Mary Scianna, editorClick image to enlargeLast fall, I attended two major manufacturing trade shows for North America

– the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) and FABTECH. Like previous recent iterations of these shows, digital manufacturing technologies were prominently evident at many exhibitor booths. Indeed, there was a proliferation of smarter tools for manufacturing. 

In speaking to manufacturers and exhibitors alike at the events, what was evident is that not everyone is ready to adopt these new technologies. There is somewhat of a disconnect between what manufacturers would like to see in their operations—adoption of Industry 4.0 tools and other smart technologies—and what they actually have in their shops.

The reasons for this digital divide are many and despite the reticence of many, Industry 4.0 is here to stay. 

Here are four points to consider to close the digital divide.

Understand the true benefits 
There is a difference between promotion versus hype when new technologies are introduced. Articles often raise the expectations higher than the performance these technologies may warrant. Indeed, since many Industry 4.0 tools are still new, the technology is still ironing out bugs and technical issues. It’s important to seek out information that provides a true picture of how a technology will benefit your manufacturing operation and what potential problems may occur. It means digger deeper and going beyond the marketing jargon to learn how the technology in question works and how you can apply it to your operation. 

Calculate the ROI and the PBP
An obvious, but critical component of assessing new digital technologies is to understand and calculate the return on investment (ROI) and the Pay Back Period (PBP). While the ROI is an indicator of the profits a business will earn from an investment, the PBP identifies how long it will take before the equipment has paid for itself.

Talk to your competitors
While suppliers can provide you with information about the benefits of Industry 4.0 technologies you’re considering, an extra step is to talk to competitors with similar-sized operations who have already implemented them. If they’re willing to speak to you, you will be able to better gauge how digital tools can be implemented in your business to help improve your bottom line.

Consider government support
Manufacturers often forget that there is government support for businesses implementing new technologies. In addition to the Industrial Research Assistance Program, Canada has launched a number of programs to assist SME manufacturers including a $950 million investment in an Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Supercluster designed to help next generation advanced manufacturing capabilities.

Digital manufacturing is no longer just a disruptive technology. It is now part of the manufacturing landscape and a key to helping Canadian operations become more competitive. SMT

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