The manufacturing industry continues to face “survival of the fittest” challenges. Over the past 15 years, manufacturers have fought through tough economics and endured increased complexity in the industry. The future of manufacturing, like its past, will involve transformation and manufacturers will need to embrace the attributes of well-adapting structures.
The manufacturing industry does not thrive on “coming back” but moving-on forward. The following are characteristics of manufacturers that are planning for the future:
1. Living in a Manufacturing World
Economies that foster innovation are the homes of organizations that perform better. Therefore, manufacturers based in economies full of creative ideas and address challenges are more likely to deliver products and services that are coveted in the global market. For instance, manufacturing and production has been neglected in some developed countries in recent years. However, Germany is one developed country that survived the economic frenzy and continued to manufacture and produce quality products.
Germany’s exports contributed to more than 65 percent of the country’s economy in the past decade. Germany’s economy continues to thrive due to the rise of industrial production and the recovery of the construction industry, and is estimated to help lift economic growth another 0.5 percent when numbers are finalized for the second quarter. Germany serves as an example to others of a national economy that focuses on manufacturing and is producing wealth for its citizens.
2. People versus Robots
Many jobs in the manufacturing industry are viewed as ideal for robotics. However, robots lack the flexibility and ability to make tasks smarter and better. In the historic book authored by Adam Smith in 1776, known in abbreviated fashion as the “Wealth of Nations,” one of Smith’s most often referenced proclamations speaks to the benefits of specialization in manufacturing. Staying in line with that theme, many of the current applications of robotics in production are focused on automating highly specialized tasks. However, in a world that is becoming more increasingly driven by rapid change, the efficiencies of specialization spoken so eloquently by Smith breakdown: what is needed most in manufacturing today is flexibility and agility. As robotic manufacturing continues to evolve, making these machines more flexible and adaptable will make them more useful. However, the current technologies in this area are still a long way from reaching the level already available in a human-centric workface.
Pierfrancesco Manenti, Practice Director of Operations Technology Strategies and Head of IDC Manufacturing Insights, stated “The reason why the factories of the future will be people-oriented is because people provide a much-needed level of flexibility in the production and decision-making process.” Consequently, humans’ role in the future will be the same as it is now: to create jobs people can do and to continuously innovate. This is an essential reality that factories of the future to plan for.
Factories of the future will need to be far more nimble and flexible than their predecessors. Fast growers will need the innovative workers that will keep moving and playing with information and ideas, reinvent tasks, and have knowledge about design, programming, production, finance, logistics, marketing, commerce and equipment repairs. Presently, U.S.-based manufacturers have allowed themselves to fall dangerously behind in educating young people in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the skills that will be most needed in the factory of the future.
Factories that will flourish will have to fill the growing skills gap. As manufacturers are competitive, access to talent will also become competitive. It will become vital for companies to develop trained workers, or attract and retain the highest skilled scientists, researchers, engineers, technicians and production
3. Not Falling to “Natural Selection”
Manenti’s study of the manufacturing industry revealed some interesting statistics. For example, an estimated 63.6 percent of manufacturers expect their production processes to be all, or almost all, digitalized in the next five years. As a result, manufacturers are investing more than 25 percent of their IT budget in plant-floor information technology.
Manufacturers need to focus on efficiency, streamlined processes, optimized inventory management, meeting industry regulations and guidelines, and enabling decision-making based on accurate data. Regardless of a manufacturer’s size or processes, it critical to choose and implement the right technology that will build success and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software has become the core backbone to the evolution and future of manufacturing.
Manufacturers rely on manufacturing ERP software to drive down costs and enhance production and quality of products while storing data that includes equipment history and inventory records. They are also becoming key platforms to enable rapid communications and collaboration amongst broad and varied sets of process participants. For instance, the ability to have integrated, real-time information to accurately anticipate, plan and respond to demand provides more efficient decision-making solutions in the face of changing market conditions.
Manufacturers that adopt these forward-thinking characteristics, and don’t loose sight of the continuing importance of “the people factor,” can succeed in a “survival of the fittest” industry future.