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No better time than now to embrace Industry 4.0

IMAGINE having the ability to know when something is about to break down - be it your mobile device, your car or a machine in your manufacturing facility. The pre-emptive knowledge would certainly come in handy, because even if you cannot avoid the breakdown, you can at least prepare for it. Either way, there is something that can be done about the impending failure.

In the industrial world, this foresight is just one of many benefits reaped by companies that embrace Industry 4.0. Commonly referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, it is the current trend of manufacturing technologies that enable businesses to operate seamlessly, smartly and efficiently in the digital world.

In Industry 4.0, products and services are embedded with software to be more responsive and interactive. These solutions can even track their own activity and results, along with those of other products around them. When captured and analysed in sufficient amounts, the data generated by these products and services signal how well they are functioning and help to enhance efficiency in operations.

This is what can help a company determine whether and when a machine is about to break down. A construction company, for instance, could automatically capture data on all its equipment at a building site. With that data, it can apply predictive analytics to foresee the imminent malfunction of any piece of equipment and to implement preventive maintenance to remedy it.

Companies can virtually eliminate machine down-time as a result, which positively impacts quality, cost and efficiency. Smart automation, as part of Industry 4.0, has been found to cut down-time by 30 to 50 per cent and to reduce the costs to ensure quality by up to 20 per cent. Overall, automated solutions can reportedly increase productivity in technical professions by 40 to 55 per cent.

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What Industry 4.0 effectively enables a company to do is to improve its resource management. With greater knowledge on how their machines are doing, companies can better utilise time, labour and capital that would have been allocated to ad-hoc maintenance and repairs. This enables them to free up resources for higher-yielding activities such as research and development and launching new product lines.

In Industry 4.0, the entire value chain is highly integrated - a landscape of cyber-physical streams where products talk to one another and cooperate with humans. This offers immense benefits to companies.

First, workers, with help from smart machines, can now complete their jobs more quickly and with greater accuracy. This means they will have more time to go for training and to upgrade their skills for more fulfilling roles.

Second, companies gain by being more productive and having a more highly-trained, digitally-savvy workforce.

Industry 4.0 marks a whole new environment with levels of efficiency and robustness not seen before in the manufacturing world.

To date however, it has not gained much traction among companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Many businesses do not yet grasp the true value it brings, or lack the know-how, talent and capital.

This is an area in which UOB is committed to help SMEs. The bank has been supporting SMEs for more than 80 years, helping them to overcome their business challenges and to deepen their capabilities. Through its recently-launched internationalisation and innovation (i2) Enterprise Programme for instance, the bank has brought together an ecosystem of partners that can take businesses through the entire process of Industry 4.0. This includes company diagnosis, finding solutions and securing financing for the technology or equipment required.

In today's digital world, companies cannot afford to stay set in their ways. As Industry 4.0 gains traction and as customers increasingly demand better products and services, companies will risk losing their relevance and market share if they do not innovate and transform their businesses.

In embracing this fourth industrial revolution, there is no better time than now.

  • The writer is Head of Group Foreign Direct Investment Advisory at UOB

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