A new type of customer experience

Manufacturers raise their Industry 4.0 game for customer centricity

Some manufacturers are becoming increasingly generous with the access they allow customers to process planning systems. Customers are using these systems to customize their own products, in some cases. Here, Claudia Jarrett, US country manager at automation parts supplier EU Automation, explains how manufacturers can embrace Industry 4.0 to ready themselves for, what could be, the next evolutionary step in customer engagement (CE) and customer experience (CX).

There use to be a fear among manufacturers that online platforms would make it difficult to treat customers as individuals. Nevertheless, manufacturers are gradually embracing CE and CX models — and sometimes in unexpected ways.

Yet, one thing that never changes is that manufacturers’ relationships with their customers are based on trust. In the era of Industry 4.0, this even extends to manufacturers opening up their entire computer-aided process planning (CAPP) systems to customers, who can log-in and access it with just a few clicks of a mouse.

An open door

One company that’s leading by example in this area is Sandvik Coromant, a Swedish company that supplies cutting tools and services to the metal cutting industry. Sandvik Coromant has been using computerized software for its process planning and production since the 1980s. This has gradually evolved with the times, it today has a CAPP system that connects its different branches worldwide.

CAPP is the link between computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacturing (CAM); it allows the planning of the processes that will be used in producing a designed part. With its online Tailor Made software platform, Sandvik Coromant has made it possible for customers to log-in to its CAPP system online, design their own tooling and have it delivered to them.

According to the company’s own website, it’s customer Kawasaki Precision Machinery was able to go online, enter its requirements for a tool, receive two dimensional (2D) and three dimensional CAD files of the component, and then have the new part delivered to them within 10 days. Quick lead times are cited as a major advantage, and the tool arrived with the customer’s own designated article code printed on the side.

Based on cases like this, some say that customized tooling is the future — it would certainly relieve materials manufacturers of having to stock warehouses filled with off-the-shelf tools. But, how can other manufacturers get on board with offering these new levels of CE and CX?

Building digital

Customized tooling is just one example within a larger shift towards customer centricity. Manufacturers realize that getting closer to customers, and reacting better to their changing and dynamic preferences, is vital to staying competitive.

The recent Digital Factories 2020: Shaping the future of manufacturing report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) cites a survey conducted by the research firm Kantar Emnid with 200 executives from industrial companies in Germany. More than half of respondents confirmed that individualization and personalization of their product offering was one of the main reasons for digitizing their factories.

But, while companies like Sandvik Coromant embrace Industry 4.0, others have still to catch-up. Fewer than 30 per cent of manufacturers said they have extensively adopted Industry 4.0 technologies in a recent Industry 4.0 & Smart Manufacturing Adoption Report by IoT Analytics. PwC’s Digital Factories 2020 report identifies certain factors that hold manufacturers back from building digital factories.

The top challenge was “a lack of digital vision and culture,” which means manufacturers were unsure how new Industry 4.0 technologies would work throughout the lifecycle of their products, within their company’s network and the wider ecosystem. Others were unclear about the economic benefits and the levels of investment needed.

Clearly, before they can go to the extremes of CE and CX offered by Sandvik Coromant, manufacturers have some initial obstacles to overcome — but how?

Become a virtuoso

PwC’s own suggestion that manufacturers “Become a virtuoso in data analytics and connectivity,” may seem a little daunting — but it needn’t be. Digitalization almost always links back to connectivity. Sensors gather data, this is analyzed by an information layer, then communicated back to connected logistics facilities and production assets. The result? Production can be fine-tuned in real-time to customers’ requirements.

So, if we consider that it all boils down to sensors, then Industry 4.0 needn’t involve the significant capital investment that many businesses think it does. Instead, the key lies in applying the latest specialist technologies, like sensors, as part of a low-cost digital retrofitting strategy. This is where an industrial automation parts supplier, like EU Automation, can help in sourcing the right industrial parts for these systems.

That said, simply connecting systems is not enough. For true synchronization, manufacturers must also develop tightly integrated processes by combining these sensors with effective enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution systems (EMS). They must get beyond the silo culture so often found within manufacturing environments.

Employees, too, must be brought into the fold. This can be achieved with easy-to-use human machine interfaces (HMIs) to get workers directly involved — both high-skilled and low-skilled. In the case of the latter, more accessible data sharing through customized reports and less skill-intensive control are critical steps.

A paper by Brazil’s Federal University of Technology – Paraná (UTFPR), Human Factor in Smart Industry: A Literature Review, sums it up. “Human work will be indispensable in smart industries,” it reads, “both for the development of this concept and the management and operationalization of advanced production systems, technologies and processes.”

Sharing is caring

Which brings us, finally, to security. If manufacturers are to go to the extreme of sharing planning process systems with customers, as Sandvik Coromant has with its CAPP infrastructure, then they must take a proactive approach to cybersecurity with firewalls and network monitoring.

Companies should also consider segmenting their networks, limiting customers’ access to the network unless it is absolutely necessary for CE or CX. Network segmentation is a crucial way of mitigating, or deterring, cybercrime.

We’ve obviously come a long way since the days when manufacturers feared that online platforms would make it difficult to treat customers as individuals. Now, manufacturers must take a leap into Industry 4.0 to embrace the next generation CE and CX.

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