SMEs require low cost entry into Industry 4.0.
While the main Industry 4.0 implementation drivers are financial, economic, social and environmental the overriding factor for SMEs is that it must be affordable.
For large companies, the implementation process is usually one of contacting a large consultancy or industry technology provider leading to the use of what’s sold as a generic solution or platform but actually requires a signifcant amount of expensive customisation. Companies love packaging incomplete things to make them understandable and sellable as a product. However, complex data and analytics requires sophisticated data translations and usecases are usually very company specific. This tends not to matter for large companies as the consultancy/platform fees are substantial.
SMEs’ needs tend to be much simpler and hence more generic. Much work can be done in-house while leveraging skills and experiences of technology providers. Cloud hosting and open source provide low cost tools and storage for analytics. Relatively inexpensive rugged consumer devices will often suffice.
Take care with solution providers selling Industry 4.0 and IoT solutions to SMEs. Some are web companies with only a web site and little or no expertise. Reputable providers will sell physical things and/or have demonstrable software. Case studies and reference sites are rare as companies don’t like to open up their operations to others.
Avoid tying yourself into a system or platform, particularly software as a service (SaaS), that may not be around as long as your company. There are lot of VC companies companies running on borrowed money and hence borrowed time. Should you choose a SaaS solution, make sure you consider regulatory requirements related to the location of the data, security, scalability and service levels (SLA).
Some projects stall because stakeholders expect and look for an off-the-shelf solution that doesn’t exist. While vertical solutions sometimes exist, it’s usually the case they don’t solve key problems and are inflexible to current and future changes. Instead, seek off-the-shelf standards based hardware, components and componentised software that can communicate in and out via standard protocols such as HTTP and MQTT.
Something to remember is that innovation tends to be ongoing and systems need to be adaptable to change. After you have digitised operations, the system needs to be adaptable to changes in assets and people and innovations in new revenue streams, business models and market opportunities discovered and brought about by your new use of data.