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Managing the customer’s expectations in Industry 4.0

Jonathan Wilkins of European Automation explains how manufacturers can manage a customer’s expectations in the Industry 4.0 era.

The phrase, ‘the customer is always right’ was coined by the founder of Selfridges, Henry Gordon Selfridge, in 1909. Despite its prominence, the accuracy of the phrase is highly debated by most people who deal with customers as, sometimes, what the client wants can be bad for business or too demanding to carry out.

Industry 4.0 and more intelligent manufacturing has meant that customer satisfaction is now much more attainable as the customer has become more involved in the process. Perhaps because of this, the customer can be right more often.

The amount of data it is possible to collect as a part of Industry 4.0 has led to customers raising their expectations of the amount information they are given about a purchase. To align with this, manufacturers can now use digital supply chains. This technology allows plant managers to monitor the factory’s supply of materials and product demand in real time and even in advance. By using this data, manufacturers can provide customers with end-to-end traceability during the product journey, satisfying their thirst for knowledge about the product they are investing in.

Along with traceability, customers also expect increased transparency. Manufacturers can now use digital platforms during production to keep track of all product information Plant managers can monitor the product throughout the manufacturing process and make this information available to the customer from the point of sale.

New technology means that customers can now have more input into their final product by customising it to their specific requirements. In order to ensure they are meeting customer’s expectations in advance of building a final product, businesses have now begun to use virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) tools.

This means the customer can try their product before they buy it in a virtual space, ensuring everybody is happy. The more widespread introduction of 3D printing as a mainstream manufacturing process means that in some industries, consumers can completely personalise their products. By taking advantage of this technology, manufacturers can mass customise their products – personalising them at a manageable cost.

Product delivery on time is a core part of customer happiness. In order to keep production on schedule, plant managers must avoid downtime, as it can be very damaging to the brand if products are delivered late.

Plant managers can avoid costly downtime by incorporating planned maintenance. By using condition monitoring, plant managers can quickly detect issues in advance, preventing equipment breakdown. To take this process one step further, manufacturers can use smart spare parts logistics to order spare parts from a reliable supplier before they are needed. This reduces the chance that a customer’s order will be delayed as well as avoiding downtime for the manufacturer, a win-win situation.

Manufacturing has come a long way since Selfridge coined his phrase in 1909, but customer expectations are still at the heart of almost every business. Intelligent manufacturing and smarter factories have increased the level of data available to manufacturers, allowing them to provide customers with more detailed information on products.

Plant managers can use this information to predict equipment failure to reduce the risk of downtime, which means that, regardless of whether our customers are right or not, they still have access to the right part, at the right time, to keep systems running.

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