"Digital Workshop": How SMEs in particular benefit from Industry 4.0

When the media talk about Industry 4.0, smart factories and networked production lines, the focus is usually on international corporations. Yet, the "digital workshop" provides immense advantages, especially for small and medium-sized production plants. Simplified customer communication, streamlined processes in administration or spare parts warehouses "on demand" are just some of the competitive advantages that SMEs can achieve by transitioning to Industry 4.0

Germany's strong SME sector is currently facing its biggest challenge in decades – digitalisation provides an answer to disrupted supply chains, exploding costs and a fiercely competitive international market. Reasons enough for us to focus on the "digital workshop" in this article.

Streamline overloaded processes, automate expensive manual routine tasks

Whether a small 3-man company or a medium-sized enterprise with several locations: Administrative activities occur in every workshop and production plant. Accounting, proposal system, service, or order processing: SME administration is still dominated by paper and manual activities. Printing, filing, scanning and reprinting – numerous manual routine tasks have to be done by the employees every day. This costs expensive working time and ties up valuable capacities. All this can also lead to communication problems with suppliers or customers. Digitalisation makes it possible to significantly streamline administrative processes.
Efficient ERP systems, fully networked with production, with customers and with suppliers, relieve a large part of manual activities. Existing processes do not even have to be fundamentally changed – rather, they are simply transferred from "analogue to digital" in the course of digitalisation.

Optimised customer retention through digital communication channels

Classic customer contact still consists of telephone calls and emails – and even letters are far from being obsolete. As important and valuable as direct customer contact is, with the appropriate digitalisation strategy for customer communication, significantly improved customer retention is possible for SMEs. Especially, end customers appreciate the extra service. Here, fully automated appointment bookings with corresponding reminders, the website as a sales instrument and digital tools offer countless opportunities to bind existing customers even more closely to your own company. The digital service booklet is becoming more and more popular in automotive workshops. Without administrative effort, customers are reminded of upcoming service and maintenance work – or, in other words, of appointments that bring in sales but are often forgotten. Service, individual proposals and numerous marketing options: In the area of customer retention, digitalisation is an extremely powerful way to ensure that customers stay with the company even in difficult times.

Cost-effective production starting at batch size 

Whether additive manufacturing or classic machining: the need for customised special solutions in small to exceedingly small quantities is steadily increasing. Particularly in the B2C business, digitalisation provides the answer to the increased demand for individual products starting from batch size 1. The classic path of manufacturing from drawing to manual programming to production to delivery used to make prototype or single-part production expensive and unfeasible for many end users. Digital platforms, the networking of CAD, CAM and production line and new production options such as 3D printing now make it possible to implement customer wishes quickly, easily and above all cost-effectively.

Significant increase in product quality

In workshops and manufacturing, the impeccable quality of the products and services offered represents the decisive competitive advantage. In the course of Industry 4.0, this allows for monitoring product quality more easily, reliably and comprehensively than ever before. From efficient maintenance and servicing through condition monitoring and predictive maintenance to autonomously operating test benches at the end of the production line to detailed visualisation and evaluation options for measurement data: Digitalisation is ideally suited to ensure the quality of the products manufactured or services provided along the entire production chain. And all this without any additional personnel costs!

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