Industry 4.0 is also defined as the “fourth industrial revolution”. What is true in this definition or, to say it better, what is the real meaning of revolution in this case?
One of the most revolutionary aspects of Industry 4.0 is, first of all, the impact it had on the Italian “economic” stage. In a very short time, this new approach allowed to bring the manufacturing industry back to the centre of attention of Italian institutions and economic players with an explosive effect, to say the least.
In this framework, the Government’s action played a crucial role, by giving our country a plan of industrial policy conceived to support and encourage the investments in technology and innovation: these investments are essential for ensuring the enterprises’ competitiveness maintenance.
As far as the definition is concerned, many people consider Industry 4.0 as a real revolution; others see it as an evolution in the way of manufacturing.
In my opinion, Industry 4.0 combines technological innovation – which materializes in the spread of IoT technologies within factories – with a deep organisation change. In other words, the real revolution is primarily cultural: processes, tasks, professional profiles are changing and so are the required skills.
Therefore, professional training is fundamental …
Of course, it is. Professional training has always been an essential asset and Italy has excellent universities. The “Politecnico di Milano”, which I am honoured to be part of, is a shining example of excellence. However, there are other very good universities capable of offering an appropriate training to young people, enabling them to enter the work market and become real resources for enterprises. In any case, technological training is made not only in polytechnic universities and other kinds of universities. It is important that even technical institutes should work on programmes, so that they may be as close as possible to the requirements of the industry world. Industry is dramatically accelerating its development through digitalisation.
Let’s come back to technologies and to the impact of Industry 4.0 on the Italian industry.
Italy is the second manufacturing country in Europe. To maintain and, if possible, even to improve this position, it is necessary not only to pass through a generic traditional innovation, but, on the contrary, there must be a process of factory digitalisation. The aim is to facilitate and support the spread of the enterprises’ connectivity. In practise, this means the creation of “smart products”, i.e. the production of products and services with the support of Information technologies, i.e. “smart manufacturing”, the creation of new business models. This is an intense programme, which can however definitely be sustained by the Italian enterprises, provided that in the approach to this issue our peculiarities are respected.
Could you explain better?
The Italian manufacturing industry is recognised worldwide for its quality and strong customisation of product offering. On the contrary, in the German model, the part characterising the “Made in Italy” is missing and we must enhance the importance of this part. As a country we can work towards a digitalised manufacturing industry for an advanced design, where the leading role is played by the person, who must adequately be trained and updated. We must concentrate on this aspect. On the other hand, in some sectors, for example that of machinery and production systems, there is already a lot of innovative technology related to Industry 4.0, at least partially. The challenge is to increase the connectivity level, for example that of machines, so that they can more and more collect, treat, process and allow data sharing even remotely.
Are enterprises able to do this by themselves?
Starting from the assumption that the innovation level is not homogeneous, it is reasonable to suppose that some companies need assistance. For this purpose, universities, professional associations, territorial and extra-territorial institutions have already taken active steps to provide “information” in a wider sense. Particular attention is given to the SMEs’ world.
What are the real opportunities for the SMEs to get informed?
In a situation of communication overload, it may become difficult to orient oneself, there’s no point denying it. However, I would stress that there are numerous opportunities to reasonably debate and closely verify the possible applications of the new Industry 4.0 approach also with regard to our industry. Relying on qualified people considerably simplifies the selection process, also because today everybody considers himself an expert in the field.
What are the opportunities to get information? Meetings, collection of annotated, specific information material, specific studies, but also demonstration events, which, to be more effective, – I underline once again – must be set in the context and thus studied according to the enterprises’ requirements.
Talking about specific studies, Professor, as you are part of the Manufacturing Group in the School of Management of the “Politecnico di Milano”, could you illustrate the topics to which you are presently committed and how you are working?
The Manufacturing Group is a work group composed of about 40 people dealing with the analysis of issues concerning planning and management of manufacturing systems and operations. A particular focus is on energy efficiency and sustainability in the manufacturing industry and in the industrial services, on product and asset life-cycle management.
Among demonstration events can we consider exhibitions or are they a mere commercial operation?
It must be clear: exhibitions are, first of all, events to do business, events that companies really need. If they are organised with particular attention and by qualified operators, exhibition events are real opportunities for updating, understanding and in-depth analysing topics that are not yet well-known. In Italy we have a lot of good trade shows, even regarding Industry 4.0. Among them, in my opinion, there is M&MT, whose philosophy is certainly innovative, because it combines the business aspect with specific thematic insight.
This concept, which distinguishes it from other events scheduled for 2017, convinced me to accept the appointment as leader of the Technical-Scientific Committee that will give valuable hints for the definition of side events to complete the exhibition with contents. The trade show is addressed both to those who work, plan and build within a factory, i.e. people with technical roles, and to those who manage it, i.e. entrepreneurs or managers.
A last question: what are your expectations?
I am very confident, because I see a harmonic teamwork between institutions, associations, the research world… Now, the ball is passed to companies. The Industry 4.0 Plan is an excellent opportunity for the enterprises that will be able to take advantage of it, understanding that purchasing technology is not enough, but it is necessary to work on skills.