3 Top Ways Manufacturing SMEs can Start Using Industry 4.0 Technologies

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Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) are small but are a big deal in any economy. They represent over 90% of global companies and are the primary drivers of social mobility, creating 7 out of 10 jobs, according to the World Economic Forum. This article highlights 3 top ways manufacturing SMEs can start using Industry 4.0 technologies.

We will look at the relationship between SDG 9 – Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation – and 4IR. The primary focus is on manufacturing SMEs and how they can start using Industry 4.0 technologies to gain a competitive edge in the market.

The UN says that the world still has a long way to go to fully tap into the potential of SDG 9. Least developed countries, in particular, need to accelerate the development of their manufacturing sector if they are to meet the 2030 target of SDG 9.

What is Industry 4.0?     

i-SCOOP defines Industry 4.0 as the digital transformation of manufacturing or production and related industries and value chain processes. People use Industry 4.0 and the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) interchangeably.

KFactory says that Industry 4.0 originated in 2011 from a project in the high-tech strategy of the German government. It promotes the computerization of manufacturing. It was introduced publicly at the Hannover Fair in 2011, and was popularized in 2015 by Klaus Schwabb, the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.

SMEs in Manufacturing are Missing Out on 4IR

The World Economic Forum notes that SMEs in the manufacturing sector are being left behind in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This trend is exacerbating economic inequality, stifling opportunities for social mobility and dragging down global industrial productivity. The challenges manufacturing SMEs are experiencing are making them less likely to adopt emerging technologies.

Below are 3 top ways manufacturing SMEs can start using Industry 4.0 technologies.

  1. Adopt the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

Trend Micro defines the industrial internet of things (IIoT) as the extension and use of the internet of things (IoT) in industrial sectors and applications. The focus is on machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, big data, machine learning, robotics, and devices.

Manufacturing SMEs find it hard to build industrial IoT because they don’t have the financial or human resources like large companies do. Nordic Semiconductor observes that small manufacturers play a critical role in keeping the world’s supply chain moving, yet they are lagging in adopting industrial IoT solutions. What can be done to help them?


The European Digital SME Alliance has published a practical guide on IIoT for SMEs to facilitate adoption and address common security concerns, and develop standards for both. This initiative will help SMEs in manufacturing with the knowledge and know-how to start adopting Industry 4.0 technologies in a low-cost way.

  1. Competence Centres to Help Manufacturing SMEs Start Using Industry 4.0 Technologies

IBM says that enterprises need a way to help smooth over some of the technology adoption bumps. A time tested approach is a centre of competency (COC). It is an independent body that is formed by organizations that have a stake in the success of a new technology.


The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) in Germany developed the Mittelstand 4.0 Competence Centres. The centres are meant to be cross-sector and cross-thematic digitization ecosystems supporting the knowledge and technology transfer to SMEs. SMEs are practically supported in developing their own Industry 4.0 solutions.

Other countries have come up with 4IR competence centres. An example is the Malaysian Big Data and Blockchain Competency Centre.

  1. Identify Business Goals and then Select the Relevant Industry 4.0 Technologies

Supply Chain advises that instead of focusing on Industry 4.0 as a whole, it is simpler for businesses to start with their priorities and then see how technology can help achieve those goals


a. Robots

Costly industrial robots are out of reach for SMEs in manufacturing. They take long to install and program. A new type of robot that is increasing the competitive edge of SMEs, especially in developing countries is the cobot.

A cobot is a collaborative robot that works side by side with a human. Cobots don’t replace humans but work with them. They are smaller, lighter, are more accurate and help humans with repetitive tasks. Cobots are easy to install and program and can do several tasks. Universal Robots manufactures cobots and offers online training, video tutorials, and related robot services. A robot suitable for small production runs is Eva.


Boulangerie La Fabrique is an artisan bakery in Quebec, Canada that uses robots to automate its bread packaging line. It had to keep up with the demands of its customers despite having fewer than 20 employees. The bakery eliminated tedious and repetitive tasks, improved its packaging line and standardized the production capacity.

b. 3D Printing

The high cost of 3D printing or additive manufacturing has hindered access to the technology by SMEs. Yet there are many advantages of 3D printing to SMEs. It helps SMEs create affordable prototypes, sell 3D printed products online, create customizable products, etc.

Kijenzi is a startup in Kenya that uses 3D printing technology to provide medical solutions to healthcare providers and institutions that serve the public. It provides hard to get items and allows a customer to place an order for custom products. Kijenzi makes items such as bed net connectors, incubator door hinges, assistive toothbrush holders, etc.


Governments, larger corporations and others stakeholders can come together and help manufacturing SMEs access financing and resources to help them start using Industry 4.0 technologies. SMEs can also look for low-cost ways of adopting 4IR manufacturing technologies.

To learn more about emerging 4IR technologies, get a copy of Understanding the 4th Industrial Revolution.

If you would like to gain Strategic 4IR Skills, sign up for the 4IR Foundation Course at the 4IR Academy.

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