Manufacturers Lukewarm on 4.0


A majority of manufacturers in the United States are adopting some Industry 4.0 technologies, although many are still skeptical that the benefits of adopting the new technologies will outweigh the costs, according to aShell Lubricants survey.

Industry 4.0 refers to the current global trend of automation and data exchange that supports the digitalization and automation of manufacturing facilities. The term originated in 2011 with the German strategic initiative Industrie 4.0, an effort to establish the country as a leader in advanced manufacturing, but quickly grew to a global movement.

Industry 4.0 technologies range from cloud-based computing – which accesses applications, services or resources through the internet rather than a companys own server – to robotics, autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence and connected technologies, which allow data to be exchanged between products and systems.

Shell said 50 U.S. manufacturing companies responded to its survey, and that 90 percent of them reported using at least one Industry 4.0 technology. Among the most popular are cloud-based technologies, which was used by 54 percent, and artificial intelligence (40 percent), while connected technologies (38 percent), autonomous equipment (30 percent) and robotics (26 percent) are still gaining momentum.

Ninety-eight percent of the U.S. manufacturers surveyed said they anticipate Industry 4.0 technologies to result in significant savings, and 66 percent said they expect maintenance costs to decrease by 5 percent thanks to the new technologies.

Despite the anticipated savings in maintenance costs – and other potential benefits such as operational efficiencies or product quality improvements – 84 percent of respondents said the costs outweighed the benefits. Forty-four percent of companies are concerned that use of 4.0 technologies will increase the total cost of ownership because of higher up-front costs, increased maintenance costs and more frequent breakdowns.

Shell said 68 percent of respondents reported facing a knowledge gap about the new equipment and its maintenance, due to a lack of trusted experts that can provide support.

As is true of most machinery, Shell said that equipment used with 4.0 technologies – at least those that require lubrication – need adequate products and effective maintenance schemes in order to operate properly. Apparently this was not a main concern of surveyed companies, though; just over half of U.S. respondents saw a need for greater focus on the quality of lubricants used with Industry 4.0 technologies, and 40 percent expressed a desire for greater emphasis on equipment protection.

Eighty-four percent of respondents said they would turn to their lubricant suppliers for advice on how to improve the maintenance and lubrication practices for Industry 4.0 equipment. Lubricant and equipment service providers commonly pitch the idea that optimal lubrication can reduce costs by increasing component life, cutting maintenance costs and reducing unplanned downtime.

In addition to providing lubrication of equipment used by 4.0 technologies, some lubricant companies are using such technologies. Shell, for example, offers LubeChat Al-driven, a mobile application that recommends Shell products for various types of equipment, and LubeSensor, a sensor-based equipment monitoring service.