Industry 4.0 – bringing together IoT and digital culture

Paul Mairl, Chief Digital Officer GKN Powder Metallurgy 


The buzz surrounding Industry 4.0 is omnipresent. Still, many companies are hesitant to embark on the digital transformation journey. They will be missing an opportunity, and even large firms might soon see small but fast market players pass by, if they don´t act soon, says Paul Mairl, CDO of GKN Powder Metallurgy in an interview with Business Reporter’s Alastair Greener.

GKN Powder Metallurgy started its digital journey years ago. The company serves around 3,000 customers from more than 30 manufacturing sites globally. It has more than 1,500 machines and 800 digitised measuring stations connected to its global manufacturing execution system (MES) and can display all data remotely through a visual shop floor tool.

But with dashboards and wearables increasingly entering shopfloors around the world, more and better visualisation can only be the start, says Mairl. If people get the data but don´t act on it, it´s worth nothing. That´s why GKN Powder Metallurgy pays a lot of attention to driving a digital culture in the organisation. “People have to trust in data first – then act on data,” he says.

And the implementation of digital tools needs to target the whole organisation across all functions and hierarchy levels to increase transparency. “Only if you gain transparency, can you ask the right questions to improve your processes and create new ideas to drive your business,” says Mairl.

Digital tools and solutions must be global and scalable – the more people work with the solution, the better you can analyse your data and use AI tools to make your processes more stable and business more predictable.

A key challenge for all companies that embark on the Industry 4.0 journey is speed of implementation. “In the past it was true that the big fish eats the small fish,” says Mairl. “But now we can see situations where the fast fish will eat the big-but-slow fish.” One solution for GKN Powder Metallurgy is more collaboration within the industry to better face the challenges and changes that go beyond company business.


Find out more about GKN Powder Metallurgy´s Industry 4.0 vision & use cases.


Video Transcript:

Hello, and welcome to Business Reporter's internet of things campaign. I'm Alastair Greener. Businesses increasingly realise that embarking on a digital transformation is inevitable. However, it seems that early adapters feel disappointed, as they can't see the return they expected on their investment.

What's standing in the way of leveraging the full potential of industry 4.0? Is it that the tools companies select do not fit for the purpose? Or is it the implementation that's flawed? This is what we're going to discuss today with Paul Mairl, CTO of GKN Powder Metallurgy.

Good morning.

Good morning.

Give me a sense of what an organisation will look like that has successfully transformed to industry 4.0.

Very good question. Actually, industry 4.0 is a very broad subject, and it's not like with the other tools we have in our industries like [INAUDIBLE]. You have a clear checklist to understand what really the system does. So every company needs to find their own way and define for themselves what industry 4.0 is for them, because the possibilities you get with all these new technologies are really huge, yeah?

We all like these new dashboards. We all like the televisions in our shop floors, the tablets, and the smart watches, whatever. And all this is fine and nice, but that's actually just the first level, the visualisation level. However, when you really look to harness the benefits of industry 4.0, then it's more about changing the ways of working, digitising your business processes, and really use digitalization to drive your business needs, and then to really get value out of it.

And what's the main impediment to industry 4.0 that's preventing people from adopting it? Is it the technological aspects or its implementation?

As usual, it's implementation. Technology is just developing so quickly, so fast. We have been working with startups in the Bay Area, and it's really impressive what these guys are doing. So I would say technology's moving far quicker than companies are used or basically have the capability to digest all this one. So it's definitely the implementation, which is critical in this journey.

Coming to that implementation, then, what are the main challenges with it?

The main challenge is, as we call it, digital culture. And maybe your second question is then, what's digital culture? And we have defined it. It's really how people interact with technology, how they use data, and how do they really make it part of their daily decisions of their processes, and so on? And that's a big, big change, because people basically need to trust in the data. And of course, if they need to trust, the first thing is also that the data quality needs to be very good.

And so it's a cycle. You have to go through improving your data quality, improving your transparency, improving your trust. And that brings you into this area of digital culture, which is then really giving you the benefits of all this. Because if people just get the data, but then they do not act on data, it's worth nothing.

And looking at the option of industry 4.0, is this something that needs to be involving everybody within the organisation at all levels? Or is it just one tier of the organisation?

Actually, it's the same. As again, in our private life, the internet somehow, it's touching everybody, all the levels. And that's one thing. But the other thing is also if you would like to get the benefit, then obviously, you need to consider all the levels in your organisation, whether this is the CEO using transparent data to shape his decisions or whether this is just the person on the shop floor which needs good information, best information to do a better job.

The concept of digitalization is the solution you're developing, it's global, it's scalable. Of course, it has a big effect. We are living this in a day-to-day basis, that if you have an application, an app on your smartphone which is used by millions of people, then the effect of this one is much higher than if these are just used by one. So that's, again, the logic. If you apply the same logic in your organisation, then obviously, the more people you can involve in a digital solution, in a digital tool, the higher the benefit will be.

If we could get more collaboration on an industry-wide level for the adoption of industry 4.0, what kind of benefits would that bring?

One key element in this industry 4.0 journey is speed. Speed is somehow key to get the benefits. All this somehow is affecting our ways of working, our behaviour.

It will change also how we run our shop floors, moving from a reactive mode more in an active mode, bringing more flexibility into the shop floor, shorter reaction times. That will change our working models. That will change our shift models.

And these are things which one company cannot handle it. We need a network. We need an ecosystem where we're bringing all these companies together, because the challenges will be the same.

And that's basically also, let's say, the main reason for us going to the market and telling the market what we are doing. Because we think that we have done a good journey on it, and that we can also help to bring everybody on the next level so that everybody moves to that level, and we can gain speed into this journey.

It's interesting that despite the slow adoption of industry 4.0 by some businesses, there's massive benefits by doing it. It's been really interesting getting a valuable insight into those values and into the benefits that organisations can get. So thank you very much, indeed, for giving us more detail. Paul Mairl from GKN Powder Metallurgy. Thank you very much, indeed.

Thank you very much.

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