Manufacturing Innovation: Engineering an Innovation Approach to Industry 4.0: Ph.d.-afhandling

Maria Støttrup Schiønning Larsen

Research output: Book/Report/PhD thesisBookResearchpeer-review


It used to be that automation of the manufacturing system was strongly related to repetitive operations in the manufacturing system and, therefore, often associated with mass production, while product variety was managed by using manual processes. However, with the introduction of Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution, automation of manufacturing systems producing a higher product variety is enabled. Automation of more flexible processes in Industry 4.0 is promoted by systemic data exchange and data integration, leading to autonomous decision-making in the manufacturing system. This means that the product design is automatically interpreted and translated to operations by the manufacturing system, thereby producing the product without the need, in theory, for human interference in the process. However, in practice, human is still expected to have an important, yet different, role in the manufacturing system than today. From the perspective of innovation, the operationalization of the vision of Industry 4.0, therefore, requires radical transformations of the manufacturing system, also referred to as manufacturing innovation. The conceptual and visionary notion of an Industry 4.0 manufacturing system still lacks a translation to operational solutions to visualize the true potential, e.g., presented in examples of best practices. This lack of transparency and the increasing complexity resulting from the systemic and data-driven manufacturing innovations for Industry 4.0 pose new requirements for companies to approach manufacturing innovation. Therefore, this dissertation aims to create a systemic approach to manufacturing innovation for Industry 4.0 extending beyond the technical aspects of these solutions. The empirical results are derived from case research using data from multiple manufacturing companies’ approach to manufacturing innovation for Industry 4.0 inspired by gaps in existing research on the subject and observations from interactions with more than 90 companies. The research uses qualitative research methods to explore and refine the scientific understanding of the approach to manufacturing innovation in the context of Industry 4.0. The results of this dissertation evolve into three parts that contribute to enhancing the understanding of how to approach manufacturing innovation for Industry 4.0. The first part of the dissertation explores why the adoption of Industry 4.0 is at a standstill despite manufacturing companies showing extensive interest in getting started. The findings reveal an inconsistency between the practical approach in industry and the theory’s most effective innovation process. In practice, the companies expect to approach manufacturing innovation for Industry 4.0 using a linear process where the link between problem and solution is easily identifiable. Therefore, the innovation process has high transparency and low risk. However, from a theoretical perspective, MANUFACTURING INNOVATION manufacturing innovations for Industry 4.0 encompass a much higher level of complexity, posing more uncertainty and higher risk to the innovation process, thereby requiring a more flexible innovation approach. The second part of the findings explores successful approaches to manufacturing innovation in the context of Industry 4.0, emphasizing the need to use a flexible approach operationalized by, e.g., iterations, learning by doing, and prototyping in the innovation process. Furthermore, a process model for manufacturing innovation in the context of Industry 4.0 is derived, guiding the transformation of an idea to a solution implemented and put into use. The third and last part of the findings delves into the ‘sandbox’ approach as a tool for manufacturing innovation, presenting characteristics and benefits of using this approach to create manufacturing innovations for Industry 4.0. The findings in this dissertation contribute to establishing a systemic approach to manufacturing innovation in the context of Industry 4.0 in which both technical and human aspects are considered in the process from start to end. The results contribute with the essential knowledge necessary to advance industry practice to enhance the quality of the approach to manufacturing innovation in manufacturing companies, thereby creating a strategic foundation for manufacturing. From a scientific perspective, the research contributes to establishing manufacturing innovation as a dedicated research area.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherAalborg Universitetsforlag
ISBN (Print)978-87-7573-626-3
Publication statusPublished - 2023
SeriesPh.d.-serien for Det Ingeniør- og Naturvidenskabelige Fakultet, Aalborg Universitet

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