Industry 4.0, sometimes called the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Smart Manufacturing has blurred the lines between the physical and the digital worlds. It’s comprised of transformative technologies that will impact all manufacturers, using intelligent or smart machinery to automate and optimize the shop floor, in turn producing more and wasting less—at lower costs.
This is great news for manufacturers, but also for customers. Today’s most successful manufacturers know that delivering a better product experience is what will keep customers coming back. Here are a few ways that smart factories powered by Industry 4.0 can leverage the benefits of a connected, intelligent system to changes the customer experience forever.
Six Ways Industry 4.0 Benefits Customers
1. Online Platforms & Data Analytics
E-commerce platforms have become much more robust over the years, and happily, much easier to set up. With one in place, manufacturers enjoy many benefits, such as offering their products to a much broader audience online. Many of these platforms also gather customer lifecycle information in order to detect customer behavior patterns over time. They can identify customer preferences, most popular products, spikes in demand, and additional indicators which enable manufacturers to create customer-centric products and improve their service experience.
2. Tracking Technologies
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) and global positioning systems (GPS) are very important to the supply chain, especially when it comes to warehousing, inventory management, and shipping. These technologies provide accurate, real-time information between internal manufacturing silos and external partners about the availability and whereabouts of product parts, helping all stakeholders better coordinate activities to improve efficiency. This ultimately benefits the customer by providing increased visibility into available products and delivery status.
3. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Computers that can “think” like humans are able to rapidly process information, draw conclusions, and make recommendations. Manufacturers applying AI-powered analytics to their data can transform the customer experience in the initial stage of the buyer’s journey by improving interaction. Manufacturers may employ intelligent chatbots to quickly assist customers with common questions or concerns, or may use intelligent data analytics to adjust email strategies or applications according to a customers’ needs without human involvement.
4. Virtual Reality (VR)
VR is transforming production processes and assembly line configurations in the plant, but it’s also providing manufacturers with the opportunity to show off their products or processes to customers in a virtual environment. By bringing the product closer to customers and allowing them to “try it out” virtually, the purchase experience becomes much more realistic and immersive, and builds trust in a manufacturer and their product early on in the buyer’s journey. Augmented Reality (AR), an offshoot of VR, also allows manufacturing maintenance teams to superimpose data readouts and digital images of internal systems on top of the actual physical view of equipment undergoing work. This allows for easy troubleshooting, providing a better product to customers.
5. Predictive Analytics
This data, often accumulated through Internet of Things (IoT) devices, detects patterns that signal impending events that can reduce product performance or cause failure. It captures a product’s condition, environment, and operation, and then identifies measures to improve outcomes or correct problems. By catching defects before they reach your customer and potentially hurt your business, you can ensure the end-customer is always satisfied.
6. Sustainable Manufacturing
Sustainable manufacturing involves reducing harmful emissions by harvesting alternative energy and installing energy-efficient lighting, equipment, and machinery. Not only do manufacturers practicing sustainability often receive tax incentives, they also improve the purchase experience for many customers. Studies also show that millennials, the largest living generation in the United States, are very environmentally conscious, and manufacturers employing sustainable practices are more likely to capture their attention and dollars.
Embracing Industry 4.0
Along with the seven examples above, there are many other ways Industry 4.0 improves the customer experience and their lives; for example, advanced robotics in manufacturing help with production efficiencies and , creating safer products for end-users. Additive manufacturing (also knowns as 3D printing) allows for products to easily be tailored to customers’ needs, creating new structures and shapes with less tooling and waste.
If you have any doubts about the Industry 4.0’s impact on the customer experience, look no further than the recent report, “Fourth Industrial Revolution: Beacons of Technology and Innovation in Manufacturing,” from the World Economic Forum (WEF). Along with reducing defects and increasing productivity and efficiency, components of a smart manufacturing system were shown to reduce customer complaints by almost 60%. It’s true that the road to digital manufacturing is going to be different than every previous industrial revolution, but the rewards can be well worth the effort.