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How To Apply Chess Strategy To Smart Manufacturing

Manufacturers are looking towards Industry 4.0 to improve operations. Discover the parallels between chess strategy and implementing smart manufacturing tech.
Written by
O3 Smart
Published on
December 14, 2023

Everyone has heard the phrase – “thinking two steps ahead.” 

The thing is, sometimes two steps isn’t enough.

It’s common for chess players to think ahead far more than two moves – some grandmasters think about 15 to 20 moves ahead.

This begs the question – how would a chess grandmaster approach making a transition from a traditional factory to a smart factory? What would their strategy be for successful implementation of Industry 4.0 tech, such as IoT, cloud computing, digital twins, and AI? 

What would a grandmaster do?

If there’s one thing that chess grandmasters are famed for, it’s their ability to think in a strategic way and figure out the best approach to navigate complex situations and come out on top.

The situation facing manufacturing companies in our modern age is quite similar to a game of chess.

Manufacturers face complex global supply chains, production processes with lots of moving parts, and face a number of unknowns. Just like a game of chess, you can never know exactly what your opponent is thinking. In the manufacturing industry there are numerous competitors trying to counter your every advance and make their own ‘killer’ moves.

The key to outperforming competitors in manufacturing is similar to chess. You need to apply careful strategic thinking, plan ahead, and position your pieces well to maximize the chances of success.

Analyzing the board

When you watch a chess player in action, you can see the intense concentration as they analyze the current situation on the board in front of them. They take in all the available data – the development of key pieces, weaknesses in their opponent’s position, key areas that need to be defended, and areas that are ripe for attack.

Can you imagine playing chess blindfolded? 

That means playing without the data you need. If your opponent can see the board, they would have a major advantage.

The same applies to manufacturing – data is everything.

We’re entering an age of smart manufacturing that is all about unlocking the value of data. Manufacturers who grab the bull by the horn, adopt the right technology, and use it in a highly strategic way, will thrive. 

Companies that don’t play strategically and without full view of the data will find themselves quickly check-mated.

Opening. Middle game. Endgame.

Chess is broken up into three distinct stages – the opening, middle game, and endgame.

  • Opening – The stage that most manufacturing companies are at in terms of Industry 4.0. In chess, the best strategy is to firstly develop the minor pieces in order to take control of the center of the board. Manufacturers are well advised to follow a similar strategy – create a solid foundation to build from by taking well-thought-out systematic action. 
  • O3 offers a modular platform that provides a solid smart manufacturing foundation and allows you to take control of your manufacturing data strategically. For instance, you can start with a productivity management module to track and analyze machine productivity, before adding modules to automate quality control processes and KPI management.

  • Middle game – If the chess player played the opening well and positioned their pieces optimally, during the middle game, they will be in a position to mount attacks against their opponent. Tactics is key during the middle game – creating threats and taking advantage of their opponent’s weaknesses. 
  • The smart manufacturing middle game is all about continuous improvement. If manufacturing companies have played a good strategic opening, they’ll be on their way to creating a continuous improvement feedback loop – i.e. a data loop that consists of data capture, data analysis, change implementation, and evaluation. This tactical approach will give them a big competitive edge in terms of productivity and efficiency.

  • Endgame – In the final stages of a chess game, players try to turn their positional advantage into a win. Precision is key during this stage. Every move counts and mistakes are costly. 
  • Manufacturers who have established a strong competitive edge during the middle game still need to be cautious. New technology is in development all the time, so strategy and tactics are still important. Complacency should be avoided. 

With a continuous improvement feedback loop and optimization programs in place, manufacturers can now look to take things to the next level with more advanced AI, predictive maintenance strategies, etc. Due to increased automation, employees will also have more time to spend developing innovative solutions. 

In other words, smart manufacturing not only unlocks the trapped value in data, it also unlocks the human potential in your organization.

Go for checkmate and avoid stalemate

In chess, stalemate is a draw. It happens when one player cannot make a legal move but is not currently in check, or the same move is repeated 50 times in a row, or there are not enough pieces on the board for either player to checkmate their opponent.

In manufacturing, stalemate can happen when innovation dries up and companies stop trying to optimize their operations. Smart manufacturing can breathe new life into stale operations, creating new opportunities and opening horizons. 

In a complex world of disrupted supply chains, fluctuating consumer demand, and high levels of competition, strategically implementing smart manufacturing tech and Industry 4.0 offers a ray of hope to put manufacturing companies into a winning position.

To find out how O3 smart manufacturing platform can help you to gain a strategic position, contact us today.

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