In the 18th Century mechanical production was powered by water and steam. This was followed by electrical energy; electronics and today, cyber-physical production systems. But where will tomorrow take manufacturing? Accenture is a professional service company that has some of the answers.

At the recent Xylexpo exhibition in Milan, the Accenture Company presented an information session on the future of the manufacturing industries; in particular, that of the furnishing industry. Accenture already operates in the industry, specifically with Biesse Group’s Sophia IOT software platform. The presentation was made by Accenture’s Giancarlo Paccapeli and Supplier presents an overview of the presentation here. We note that Homag and SCM Groups both have recently developed IOT (Internet of Things) platforms available to their customers and the issues discussed by Accenture will be common to the others.

In the 18th Century mechanical production was powered by water and steam and we refer to this as Industry 1.0. The 20th Century gave way to mass production based on the division of labour and powered by electrical energy; Industry 2.0. From about 1970 to recent times Industry 3.0 was about electronics for the automation of production and front/middle/back office. Today there is a lot of talk about Industry 4.0 overseas but here in Australia even some of the biggest manufacturer’s don’t know it as such. They practice digitalisation but may not recognise the terminology and what it really means. For tomorrow, Giancarlo (pictured) talks about ‘Industry X.0’ and where this will take us.

To succeed in Industry X.0 (the future) industry needs to focus on three key areas. There are to reinvent the product; to re-shape business models and to re-define the customer experience. The product of yesterday features mechanical elements (the machine); electronic elements (control) and software. The product of tomorrow, according to Accenture has no features, but rather, experiences. It is something different, something you can set, configure and update, it is something that gives you original functions and is always evolving. The product of tomorrow has Mechanics, electronics and software but added data and services. It will be an ecosystem that is digital and connected. It’s like the auto industry; they no longer talk about how much power their new car has; they advertise it on connectivity with digital apps including Facebook.

Managing Director of Accenture Davide Puglisi said “I have seen Italian companies in the wood industry approach this new age of changes with isolated initiatives involving specific technologies (machines). Of course, you will still start from an investment in one specific piece or set of equipment, but it is essential to see the full picture very clearly. Besides machinery or technology itself, they need qualified service and consulting within short timeframes.” Accenture say that when you think of Industry 4.0 you have to build skills, “The necessary competence to invent new solutions to offer to the market and also to explain them to their future users, to teach how to use them and to tell about the possibilities they offer” says Davide.

So; every product and production process will be smart. It’s self-monitoring, data-generating and aware of its context. We see this now with the IOT software shown at AWISA this year. You can be advised when a part is about to fail and schedule maintenance for this. You are in command of your production because you are aware of completion times and employee output. It’s possible to control or monitor equipment remotely and of course, feed and offload them using robots. Every product and production process will be connected by multi-directional communications and data-sharing among people, products, systems and machines and this will be in real-time. Every product and production process will be living. It will have the cultural capability to act with speed and agility to meet current and future needs of the manufacturer and be able to seize opportunities as they arise. Every product and production process will be able to learn. Adaptive interactions will create more relevant and valuable user experiences over time.

Giancarlo says an example of all this is Google’s navigation services and how it takes into account traffic and weather when presenting route information. On my old Garmin when I travelled down the same route every morning it automatically knew I was going to work and would display that on the screen. Giancarlo says these systems will become richer as more people use them and data is collected from around the World. He tells us that at this moment in time there are currently 6.4 billion connections in the industrial field. Homag’s soon-to-be-released-in-Australia Tapio platform makes use of many of these connections and is not limited to Homag’s own machines. Giancarlo says “Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be the new User Interface (UI).

Giancarlo tells us there are six things needed to ‘close the loop’ for Industry X.0 and these start with synchronising your lifecycle clock; to integrate the way you manage your hardware and software lifecycles. The second is to embed software intelligence and connectivity within the ‘dumb metal sheet product’ to enable an interaction with its environment of people, machines and other connected products. Third step is to use analytics to gain insight and decision support from the data connected by your ‘ecosystem.’ Fourth is to make your manufacturing more agile; using industrial automation to increase speed and flexibility. Fifth is to become an ‘everything is a service’ business and finally, sixth is to create your ecosystem. In the digital outcome economy, no single enterprise will be in a position to own the whole digital value chain.

At the moment all this is not easy to understand unless you’re a Paccapelli or a Puglisi and this is what you do on a daily basis; but there are simple things a manufacturer can do while waiting for the bells to go off. You can develop partial or complete digital roles in the workplace and this could be a machine enhancing a human function. You can implement tasks that encourage collaboration between humans and autonomous robots or equipment; and you can re-skill your workers to leverage digital tools (software) and machine capabilities.

Finally, Paccapelli says you should re-define the customer experience and understand the ‘why behind the buy’ to drive and sustain customer loyalty. Involve your customers in shaping the product program. You should analyse data to anticipate customer demand. You can also re-imagine your customers experience by immersing them in augmented and virtual reality. Accenture specialises in guiding businesses through their digital transformation. It’s a global organization providing services in areas such as strategy, consulting, digital technology and operations to 75 percent of the top-500 US companies by turnover according to the ranking published annually by Fortune magazine.