Industry 4.0 is the next industrial revolution, offering a pathway for collaboration and an unprecedented level of intimacy enabled by digitally-mediated relationships. Companies have to be digital-first to be driven by real-time data, but many remain focused on the sensors and collecting the data itself. The real value comes when there is a path for data analytics to impact human actions.

What is the power of data, and how do we find its value? There are many discussions in our consumer lives around IOT and digitalization aimed at making our lives easier, in the home and beyond, but what does this mean in the manufacturing space? Are we still striving for “lights-out” manufacturing, with full automation that requires no human presence on-site? And is this the right goal?

Over the last couple of decades, advancements in automation have led to data banks and dashboards, collecting enormous amounts of data from the manufacturing space. But I question whether we are truly harvesting the value and promise of what it can become.IOT presents manufacturers with a unique opportunity to share data with a partner, forming a partnership that can grow because of intimate and real-time contact points. A valuable digital relationship begins with the people who run the manufacturing process and a supporting partner. It moves beyond a single service interaction to form a deep, long-term relationship, one that better understands, anticipates, and fulfills a manufacturer’s needs.

This relationship is not so different from the relationship you have with your significant other. It is indeed intimate because you share essential and valuable information, based on trust, and this is the foundation that strengthens your partnership. It requires many contact points, conversations over a morning coffee, a lunch date, and dinner. The deeper this sharing becomes, the more excellent the opportunity there is to support each other. In turn, this increases the value you both offer. A healthy and successful relationship takes work.

Similarly, we can now create these contact points between companies through IOT. Yet, after 20 years of the digital revolution, many companies are still behind because they’ve grown accustomed to data silos. Remember why these walls went up in the first place? It wasn’t because people didn’t want to work together. It was because of technology. The data had no way to flow from here to there and back again. But now, digital connectivity allows companies to look behind each other’s wall, based on trust in the data generated. This opportunity enables a level of intimacy and a valuable partnership oriented towards a long-term win-win. It also takes work, depending on the contact points that find and demonstrate the data’s value from partner to the manufacturer, best illustrated by unmatched levels of real-time service, guidance, and expertise.

There are multiple value avenues for these partnerships. A partner may be a resource for process knowledge, operational excellence, or a resource to help with sustainable engagement. Intimacy in the partnership is based on computationally-intense analytics that deepens each value avenue through insights gleaned across all avenues. While you focus on making your core products, a partner can provide the collective operational focus needed to retain processing efficiency at scale. The key here is human engagement that can fulfill stated and latent customer needs, engage in operations, and share expertise digitally to ensure long-term success. These are humanistic behaviors that contribute to an intimate, engaging partnership.

As you explore digital solutions, consider the engagement infrastructure for a digital relationship, not just the technology. A human connection and engagement from both partners must be established to move beyond stale dashboards to harvest the actual value of data collection and analytics. I am reminded of a common idea of the day: “We are stronger together than we are alone.” Working together, we can create stronger collaborations that form the foundation for market leadership.

About Paul McKeithan

Paul McKeithan is a thought leader in the digital industrial revolution and a regular contributor to leading industry editorial and conferences. As head of digital services for BühlerAeroglide, McKeithan leads a team driving digital innovation in the thermal processing industry, with products based on decades of drying research and processing algorithms. As a mechanical engineer with more than 20 years of drying process expertise, McKeithan helps processors understand how real-time insights from complex data stores can maximize sustainable processing, profitability, and waste reduction.