Industry 4.0 at GKN: The driver for innovation

In the first part of our interview with Paul Mairl, Vice President Program Management and Lean at GKN Powder Metallurgy, we discussed how the company works with a digital business model to implement Industry 4.0 standards. Paul plays a key role in the company’s journey in creating the shop floor of the future, utilizing the latest data processing tools and innovative technology.

This week, we followed up with Paul on the cultural change that comes along with new ways of working in the digitized manufacturing world and how GKN overcomes the challenge.

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You mentioned that Industry 4.0 implies a cultural change – GKN’s model includes Digital Culture as a key element to master this process. How do we implement this Digital Culture?

As Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” People need to trust in data and systems otherwise they are not going to use it. Without trust, people won´t be able to understand how to take data-based decisions and drive business process development.

The capability to turn data into usable information and find correlations between data sets and KPIs is another important aspect of digital change. In turn, Industry 4.0 and digitization will improve transparency of our decision-making processes. That’s a big change!

Again, our partners in Silicon Valley are helping us with the necessary implementation of a more digital mindset and cultural openness. Many of our employees are participating in projects in San Francisco and they’re bringing back the experience of working with startups that have a unconventional approach, compared to larger organizations like ours.

Ultimately, cultural change is driven by leadership and this requires full support from your top management for success.  Fortunately Peter Oberparleiter, GKN Powder Metallurgy’s CEO, is a role model for this, giving a lot of support and pushing the topic as a number one priority.

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What is the next important milestone on our implementation of Industry 4.0?

We are currently working on many different elements and solutions. Some, like the introduction of cobots and self-driving transport systems in our shop floors in established production environments, could be considered an evolution of current technologies.

Others I would consider more revolutionary and game-changing. Remote monitoring and control of our machines and shop floor might make it unnecessary for our employees to come to work one day. Self-managed supply chains will change completely the way we operate and how we run production. Is this unrealistic? Is this a long term vision? To be honest, having seen so many things happen over the past years and looking at the hotbeds of innovation in Silicon Valley I answer both questions with no.

These processes will be our future reality and it will happen sooner than we expect. All the technologies are available - it is up to us to make use of them for our benefit. If we don’t do it, somebody else will and they will become the market leader.

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