working on this concept because the long-term benefits are clear. On the other hand, we already have tremendous volumes of production data in systems such as MES and ERP, as well as technologies that already enable us to generate added value from that data.
We should be using these not only to reap the short-term benefits they offer, but also to gain practical experience that will gradually help us move closer and closer to the vision of Industry 4.0.