Adapt or die: Industrie 4.0/IIoT is a revolution, not an evolution, and any organisation failing to embrace it will quickly become obsolete.This is the dire warning sounded by speakers st the opening of the Connected Industries conference held this week.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution – the new wave of digitised and connected automation technologies now revolutionising industry, business and the lives of ordinary people – is expected to be a fait accompli by 2025, speakers said. Those who have not embraced it will be overtaken.

Dr Gunther Kegel, board member of the German Electrical & Electronic Association (ZVEI), says Industrie 4.0/IIoT is bringing about radical change in processes and business models.

We have to look to smarter business processes, smarter production processes, smart products and services, smart collaboration and smart standardisation. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is already happening, and organisations have to start changing now – it’s a question of survival.”

Michael Ziesemer, chairman of Germany’s ZVEI, notes that digitisation had already driven fundamental and rapid change across industry and society. “As recently as 15 years ago, nobody wanted to read their newspapers on a screen. Now we have tablets and new digital news models, and traditional media are under pressure. The arrival of digital photography changed the industry and once-strong brands like Kodak are gone.

“In the hospitality sector, hotel chains have dropped off the first page of Google search in favour of booking services and apps. Hotels have lost their direct relationship with customers in under a decade,” he adds.

The Industrie 4.0/IIoT era presents both significant opportunities and significant threats, the keynote speakers said. Suppliers and customers were becoming part of a holistic network, within which products could be customised and produced at the same cost as mass produced goods. New opportunities were opening up to offer value-added services; and big data analytics presented infinite ways for organisations to offer innovative products and services more efficiently and at lower cost. But this connected, fast-moving environment also presents risks to slow-moving traditional organisations, they note.

Digitisation presents a 240-billion euro growth opportunity for Europe alone, Ziesemer says, noting that a significant area of opportunity lay in producing IoT technologies: “IoT needs more than just the internet – it also needs things, the systems and machines. So the race is on to develop them. Speed will drive success. In this new environment, there will be winners and losers.

“Data protection and cyber security are crucial issues now,” Ziesemer says. “In addition, even internal production now faces competition from external suppliers in this fast, flexible new world. There are no guarantees that a competitor won’t harness new technologies better, analyse better and move faster. And people are critical in this changing environment.”

It is critically important to train people to harness new Industrie 4.0/IIoT technologies and models, he adds.
Standardisation will be key to the success of Industrie4.0/IIoT, says Kegel. He noted that efforts were already underway to develop global standards for electrotechnics. “We need to join forces and start early to develop common standards,” he notes, citing progress made on the Reference Architecture Model lndustrie 4.0 – RAMI 4.0.
Oratile Sematle, president of the SAIMC, comments: “The hard truth is that most of South African society has not even experienced the benefits of the second Industrial Revolution. In the face of this paradox, we need to confront the challenges we face in this country and address issues like a lack of infrastructure and a lack of appropriate skills.

“We need to put the infrastructure and platforms in place to cultivate innovative entrepreneurship. Forums such as the Connected Industries conference are necessary platforms for us to reprogramme our minds and seek to advance the automation industry.”

Rob Wright, chairman of IIG Industrial Information Group (IIG) also highlights the skills challenge. “If we do not address this challenge, we risk Industrie 4.0/IIoT bypassing us. Industrie 4.0/IIoT is coming whether we like it or not.

“Change will come and ultimately, analogue will become too expensive to deploy, making South African goods and services less commercially viable for international markets. We need to ask ourselves how – not if – we will adopt and join the revolution.”

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