Industry 4.0: We Can, But Should We?

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Andreas Mangler has brought up a question about Industry 4.0 that doesn’t get asked very often: is it worth the money?

We don’t usually ask this question because this is the next Industrial Revolution, and who counts costs in a revolution? Also because it’s fairly obvious that this is the next tech thing, and you can’t stop technological innovation, as is clear from the number of people who have tried and ended up in history books looking quaint.

Mangler acknowledges this. But he also makes some important points that we don’t always consider.

First, the time scale for Industry 4.0 is different from the time scale for front office decisions. New technologies cost money. The legacy motion control we often work with must have seemed pretty pricey when it was installed in the 1970s and 1980s, but by now the cost per hour is minuscule, and the ROI in increased production and efficiency may not even be calculable.

That kind of thinking may not square with decisions based on labor and capital investment for the quarter. Particularly when process costs and purchasing costs are considered separately, new approaches can look costly when they actually would save money early in their implementation.

Mangler also brings up the cost of safety. There are two sides to this issue for Industry 4.0. On the one hand, increased safety for workers is one of the goals and one of the hallmarks of industry 4.0. If higher costs lead to fewer industrial injuries and deaths, it’s probably worth it.

On the other hand, increased concerns about data security are also a hallmark of industry 4.0, and the costs to shore up cybersecurity with all the uncertainties that still surround the issue can be painful.

Mangler’s conclusions is essentially that Industry 4.0 is worth the money, but that we need to get better at showing that.

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