Mar 20, 2018

Where is Industry 4.0 hiding?

I am going to call this out as my biggest disappointment of 2018, yes, even this early on!

For those confused by the term ‘industry 4.0’ it refers to the fourth industrial revolution. This revolution effectively uses the IoT (internet of things) to integrate all the clever machines we created in the last revolution to work harmoniously and deliver more than the sum of their parts – in theory!

So why would I be disappointed? The main driver of the disappointment is the lack of clarity around how this will turn up for us in horticulture. There are a bunch of us industry suppliers that deliver smart products and solutions in isolation of each other. We all know that someone needs to bring it all together so it holds hands and provides efficiency and meaningful data to help with decision making, but no one seems to be taking the plunge with conviction.

In May last year we attended Interpack in Dusseldorf Germany, one of the largest packaging shows in the world. Here we saw some of the biggest automation brands in the world talking loud and proud about industry 4.0. They even had an entire trade hall dedicated to the topic. But when you actually pushed them on the products and services around integrating all the parts of a pack line, they only had brochures, schematics and animations. None of them had case studies or real life commercial installations to talk to.

The control room in our larger packing facilities in New Zealand is becoming awash with screens and systems that are all beavering away doing amazing things, in isolation of each other. There is a massive wealth of data being generated, in silos. I am not suggesting that overnight we will have one beautiful dashboard on the big screen where we just drag and drop things around the screen and all will be magically optimised. But I am suggesting that we need to start the journey as while we continue to put layers of technology into our business, the complexity increases when it comes to coordinating all the technology and an opportunity is lost to leverage it collectively.

I am going to put my hand up and call guilty on a few examples for Jenkins to help make my point:

Guilty: We have created a great efficiency for the industry in automating the strapping of pallets. But the operator needs to tell the machine what strap pattern to apply – surely the sizer should be talking to the strapper? – we are working on it!

Guilty: We have created a system for validating that the right labels are being applied to the right fruit to avoid costly errors but the line supervisor needs to load what label it is that should be applied when setting up the grader – surely the packline management system should be talking to our ReelScan system? – we are working on it!

Guilty: We distribute billions of fruit labels across the country and diligently apply said labels with Sinclair labelling machines but the customer needs to physically place an order with us for stock – surely the packhouse ERP should be talking to our inventory management system? – we are working on it!

It is a bit risky calling out our own short comings in the industry 4.0 race, but we do so in a brazen effort to hopefully put a friendly shot across the bow of our industry peers to join us in sharing ideas and information to aid the greater good. I suspect some organisations may be holding back in the hope of finding the oracle idea that will make them a ‘market leader’ meanwhile I suggest if we made things a little more open source, then we as a nation could potentially blaze a trail for industry 4.0 in horticulture globally.

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