The concept of Industry 4.0 is the new black these days. And Ray Service, a Czech innovative high-tech company providing solutions in cable systems for aerospace industry and for special land systems since the 1990s, has been trying to fill it with real content. In the last couple of years, its factory in Uherské Hradiště has turned both externally and technologically into a so-called smart factory. Petr Gabriel, its founder, owner and CEO, talks about how Industry 4.0 works in practice.
A simple question to start with: What is Industry 4.0 about?
In a way, Industry 4.0 is a political concept, and it is often misunderstood. We did not make any theoretical decision to 'rebuild the factory into Industry 4.0'. We have taken real steps reflecting the practice when we hit the limits of the existing system of our main production program for producing cable harnesses. Then we realized smart technologies were the key to growth and productivity. And so, we began implementing them.
What did you start with?
With warehouse management. In 2011, we digitized our warehouse: we marked all items with barcodes, equipped our storekeepers with barcode readers, and we connected everything with a software solution that allows us to track the component's circulation throughout the factory. Then we began purchasing Kardex automated storage system modules. Among other things, it allows items to be stored according to the height of the item's packaging, saving space, but this is not the key feature. Most importantly, Kardex knows what is stored where, and the system 'hands' the worker the component he or she asks for.
What followed the creation of the “paperless warehouse”?
The paperless production. All workers were equipped with an iPad in which they viewed drawings, reported individual manufacturing steps, ordered parts from stock, or reported defects. They also have a daily overview of how much they earn, because part of the work is standardized. And the company's management has a perfect knowledge of the workflow throughout the company.
How did the team react to the introduction of new technologies?
There are mainly female employees in our production programs, because manufacturing cables is about precise handwork. I am mentioning this because of the cliché that men are more friends with technology, but this has not been confirmed at all. The system was created in close cooperation with employees. Before we introduced it globally, a selected group tested new solutions and suggested some improvements.
Some may be surprised that you preferred Apple to Android technology...
For us, not only the price, but also reliability, safety and user-friendliness were the key factors to make a decision. Eventually, we agreed Apple to be a more suitable platform for us. And by the way, we plan to exchange the iPads every seven years, although we have no doubt that they will last a few years longer.
According to the optimistic scenario, Industry 4.0 will relieve people of monotonous and physically strenuous work. According to pessimists, people will lose their jobs. What is your experience in Ray Service?
In our company, technology has not yet deprived anyone of work. On the contrary, new technologies saved us thousands of hours of unproductive activity, thereby increasing our overall competitiveness. And High-Tec solutions have increased our chances to maintain jobs. As you know, there are not enough job candidates in the job market, and thanks to technology, we have increased our productivity by tens of percent over five years. In addition, by digitizing key company processes, making them an electronic model, we can transfer production to another location very effectively.