Industry 4.0: Swiss SMEs need to optimize processes

Swiss exporters are in a tight spot: Their process management needs to adapt to the drastic acceleration of industrial production. However, new technologies also bring opportunities with them.

The digital transformation to Industry 4.0 poses challenges to the export economy. Companies, particularly SMEs, need to shape the new era proactively, understand changes in their added value through digitalization and develop corresponding concepts. High potential is seen especially for companies in the mechanical and electrical engineering industries, as well as the chemical sector, somewhat less for the metal and construction sectors. The key is: Every SME in Switzerland will be affected sooner or later by the digital transformation, whether directly as a supplier or as a trading partner.

Production and supplier networks are expanding

Internationalization is of paramount importance. Industry 4.0 will extend to all locations and structures. Implementation can thus also act as a precursor for geographically diversified production and supplier networks in new growth markets. The prerequisite for this is functioning free trade, and government needs to create the necessary conditions for it. Digital transformation brings more opportunities and greater flexibility to the production process. This will strengthen the trend toward customer-specific, needs-oriented modifications (customizing), particularly in the processing industry. But distribution processes or spare-parts handling will also become simpler, because it is primarily data that has to be transmitted, with physical production taking places locally.

Focus on process optimization

However, taikng up implementation of Industry 4.0 shouldn’t mean being guided by abstract visions. The primary focus has to be on the implementation of process improvements and productivity increases, not on the utilization of revolutionary technologies. Once they’ve identified process weaknesses, companies need to examine whether optimization can result in a benefit through the utilization of ICT technologies and networking concepts. The cost/benefit issue must always be in the forefront. With Industry 4.0, data become the key production factor, with the integrative treatment of large data volumes therefore posing a particular challenge. Complex manufacturing networks will also see changes in the roles of designers and physical production suppliers, as well as in customer interfaces. A first step is the fragmentation of the value-added chain, making it easier for many small companies to get into the business. Because market leaders are rethinking their value-added chains, issues about costs and profits are being reconsidered: Will tomorrow’s margins be found in design, in process handling, or in expertise for customer data?

Industry 4.0 is more than just a discipline

Interdisciplinary thinking is decisive for Industry 4.0. IT, electronics, and robotics will be the dominating technologies, with areas like biotech and nanotech gaining in importance. Industry 4.0 will require technical and social skills. The core competencies of the future will be design thinking, continuous training, and development at the workplace. The connection between IT, telecommunications, and traditional industrial companies will become even tighter. The corporate organization of the future will focus less on having a comprehensive global presence. Enormous plants are no longer needed for low-cost production. In many cases, it will become cheaper to shift data and, in exchange for this, to have production take place locally on a smaller scale. Companies will accordingly become more decentralized and flexible.

2016 Foreign Trade Forum on the topic of Industry 4.0

Don’t miss out on this development. Take part in our Foreign Trade Forum in Zurich on April 21, where you can discuss with our consultants and interesting speakers. Register now!

You can find more information on the topic in our dossier: Industry 4.0

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