Today digitisation is a key driver for changes companies have been making in recent years. It undoubtedly has the potential to provide new opportunities for creating value. This ongoing process accelerated exponentially as of March, due to the global Covid-19 crisis: what was already a reality in most companies became a necessity for all.
The next challenge for digitalisation is the intelligent, customised integration of the technologies companies are using.
Of course, this digital transformation can provide companies with outstanding capabilities, but it also creates enormous expectations on the part of clients. Therefore, all industries are investing in digital technologies to differentiate their portfolio of products and services. Clearly, not all will be successful. Many challenges still need to be resolved, particularly those related to the large increase in communication flows, which have generated new data privacy risks.
The rapid evolution towards a totally connected world has made it possible for millions of clients to access platforms and global markets in real time.
Companies in all industries are trying to manage the challenges related to clients’ increased expectations: the transformation of internal culture, new logistical challenges or the need to train personnel in new digital skills.
The availability of low-cost technologies such as cloud computing, virtual or augmented reality, big data or 3D printing is radically changing the way people buy, work and move from place to place. Of course, companies are already applying these technologies as part Industry 4.0, a trustworthy concept that readers are already familiar with.
Now, in the coming months industry faces a dramatic scenario of rapid economic and social change, keeping in mind that throughout this uncertain period, they need to maintain a competitive position in order to survive and continue providing products and services that the market appreciates as added value.
In this digital transformation environment, all companies must see flexibility as a fundamental element, as a key driver for transformation, which means it will be mandatory to improve access to information 24/7 from any location. It will also be essential to improve the efficiency of internal processes that lead to improved productivity, reducing operating costs. Therefore, automating repetitive and low value tasks in production processes can allow companies to reassign their personnel to more strategic tasks.
It’s highly likely that most of the workforce will never again work in a corporate office on an ongoing basis. Therefore, companies need to provide reliable means of communication, applications for virtual meetings, different hardware options, corporative applications with user-friendly interfaces, and cyber security tools that guarantee a satisfying user experience for a more productive employee.
One of the clearest practical applications is the reduction – even disappearance – of paper in internal processes. Beyond the obvious environmental and economic motives, the evolution of technology, with the development of ever lighter and more powerful electronic devices, makes it possible to exchange data in real time, simplify control of documentation configuration, and facilitate the homogenization of databases and the standardization of information formats for employees at remote locations.
Almost all experts coincide on the list of technological enablers that drive the deployment of Industry 4.0 in our companies: digital twin, virtual or augmented reality, the (Industrial) Internet of Things (IIoT), big data, artificial intelligence, collaborative robots, autonomous vehicles, additive manufacturing and of course cybersecurity which increasingly envelops this entire technological deployment.
The need to increase resources dedicated to Cybersecurity in industry is ever more relevant because we are not only talking about phishing, but also about reducing potential damage to people, machines or end products. For example, when a corporative IIoT network is attacked, exposing its vulnerabilities, this might not only have an enormous financial impact but can also put reputations at risk – unnecessarily.
Another very relevant aspect worth highlighting is that the application of technology does not automatically create a mechanism for improving the efficiency of a complex industrial process; in each case, experienced people are absolutely necessary to customize the deployment of the technology. However, it is mandatory that human beings’ skills evolve to adapt to our role within the new production chain, adding value, in order to make a justified case against the idea of human obsolescence in the industry of the future.
Only when the human factor and business instinct are perfectly aligned can the deployment of technology in industry produce quantifiable improvements in the production environment and add value to society.
Given this background it is now necessary to continue moving forward with the digitalisation of companies and, once we’ve passed the starting point, choose the next step in technological evolution. As possible elements of the move towards Industry, we could argue that the following are a few premises that must be taken into account:
- Remote working will continue to move forward.
- New models that interact with corporate systems will be necessary for intelligent working.
- It is necessary to aspire to immediacy in the collection of information that is relevant for our production processes.
- Multimedia resources must support the performance of complex tasks.
- Remote work is not possible without reducing hardware size and weight.
- The objective must be to fuse together the maximum number of technologies (virtual reality, 3D printing etc.) working in real time in the same device.
- But it will be necessary to find a balance between the maximum number of technologies and the volume occupied by these devices, which is why hardware modularity will be necessary to optimize resources.
- And, of course, all devices must self-maintenance, self-diagnose and self-replace in case of malfunctioning.
With this line of reasoning, intuition suggests that future trends in digitalisation could lead to an intelligent integration of all the enabling technologies previously mentioned (and possibly more); we will have to stop thinking of them as independent entities and start envisioning environments where various technologies coexist simultaneously in the same workspace.
The definition of the Industrial Digital Desk (ID2) emerges as a paradigm of this ideal technological environment where workers can have at their disposal whatever technology they need in a flexible, dynamic way at all times to perform their tasks. And, we need to imagine our future corporate devices as modular, portable equipment that we can use, for example, to project the possible modification of a robotic cell layout in 3D as we move around the factory, request remote support from our colleagues in the Hong Kong office, check our vital signs during the work day or order an autonomous vehicle to urgently deliver a part to our current location in the manufacturing plant.