Industry 4.0: Is The Italian Machine Tool Industry Ready For The Challenge?

  • Wednesday, 03 May 2017 00:00

With new technologies and new skills, Marco Taisch explains how enterprises in Italy will adapt.


Marco Taisch

Marco Taisch, professor of operations management and advanced and sustainable manufacturing at the School of Management at the Politecnico di Milano (Polytechnic University of Milan), is committed at the forefront with regards to the issue of Industry 4.0 and of IoT application to the manufacturing industry.

Q: Industry 4.0 is also defined as the "fourth industrial revolution". What is the real meaning of “revolution” in this case?

Marcho Taisch (MT): One of the most revolutionary aspects of Industry 4.0 is, first of all, the impact it had on the Italian “economic” stage. In a very short time, this new approach allowed to bring the manufacturing industry back to the centre of attention of Italian institutions and economic players with an explosive effect, to say the least.

As far as the definition is concerned, many people consider Industry 4.0 as a real revolution; others see it as an evolution in the way of manufacturing.

In my opinion, Industry 4.0 combines technological innovation - which materialises in the spread of IoT technologies within factories – with a deep organisation change. In other words, the real revolution is primarily cultural: processes, tasks, professional profiles are changing and so are the required skills.

Q: If professional profiles are changing, should fundamental training processes be updated?

MT: Of course. There are very good universities capable of offering an appropriate training to young people, enabling them to enter the work market and become real resources for enterprises.

In any case, technological training is made not only in polytechnic universities and other kinds of universities. It is important that even technical institutes should work on programmes, so that they may be as close as possible to the requirements of the industry world. The industry is dramatically accelerating its development through digitalisation.

Q: Let's come back to technologies and to the impact of Industry 4.0 on the Italian industry.

MT: Italy is the second-largest manufacturing country in Europe. To maintain and, if possible, even to improve this position, it is necessary not only to pass through a generic traditional innovation, but, on the contrary, there must be a process of factory digitalisation. The aim is to facilitate and support the spread of the enterprises' connectivity.

In practise, this means the creation of smart manufacturing, such as the production of products and services with the support of information technologies, and the creation of new business models. This is an intense programme, which can however definitely be sustained by the Italian enterprises, provided that in the approach to this issue our peculiarities are respected.

Q: Could you please elaborate?

MT: The Italian manufacturing industry is recognised worldwide for its quality and strong customisation of product offering. However, the "Made in Italy" characterisation is missing and we must enhance the importance of this part.

As a country we can work towards a digitalised manufacturing industry for advanced design, where the leading role is played by people who must adequately be trained and updated. We must concentrate on this aspect.

On the other hand, in some sectors, for example that of machinery and production systems, there is already a lot of innovative technology related to Industry 4.0, at least partially. The challenge is to increase the connectivity level, for example that of machines, so that they can more and more collect, treat, process and allow data sharing even remotely.

Q: Are enterprises able to do this by themselves?

MT: Starting from the assumption that the innovation level is not homogeneous, it is reasonable to suppose that some companies need assistance. For this purpose, universities, professional associations, territorial and extra-territorial institutions have already taken active steps to provide “information” in a wider sense, with particular attention given to SMEs.

Q: What are the real opportunities for the SMEs to get informed?

MT: In a situation of communication overload, there is no denying that it may become difficult to be oriented. However, I would stress that there are numerous opportunities to reasonably debate and closely verify the possible applications of the new Industry 4.0 approach also with regard to our industry. Relying on qualified people considerably simplifies the selection process.

What are the opportunities to get information? Meetings, collection of annotated, specific information material, specific studies, are all appropriate. Demonstration events are also suitable, but it has to be stressed that in order to be most effective, such events must be set in the context and thus studied according to the enterprises' requirements.

Q: As you are professor of the Manufacturing Group in the School of Management at the Politecnico di Milano, could you illustrate the topics to which you are presently committed and how you are working?

MT: The Manufacturing Group is a work group composed of about 40 people dealing with the analysis of issues concerning planning and management of manufacturing systems and operations. A particular focus is on energy efficiency and sustainability in the manufacturing industry and in the industrial services, on product and asset life-cycle management.

Q: Can we consider demonstration events?

MT: Exhibitions are, first of all, events to do business, thus they are events that companies really need. If they are organised with particular attention and by qualified operators, exhibition events are real opportunities for updating, understanding and in-depth analysing topics that are not yet well-known.

In Italy we have a lot of good trade shows, even regarding Industry 4.0. Among them, in my opinion, there is Motion And Mechatronics, whose philosophy is certainly innovative, because it combines the business aspect with specific thematic insight.

The trade show is addressed both to those who work, plan and build within a factory as well as those who manage it. This concept convinced me to accept the appointment as leader of the Technical-Scientific Committee for the event.

Q: A last question: What are your expectations for the future of Industry 4.0?

MT: I am very confident, because I see a harmonic teamwork between institutions, associations, and the research world. Now, the ball is passed to companies. The Industry 4.0 plan is an excellent opportunity for the enterprises that will be able to take advantage of it, understanding that purchasing technology is not enough, but it is necessary to work on skills.

Rising Italian Machine Tool Industry For 2017

The Italian machine tool, robot and automation manufacturing industry closed the year 2016 positively on various economic indicators, said Italian Machine Tool, Robots, Automation Systems And Ancillary Products Manufacturers' Association (UCIMU) president Massimo Carboniero. He added that the year 2017 looked to be a year of further growth.

As evidenced by the preliminary year's data processed by the Studies Department and Business Culture of UCIMU, production in 2016 increased to 5.48 billion euros (US$5.91 billion), recording a five percent upturn versus the previous year.

Uptick In Domestic Market

A definitely positive trend was reported with regard to the deliveries by the Italian manufacturers in the domestic market, grown to US$2.38 billion, a rise of 20.5 percent compared with the previous year.

On the other hand, export decreased by 3.3 percent, reaching only US$3.54 billion, due to the weakness experienced in some major destination markets.

Based on the Italian National Institute for Statistic’s data processing, in the first nine months of the year, the main countries for export was as follows:

Consumption showed a positive trend with a 10.1 percent increase totalling US$3.97 billion. It is the third consecutive year of double-digit growth, showing signs of the recovery of the Italian market, which has also started again to invest in production technologies.

“The year 2016 was positive for the Italian machine tool industry, which contributes to the national GDP for almost eight billion euros (US$8.63 billion) considering, besides the production of machine tools, also the production of parts, tools and numerical controls not included in the total Italian machine tools”, Mr Carboniero said.

Interest In 2017

The year 2017 will also be positive for the Italian industry of the sector: according to the forecasts there will be a growth for all the main economic indicators.

Production is predicted to rise four percent to US$6.15 billion, closer to the record-breaking value of US$6.47 billion registered in 2008.

Exports are expected to grow by 1.7 percent to attain US$3.59 billion. The positive trend of consumption will also go on: it should rise by 6.9 percent to US$4.25 billion, driving the deliveries of manufacturers.

“Now, with the Italian Ministry of Economic Development’s Industry 4.0 Plan which was included in the already-approved Budget Law 2017 the Italian government has given the country a well-structured and comprehensive programme of industrial policy. With this plan, Italian enterprises can rely on a series of measures aimed at favouring the improvement of their competitiveness. These measures can further boost the consumption of machinery and innovative technologies for factory digitalisation,” Mr Carboniero said.

APMEN Machine Tools, Apr 2017

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