Nicola Accialini
4 min readApr 6, 2022

Industry 4.0 and SMEs are a winning combination

In a report published by the consulting firm Roland Berger it is highlighted that in Germany there is a gap in the adoption of new 4.0 technologies between SMEs and large companies. For those who have been working in the sector for several years, this is not surprising. In fact, large companies simply have resources that SMEs do not have. But be careful! When we talk about resources, we are not referring only to the economic aspect, but mainly to the human resources employed in predicting, researching new technological trends and possibly developing new technologies that can bring a competitive advantage to the market.

The aerospace industry in which I have the luck to work for years is an example of this.

However, today the offer of solutions on the market and the entry barriers are such that Industry 4.0 becomes a fertile ground ESPECIALLY for SMEs.

An opportunity not to be missed

Industry 4.0 ans SMEs are therefore a winning combination not to be missed. In fact, the market today offers smart solutions that can be taken home with low investments. It is therefore important not to miss these opportunities (in this post we have seen how missed opportunities are to be considered a real waste). Here are some simple examples:

  • Don’t you know how your production system behaves? With a minimum investment you can connect the machinery to the IT network and create simple dashboards to check the progress of your production in real time, even remotely;
  • Need the resources to analyze data with a statistical approach like Six Sigma but don’t have the budget to hire? Today there are solutions that use smart algorithms to analyze data in real time. In this way, a resource will be able to manage several projects at the same time;
  • Is production logistics inefficient? Don’t you know how production flows move? Today, RTLS solutions (RTLS stands for (Real-Time Locating System) monitor the position of semi-finished products and industrial assets in real time through the use of various low-cost technologies, which now go under the umbrella of the Industrial Internet of Things;
  • The Standard Operating Procedures are not clear, are not updated and translating them into different languages for plants abroad becomes expensive? There are many digital solutions on the market in this regard, which guarantee higher quality with the addition of videos and fields for data collection and the viewing of the latest official edition and instant translation;
  • Do you have inefficiencies due to plant breakdown? You can implement low-cost solutions that exploit predictive algorithms in order to intervene before the failure;
  • Do you have inefficiencies during plant maintenance? Remote assistance systems can be for you!

What are the main barriers for SMEs?

We recently carried out a short survey on LinkedIn: what are the main barriers limiting the implementation of these technologies for businesses?

95% replied that the problem is basically a lack of culture of change, while the remaining 5% believe that the problem lies in the high investments required. From the interviewed sample it is evident that there seems to be a poor ability to adapt to the changes that new technologies are bringing to companies. It is therefore necessary to invest resources first in this sense, i.e. to train leaders who are able to accept and manage change.

As Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum writes:

“In the future, it will not be the big fish that will eat the smallest, but the fastest fish that will eat the slowest”

If this were to happen, SMEs would have a strategic advantage over large companies, traditionally equipped with managing structures that are often cumbersome and slower in reacting to structural changes.

From the point of view of the investments required to undertake a Smart Factory path, it should be noted that the range of solutions on the market is so wide that there is something for everyone. On the one hand, you need to know the problem you want to tackle and choose the best solution accordingly through a technology scouting approach.

If there is a solution that costs x, why spend 10x? Taking an analogy, why spend € 1000 for a phone that I use at 10% of its features?

On the other hand, in some cases it is necessary to resort to more substantial investments. It is true that the barriers to entry are lowering, however it is necessary to be realistic according to the technology on which to focus. For example, is it worthwhile to focus on additive technologies for finished products, which are not extremely complex, on a large scale? The answer is “probably not yet”. Or: should we develop solutions that exploit virtual reality? Again, if you’re on a tight budget, probably not yet. But if the question is: is it worth investing in a machinery interconnection system, in an RTLS system or in additive manufacturing to produce prototypes or workshop supports? Most likely the answer in this case will be: “for sure!”

Two paths to follow

  1. Investing in training to create leaders capable of implementing cultural and technological change is the first path we suggest we follow
  2. The second path is to invest in new knowledge to understand applications of the technologies and solutions that the market offers, in order to plan a medium-long term technology roadmap to outperform the competition, now on a global scale. In fact, for many years now we have rightly focused on the management of people, the real engine of a company. To date, however, another question must also be asked: do we know how to manage technology correctly?

How to proceed?

In this post, we described why Industry 4.0 and SMEs is a winning combination. However, it’s important to develop the proper knowledge in order to take advantage of all new opportunities.

On SkillS4i you can find training programs to create leaders able to implement Change within your company and to know and understand new technologies and how to implement them in a manufacturing environment.

Have a look at our product catalogue to find out the courses that fit to your needs!

Stay tuned

Nicola Accialini

Engineer, consultant, digital entrepreneur and traveller, not necessarily in this order | Agile and Additive Addicted |