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Industry 4.0 is the fourth major revolution in manufacturing in the last four decades. The lean manufacturing revolution of the 1970s, the outsourcing trend of the 1990s and the automation of the 2000s set the stage for the digital transformation we are seeing today. Digital technologies, such as big data, business analytics, augmented reality and 3-D printing, are converging to transform the way manufacturing is done. In addition, the shift toward responsive technology manufacturing methods is shaping the new industrial revolution.

As of January 2015, 48 percent of manufacturers said they were ready for these revolutionary changes, according to McKinsey & Company. The 52 percent who aren’t ready will soon be playing catch-up to companies on the cutting edge of these trends. Here are three ways digital technology is making manufacturing more responsive.

responsive technology use in manufacturing

Responsive Technology #1: Mobile Customer Engagement

When industrial manufacturing CEOs were asked to name which digital technologies were most strategically important to their business, 81 percent said they prioritized mobile technologies for customer engagement, according to PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey.

Many companies are using industrial-grade versions of consumer mobile devices, such as iPads, to better engage customers. For instance, a Canvas survey found that 33 percent of manufacturing companies are now using mobile customer relationship management (CRM) apps. Mobile CRM apps support distributed order management, pricing and fulfillment by providing real-time data to manufacturing sales representatives. This enables representatives to deliver speedier responses to inquiries from prospects and customers, increasing the likelihood of making a sale. Mobile technology offers other types of responsive technology manufacturing applications that generate up-to-date pricing and delivery information for quotes, improve order fulfillment accuracy and better supplier traceability.

Responsive Technology #2: Big Data and Predictive Analytics

Another responsive technology manufacturers are engaging in is big data and its application for predictive analytics. Big data enables manufacturers to forecast demand for their products and better determine how to allocate their resources.

For instance, Tata Consultancy Services describes a case study of a $2 billion manufacturing company that creates most of its revenue by making products to order. By using big data to analyze the buying patterns of its repeat customers, the company optimized its delivery schedule and profitability, while simultaneously adopting a more lean production model.

Responsive Technology #3: Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems

A third revolutionary technology is reconfigurable manufacturing systems (RMS). RMS systems are designed to be adaptable to rapid changes in production and market conditions. For instance, a manufacturer might need to quickly launch a new product to meet the demand of an emerging market, or it might need to adjust its production quantity to meet the demand of a niche market. To adapt to such fluid conditions, RMS systems use a modular design that can be easily modified in order to produce a range of products rather than a single product.

For example, South African mining machine manufacturers have combined the functions of loading machines and dump trucks so they can be run simultaneously. This approach increases efficiency, cuts operating costs and increases profitability.

What responsive technology are you using in the manufacturing process or in your business? Let us know in the comments below!