Industry 4.0 is not a shiny factory run by an army of robots, where the occasional employee goes by wearing a 3D helmet, autonomous vehicles go to and fro and drones fly overhead. The subject brings together so many possibilities and technological innovations that it may seem too dense and/or reserved for CAC 40 companies, the ones who have "the time for that." However, the reality is quite different: Industry 4.0 represents a two-pronged approach for SMEs and mid-tier companies to improve their processes and develop new services.

To get a clearer picture, here are five tips from Yann Bègue, Head of Consulting Group, and Pascal Faucheux, Head of Industry, Aeronautical & Transport Sector, at Gfi Informatique.

1. Distinguishing between “Industry 4.0” and “Service 4.0”

4.0 designates the optimisation of existing industrial processes and the quest for competitiveness. The Service 4.0 component concerns the development of new services by industrialists in order to generate new sources of income.

Example: SEB

The French group, world leader in household appliances, no longer sells the “bare” product, but now includes repairability and even recycling. It took this direction in 2008, but only made it visible to consumers in 2016. A strategic choice that required a review of the entire production process and the integration of new 3D printing technologies to make it possible to adjust the spare parts storage policy.

2. Your best asset: a solid roadmap

“SMEs and mid-tier companies are at the heart of our industrial fabric and they don't always know how to deal with the subject of 4.0. They find it difficult to make the connection between new technologies, which are constantly evolving, and their own profession and markets. The return on investment seems difficult to quantify, especially since a SME or a mid-tier company must not get it wrong and must focus its resources on priorities. Hence the importance of building a solid roadmap from the outset. Does this company need predictive maintenance? Better output of its assembly lines? Security of sites and of the work of its operators? Better product traceability? To decrease waste and improve energy efficiency? The business need must be identified as soon as possible in order to determine the technological solutions adapted to each context. And this is also true for large industrial groups: it is not because they have more resources that they should stretch them thinly by launching too many tests.

Two years ago,the industrialists were still asking themselves a lot of questions. Today, many projects are underway and the momentum has been created. France may have gone a little off course in the shift to automation, but could make up for it thanks to Industry 4.0. The implementation of Industry 4.0 projects, particularly for the rapidly expanding automotive and aeronautical sub-contracting markets, should make it possible to improve productivity while allowing a very high level of flexibility and responsiveness.  All this will be possible if companies have a detailed roadmap allowing them to have a clear vsion of the different stages and to master the transformation process.”

Three examples: Figeac Aero, ArianeGroup and Total

  • With regard to SMEs, Figeac Aero, in the Lot department of France, has just signed, at the beginning of October, a 70 million dollar contract with the Brazilian company Embraer. And this wasn't the first good news of the year.
  • As for the major groups, ArianeGroup worked long and hard on its roadmap to respond appropriately to the new competitive environment created by the appearance of the SpaceX company.
  • At the end of September, at the 01 Business Forum, Total, represented by its Chief Digital Officer, Gilles Cochevelou, announced that the group had saved 20 million euros thanks to predictive maintenance. 

3. Start with the Executive Committee

“Preparing management for digital transformation is not just taking them on a field trip to Silicon Valley. It is also necessary to work on real cases, in a Test & Learn logic. It is the responsibility of the Executive Committee to anticipate the necessary investments and to establish a budget that goes beyond the technological tests. Beware of buzzwords and other "dream peddlers": one of the main pitfalls remains the inadequacy between the solutions chosen and the needs that are to be addressed. Technologies are only tools, Industry 4.0is also the redefinition of processes and modes of operation. Integrating these new technologies also means changing the way we work with Partners, Suppliers and Customers. It also means putting staff at the centre of the process by mobilising them as soon as possible so that they become the actors of the Transformation".

Example: Total

Between 2014 and 2018 Total conducted a simple and efficient internal training programme, at almost no cost: the group invited the management team (300 people) to communicate their shortcomings in digital technology and then entrust as many internal mentors with the task of remedying them. They were often much younger employees.

Total are not the only ones to believe in Reverse Mentoring: General Electric, SNCF, Danone and IBM, to name but a few, also practice it.

4. Include HR

“SMEs and mid-tier companies very often put the operator at the heart of their concerns, and they are quite right. They know the value of these qualified employees and what their skills represent. Industry 4.0 must make it possible to capitalise more effectively on these skills and to integrate young employees. Industry was no longer attractive to younger generations, but the introduction of these 4.0 technologies should be able to change the situation and make the sector more attractive. This renewal of the sector's image is essential in order to improve its attractiveness and sustainability."

Two examples: Bosch and Total

  • Bosch’s site in Mondeville (Calvados) is a model of its kind. Its intelligent assembly station, notably, makes it possible to train temporary workers both quickly and in complete autonomy.
  • Gilles Cochevelou, CDO of Total, announced at the 01 Business Forum, at the end of September 2017, that the group was investing heavily in training: "more than 3% of the payroll". This takes form through a "Digital Passport", MOOCs and an internal challenge called "Data Science".

5. Work in an ecosystem

“A large group cannot move forward alone for long. If its subcontractor network does not follow suit, it will "stall". In the same logic, an SME or mid-tier company has a lot to lose if it is purely inward-looking. The time for protection, patent filing and secrecy is over. The future will belong to companies that know how to work as part of a network and share their innovations. Performance is found outside the company, you have to learn to federate and break out of a logic of protection, which pushes us to want to do everything ourselves. SMEs and mid-tier companies have neither the time nor the means to test all the innovations available on the market. Open up: to start-ups, to partners, customers and suppliers and also to your industrial confreres."

Three examples: French IoT, General Electric and SEB

  • The French IoT programme led by Docapost (the BtoB digital subsidiary of the group La Poste) enables companies, start-ups, incubators and competitiveness clusters to progress together on innovative IoT projects. It was a great success from the very first months of the project.
  • Vincent Champain, General Manager of GE Digital Foundry, pointed out at the 01 Business Forum (September 2017) that he had launched a "Digital Industry" challenge to work with start-ups "in contrast to Digital Washing practices.”
  • At SEB, the group's first intelligent multi-cooker, the Cookeo (2012), was able to present recipes to the user and help them to prepare them. SEB has been working since then on machines that understand recipes: the aim is to make household appliances dialogue directly with online recipes. The approach gives it an important place at the heart of the industrial ecosystem of the agri-food industry (manufacturers and distributors), as well as in the health sector.

More informations about 01 Business Forum

Linked articles