TRNTY Associate Q&A: Industry 4.0 & The Skills Required To Ensure Successful Implementation

Knowledge October 13 2020

This week at TRNTY we have been exploring the shifting focus of Industry 4.0, from increasing efficiency and reducing cost to creating more resilient and adaptive systems that will help businesses to recover and prepare them for future disruptions and uncertainty.

TRNTY Associate James Ricci, an operations and performance expert operating in Michigan, US, who specialises in production operations, change management and Industry 4.0 / SMART manufacturing, has offered his insights to the shifting focus of automotive manufacturing, the recent trends in industry 4.0 implementation and the skills required to execute it well.

James is a board member, public speaker and manufacturing specialist bringing a wealth of hands-on experience to companies that want to instil and maintain a data-driven continuous improvement culture.

James, how, in your view, will the pandemic change the focus of automotive manufacturing?

I believe there will be a permanent shift. The most successful businesses won’t waste the opportunity to learn from this tragedy and better position themselves for the future.

Executives in the automotive sector have already become much more open to implementing new manufacturing strategies. There was already distress in supply chain pre-COVID. Some businesses are not going to make it and the more agile and robust ones are going to be rewarded with new work. Opportunities will present themselves if you work closely with your suppliers and customers.

The demonstrated ability to flex a business is more valued now. An ability to manage at least a 25% change in production throughput, up or down, and do it profitably need to be built into the business model. You can’t do that without flexible agile assets and strong people management systems.

To achieve that, businesses must move away from a small number of all-knowing personnel, who operate on their intuition or based on historic performance of their market.

There will also be acceleration in the adoption of Industry 4.0 techniques. In the near term, I’m seeing less requirement for onerous business cases due to the life or death situation for many businesses.

Which areas have been in the focus of Industry 4.0 implementation?

  • New communication tools and patterns between the company workers, customers and suppliers; communication has become virtual and remote, data is exchanged with more frequency, meetings frequencies have changed with more emphasis on day-to-day operations
  • Remote diagnostics of production line performance; this is enabled through performance monitoring equipment (e.g. on CNC machines) set up for predictive maintenance and or provided via maintenance as service agreements.
  • New data management packages, inside or in addition to the existing ERP system; data needs to be real-time, accurate and useful. Access to it before the pandemic was important, now it is critical. The cost of being wrong is too high. Legacy systems and desktop spreadsheets no longer provide the accuracy and speed necessary.

How has COVID eased the adoption?

It was inevitable, but the COVID-climate has made change easier. Health and safety of the workforce are at the forefront, therefore more people are working remotely, and businesses need to find new ways to keep machines running and production lines operational.

Supply and demand fluctuate on daily basis, which has introduced more fragility into production scheduling. Operations need to become significantly more agile to be able to respond to the changes effectively.

Technically, the focus is no different versus pre-COVID, but timing and the sense of urgency have changed along with the business case requirements. Investment decisions should be guided by criticality. Which products, lines and assets are critical to business success? What needs to be up and running and flexible enough to shift daily? The critical investments will serve as proof of concept and will have the largest impact on financial performance. In some countries, grants are being made available for increased manufacturing automation and the use of new technology, which helps the business case a lot.

What will be the most immediate impact of accelerated Industry 4.0 adoption?

  • More virtual working environment
  • More resilient supply chains
  • Increase in domestic manufacturing (though not necessarily in all sectors)
  • More flexible product lines
  • More use of data in manufacturing
  • Fewer workers who are cross-trained and more versatile

What skills are relevant to design and implement Industry 4.0 principles across the business?

First, the recognition that a cross-functional team is needed as no one person has the answer.

This team needs to bring data, information specialists and subject matter expertise from the whole of the organisation related to people, process and technology.

Diversity of the team is key, including age, backgrounds and work history – people who know the traditional business married with those who are more digitally savvy. HR managers especially take on a different role in the organisation and need to be involved in this process.

What role do you think consulting will play in this transformation?

Consulting brings both a sense of urgency and expertise or knowledge that may not reside inside a typical manufacturer. External support is also a good approach when running a companywide change management programme. I would be looking for a solution where business’ own management is in the lead, and then supplement and augment with external skills in areas were existing team is not strong enough.

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TRTNY’s global network of Industry 4.0, digitalisation, manufacturing and operational excellence specialists are fully aligned with the transformational requirements of automotive, mobility, off-highway and transportation companies.

To learn how TRNTY can support your development of new manufacturing strategies, help guide implementation and enhance operational performance, you can reach us via or