David Levine, Founder and CEO of the award-winning mixed reality business DigitalBridge, is here to dissect the issue of Industry 4.0, and determine what it might mean for the kitchen and bathroom sector…
“Industry 4.0 is the fourth iteration of the industrial revolution, following on from mechanisation, mass production and digitalisation. This step-change has the potential to thrust us into a new age where AI, smart technologies, and smart appliances move us closer to a truly connected society.
Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel, recently put forward the idea that we may soon live in a time when “intelligent systems could predict need or market opportunity, and design and manufacture products with little to no human interface.” This is essentially Industry 4.0; an age wherein AI, automation and the Internet of Things (IoT) intersect with business strategy to blur the lines between the physical and digital worlds like never before.
Far from being restricted solely to the manufacturing process – as is the common consensus – this sea-change could in fact revolutionise a variety of sectors, foremost among which being the KB industry.
But how might this look?
How will Industry 4.0 shape the KB market?
In the KB sector, it is the design process which will be most transformed in Industry 4.0, as the majority of KB consumers will be either planning – or in the midst of – a home renovation project. Designing a kitchen, bedroom or bathroom is often still a lengthy and complex process, and despite the worldwide growth of the home décor market, it can still take consumers months to move from planning to purchase.
The drawn-out renovation process has widely been accepted as just a natural part of home redecoration. But what if it didn’t have to be? After all, a major theme of Industry 4.0 will be how machines and tech can be leveraged to support humans in the decision-making process, both in the factory and outside it.
A clear example of this lies in the design space, where we at DigitalBridge operate. While there will always be a place for the expert touch an experienced designer brings, AI can support the consumer decision making process through smart visualisation and space planning tools, which are fantastic for the more practical aspects of the design process such as determining how appliances fit into the room.
Will Industry 4.0 lead to robots replacing humans?
Whenever the prospect of Industry 4.0 – and automation in particular – is raised, with that has inevitably come the fear that it will lead to the jobs currently occupied by humans being replaced by machines.
This is an unfortunate, and damaging, misconception. While some roles will inevitably be made redundant by emerging technology, that has always been the way; in the past, for example, many would have complained about the motorcar taking jobs from carriage drivers. While certain roles will inevitably make way for new technology, this can open up opportunities in other areas, and actually create more jobs than it replaces.
Rather than Industry 4.0 being a future wherein machines replace humans, it’s far more likely that technology and humans will in fact work in tandem to create new employment; a sentiment echoed by Gartner, which found that, by 2020, AI and automation will in fact create approximately 5 million more jobs than it replaces.
Of course, to make best use of these new opportunities, individuals will have to upskill or even pivot to a new role, which may be a difficult transition for society at first.
What opportunities will Industry 4.0 bring to the KB sector?
Industry 4.0 will instigate positive change across the entire market. For manufacturers, it will greatly reduce the time-to-market for products through increasing efficiency, shortening the innovation cycles of complex products and allowing far larger volumes of data to be processed. This increased efficiency will also lower operating costs for KB manufacturers, which can then be passed on to the retailers to the benefit of all.
As the more agile manufacturing processes facilitated by 4.0 lead to a future where products need never be ‘out of stock’, the ways in which KB products are both manufactured and stocked will also therefore become more closely linked to emerging consumer demand, transforming the retail showroom as we know it.
As it stands, the greatest headache for consumers and retailers alike lies in the design process, where issues such as the ‘imagination gap’ currently cost home decor retailers an estimated £1 billion annually through lost sales. This is where Industry 4.0 will have the greatest impact; automating many of the more practical (but fiddly) aspects of the design process – such as accurately measuring up a room – with AI-powered space planning and visualisation tools, which empower consumers to make smarter decisions in the design process.
KB retailers could offer these tools either in-store, directly through their website, or even a mixture of both to provide a truly ‘omnichannel’ experience. Through this, they can add value through the whole customer journey of buying a new space by offering consumers a simple, unique way to design and purchase their dream kitchen, bedroom or bathroom all in one place – a truly interconnected solution.
If we consider that more than one in four (27%) of homeowners are planning to undertake a home improvement project within the next year – with budgets of more than £3,000 per project – and the fact that one in two consumers would be more likely to shop with a forward-thinking retailer who offers them access to emerging technology, can KB retailers looking to engage and retain customers in Industry 4.0 really afford not to embrace innovation?
The future is far closer than we think, and KB retailers must either prepare for this, or prepare to be left behind in Industry 4.0.”
DigitalBridge | digitalbridge.com