Industry 4.0: mass customization through reconfigurable production systems

Industry 4.0 mass personalization
Credits: BMW Plant Leipzig

In a previous post we explained the importance of implementing the logic of Industry 4.0 to tackle the global challenges that await us with the right tools. It was explained why new digital technologies will help us to be more competitive, reducing costs and at the same time improving the quality of our products. (download here our infographic about the 9 key technologies).

 

In ogni contesto si parli di Industria 4.0, tale trend viene associato all’implementazione di queste tecnologie. Tuttavia, troppo spesso si perde di vista il fine del loro utilizzo. Per capire la vera ragione alla base della quarta rivoluzione industriale, quindi, occorre fare qualche passo indietro. Ogni rivoluzione industriale, infatti, fa riferimento ad un diverso approccio nella produzione delle merci. Di seguito andremo a descrivere brevemente quali approcci sono associati a ciascuna rivoluzione e nello specifico andremo a presentare quale approccio viene associato alla quarta rivoluzione industriale.

Industry 1.0: low-volume standardization

The first industrial revolution (1760 – 1850) refers to that historical process, born in England, which led to the birth of the factory system. The development of trade and the invention of the steam engine were probably the two main triggering events: in fact, compared to the artisanal system, which produced highly customized products in extremely small volumes, the production of a greater number of products was required. exchange at a lower cost to ensure greater competitiveness. Thanks to the steam engine it was possible to reduce the use of workforce, and therefore, the associated costs.

Industry 2.0: high volume standardization

The American entrepreneur and engineer Henry Ford, thanks to the implementation of the principles of Taylorism, was the catalyst of the second industrial revolution (1870 – 1914). With the assembly line and the standardization of the different tasks, Ford was able to reduce production costs in such a way as to make the purchase of a car accessible to the American middle class. This was also made possible by the reduction of costs associated with the improvement of steel production processes and the discovery of electricity, thanks to which it was possible to use conveyor belts.

Industry 3.0: high volume customization

The limit of Ford’s production system lay in the extreme standardization, which did not allow product variants, under penalty of a reduction in efficiency and therefore an increase in associated costs. It was in the postwar period that greater customization was made possible, increasing productivity while keeping costs down. This was made possible thanks to the lean methodologies implemented by the Japanese automobile company Toyota, and at the same time by the evolution of electronics in the United States which allowed the implementation of industrial robots in factories.

Industry 4.0: mass customization

In order to gain more market shares, in recent years companies have had to increasingly satisfy customer requests, customizing their products accordingly. Mass customization, associated with an increase in volumes in parallel with a reduction in production costs, will therefore be the production trend of the years to come. In this sense, the new digital technologies, customizable by their nature, can make a significant contribution in making production systems flexible.

Having highlighted this aspect, it is also important to say that digital technology itself does not lead to greater flexibility, but must rather be applied to a production context predisposed to receive this technology. For example, connecting machinery to the network does not lead to any benefit if the data exchanged is not used intelligently to update the process in real time.

The Lean logics, implemented starting from the third industrial revolution, will therefore always remain valid, but will be made even more efficient and usable if integrated with digital technologies, forming what some scholars today call Lean 4.0.

Only through a lean production system, i.e. without waste and inefficiencies upstream, is it possible to effectively integrate digital technology. Finally, to implement a reconfigurable production system, some fundamental aspects must be taken into consideration, including:

  • Have a perspective of the life cycle of the production process;
  • Correlate the production system with the product portfolio;
  • Have a structured process design system;
  • Having a holistic perspective of the production system;
  • Train staff on the concepts of reconfigurability;
  • Create product families.

These principles are summarized in the infographic you can download here.

Where to start?

Implementing Industry 4.0 means implementing a highly autonomous and automated production system that is extremely reconfigurable, therefore capable of producing a high variety of customizable products while maintaining high quality and low costs.

In this sense, Accialini Training & Consulting is able to provide adequate support in the definition of a structured approach and the implementation of a reconfigurable production system. In particular, we are able to provide specific assistance in the following activities:

  • Training on the principles and technologies of Industry 4.0 in different formats: face to face, virtual classrooms and elearning courses;
  • Technological scouting to find specific solutions to customer needs;
  • Consultancy in the implementation of a reconfigurable production system, at every stage;

For more info, please have a look at our services or contact us to discuss together your needs.

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Stay tuned!