Industry 4.0 & the Continuous Pursuit of Continuous Improvement



digital-hand-integr8-Converted-v2.jpgProvided on-time delivery is above 95%, not too much product is hitting a scrap hopper and a little more money is coming in than going out, many leaders assume their business is functioning successfully. In other words, they don’t know what they don’t know about their performance. Hidden issues (and costs) may well be felt, but are not properly identified in a way that lends to their elimination.  

Today, many affordable tools are available to help us truly understand the factors that drive profitability. Industry 4.0 is an umbrella term used to refer to the collection of technologies being applied to solve business problems. Many Industry 4.0 technologies have been around for decades, maturing and becoming more attainable both fiscally and in their simplicity. Learning from the past, many of the newer technologies continue to provide a short ROI and immediate (positive) impact to manufacturers.

A previous client of The Center was scheduled to complete 10 batches of their product each day. One Wednesday, the ecstatic Operations Manager reported the team had accomplished 12 batches. He had no idea how this happened, but was elated to produce 20 percent over target. The very next day, however, they produced only six batches, and he now had to tell their team that they would need to work Saturday to make up for this loss, which is never a popular position to be in. Much like the day before, when asked what caused the shift in performance, they did not know. 

Since most smaller companies lack an infinite amount of people and money to throw at their problems, technology can help fill in these gaps. In cases like these, we use standard problem-solving methodologies, like DMAIC, to define the problem and solution to reduce variability and increase profitability.

4-0-web-(2).pngDefine: The first step in any improvement initiative is to understand the problem you’re trying to fix. In this instance, it was variation in the number of daily batches mixed. It is critical when working on improving performance that the problem be defined at a level that is detailed enough to be actionable. Dig deeper into the problem by asking, for example, did every step in the process only accomplish six batches, or is there a mess of inventory sitting somewhere getting held up for a specific issue that could have been resolved? The use of ERP systems and real-time performance tracking solutions enable a company to identify where issues originate with the flow or product, along with where poor performance in yield, uptime, throughput and labor utilization is occurring. Additionally, these technologies can help a company see the connection between performance issues and the financial bottom line. In the case above, understanding their long-term performance would enable them to identify if their average production rate is less than desired, or whether there is truly special cause variation in performance.

Measure: Often, a company will attack a problem only to find the problem isn’t what they thought it was, or that it was larger (or smaller) than believed. This can result in the misallocation of resources and delays in achieving improvements. Adding sensors to equipment can collect data quickly and accurately without putting the extra demand on the workforce. Basic sensors allow you to focus on one aspect of production at a time to collect raw data and determine which key performance indicators (KPIs) need to be targeted. This enables the business to see where the product is getting hung up.

Analyze: Conducting a true root cause analysis means being able to find the connections between inputs (settings, parameters, decisions and changes) and outputs (performance metrics). The best way to do this is to be able to analyze these inputs and outputs side by side or through data analysis. While much of this analysis is done manually, artificial intelligence can help non-experts identify patterns in their data. Again, the use of ERP and automated data collection allows leadership to get to the point of the problem to investigate what is causing delays. Integration of systems also helps the team note any unusual variation (good or bad) that can be tied to results.

Improve: During this phase, results often are not what is anticipated due to unidentified sources of variation during the trial runs to validate the improvements. Once again, the use of IIoT, systems integration and automation can ensure the conditions desired to improve the performance are met during the trial. This not only validates the improvement ideas to the team, but also serves to convince the rest of the organization to support improvement efforts and standardize to the changes.

Control: Once the key inputs for improved success are known and validated, the technologies listed above serve to guarantee that changes are sustained and any unexpected variation in either the controls or the results is noted, recorded or, better yet, avoided entirely.

Industry 4.0 isn’t all-or-nothing, and it isn’t just for companies with endless amounts of money – it’s for small manufacturers too. By adopting targeted innovations that make sense for your business, technology can do the heavy lifting for you in your improvement initiatives as you pursue your path to Industry 4.0.

Manufacturers of all sizes who are interested in learning more about manufacturing technologies can get a first-hand experience at Automation Alley’s upcoming Integr8 Industry 4.0 Conference on November 6th at the TCF Center (formerly Cobo Center) in Detroit. The Center’s Industry 4.0 experts will host four sessions geared toward smaller manufacturers on the topics of Autonomation, Lean Technologies, Business Intelligence and Digital Design & Manufacturing. The Center’s Smart Manufacturing Zone will feature live, interactive demos of how each can help your business. Manufacturers with 500 or fewer employees can save $300 and register at a discounted rate of $299 using code “MMTC.”

The Center’s experts can support your company on its unique journey to Industry 4.0. Learn more here.


mcgray_m-web.jpgMichael McGray, Information Systems Manager
Michael McGray has served as the Information Technology Manager at The Center since 2011. For more than 20 years, Michael has focused on finding the best applications of Information Technology to help solve critical business problems. Throughout his career, Michael’s hard work and passion for what he does have allowed him many opportunities to align his core expertise with various business sectors, including finance, marketing, sales and business administration. Now, Michael is ready to work with small and medium-sized manufacturers as they take the next technological leap into Industry 4.0.


Werner_C2-web.jpgChuck Werner, Manager Operational Excellence/Lean Six Sigma Black Belt
Chuck has been a Lean Program Manager at The Center since 2016. His areas of expertise are in Lean, Six Sigma and Quality. Chuck has devoted many years to practicing Six Sigma methods, ultimately earning a Six Sigma Master Black Belt in 2011. He is passionate about helping small and medium-sized manufacturers become more prosperous using a variety of tools and methods gathered from over 27 years of experience. Additionally, Chuck is a certified ISO/QS9000 Lead Assessor, Training Within Industry (TWI) Master Trainer and is certified in OSHA Compliance and Accident Reduction.


Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Categories: Industry 4.0, Lean Principles