Posted on Jan 10, 2019

The manufacturing industry is at a pivotal point in its history. Recognizing the significance of this juncture, the Manufacturing Leadership (ML) Council recently released its Critical Issues Agenda for 2018/2019, titled The Journey to Manufacturing 4.0.

The result of extensive research, consultation and refinement involving more than 1,000 members, this agenda identifies key issues facing the industry. Manufacturers of all shapes and sizes are advised to take note.

Real Challenges

The modern manufacturing plant, featuring robots doing jobs previously performed by humans and workers on the floor communicating electronically with supervisors in remote locations, may seem like something out of The Jetsons. Yet the challenges are real. Even with cutting-edge technology, manufacturers face pressure to be more innovative, nimble and cost-effective.  

In fact, the evolution of advanced digital and analytical technology is forcing manufacturers around the globe to rethink the normal rules of competition, revisit how work is performed, and revise how companies are structured and managed. This fresh approach is what the ML Council calls Manufacturing 4.0 (M4.0). 

The Cost of Progress

Make no mistake: Manufacturers will need to pay tolls along the road to Manufacturing 4.0. Firms must invest time, energy and capital to implement advanced technology and best practices. 

Cost is likely to be the biggest obstacle for many small- to mid-sized companies. Pilot programs may require you to revisit your budget and raise additional capital. And your firm may need to make tough decisions regarding strategic investments, such as launching new products, purchasing new assets and making strategic acquisitions. You simply  don’t have the resources to do everything at once. Your CPA can run financial projections and create decision trees to help you determine which alternatives to pursue today and which to table for future years.

Features

M4.0 goes a step beyond previous iterations of the new technology-driven manufacturing sector. The new regime is characterized by:

  • Production and supply networks that are increasingly data-driven, automated, modular, agile, sustainable, predictive and rapidly reconfigurable to meet changing demands and competition.
  • Products that are smart, customized, connected and self-diagnostic, and that provide a rich platform for new revenue streams.
  • Supply chains that are visible, traceable, risk-resilient, responsive and constantly analyzed in real time.
  • Enterprises that are cross-functional, collaborative and highly-integrated, often surrounding a single digital thread that stretches from design to deployment.
  • Leaders and employees who are highly engaged, digitally savvy, customer-centric and ready to meet new challenges and grasp emerging business opportunities.

Such a massive transformation doesn’t come without substantial effort. Manufacturers must identify and master various technological, organizational, cultural, workforce and leadership aspects. With that in mind, the agenda is designed to help manufacturers align their thoughts with practices. 

Opportunities to Grow

The agenda covers five specific manufacturing areas.

1. Factories. Both large and small manufacturers need to recognize and embrace the potential of new and evolving production models, materials and technology. This will help them create cost-efficient, responsive, flexible, transparent, connected, automated, and sustainable factories, production models and business plans.

The agenda spotlights:

  • M4.0 guidelines, maturity models and transformation frameworks that can help manufacturers move from current production models (often based on legacy systems) to a future state of digitally-enabled production readiness.
  • End-to-end digitization and analysis of manufacturing and engineering processes and functions in both centralized and distributed production networks.
  • Cybersecurity risk management.

Such cybersecurity includes preventive measures and cyberattack response strategies that minimize vulnerabilities of highly networked production platforms.

2. Culture. Manufacturers of all sizes need to transform traditional operations so that their culture becomes collaborative, innovation-driven and cross-functional. This will drive growth, new product and service development, operational efficiency and success.

The agenda recommends:

  • Cross-functional processes and integrated organizational structures that harness multiple sources of data to drive innovation, facilitate faster and better decisions, reduce time-to-market and enhance competitive agility.
  • Collaborative innovation cultures and platforms that leverage the ideas and resources of employees, suppliers, external partners, customers, academics and “‘the crowd” to create new products, improve business processes and spawn innovation.
  • Best-practice approaches in deploying integrated M4.0 technology and platforms, such as digital threads, that enhance collaboration and integration to help deliver new ideas and improvements faster across the enterprise.

3. Technology. Manufacturers must learn how to identify, adopt and scale promising technology. This will result in greater speed and efficiency while opening the door to new business models and improved customer experiences.

The agenda covers:

  • The impact of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and cognitive analytics on the industry’s future.
  • The latest developments in related transformational technology, including the Internet of Things, 3D printing, modeling and simulation, collaborative robotics, augmented and virtual realities, 5G networks, block chain and other emerging technologies.
  • Best practice approaches for selecting and deploying new technology in a manufacturing enterprise while implementing standards and architectures that support open systems.

4. Next-generation leadership. It isn’t just the machinery that’s changing. Manufacturers must be more collaborative, innovative and responsive to disruptive change. Leaders will adopt new behaviors, structures, cultures, value systems and strategies. And they’ll consider ways to attract and engage the talent and skills of both the current workforce and the next generation of employees.

The agenda pinpoints:

  • Effective leadership role models, behaviors and mindsets that define a successful profile for tomorrow’s manufacturing leaders.
  • Employee transition, development and engagement strategies for an inclusive, diverse, multigenerational, multicultural, multinational workforce that interacts with AI and collaborative robots (“cobots”) and whatever else is developed in the future.
  • Identifying, attracting, and encouraging talent and skills for the next-generation manufacturing workforce.

Effective next-generation leaders will adopt new working cultures, change value systems and develop better ways to collaborate with educational and community organizations. 

5. Sustainability. This new vision provides an opportunity to leverage new analytical insights and more flexible production platforms. It maximizes resources, achieves major efficiency gains, drives revenue growth and minimizes environmental impacts. To successfully engage with others, manufacturers must become more transparent about their environmental and socially responsible practices. 

The agenda recommends: 

  • Products designed for easier reuse, remanufacture, refurbishment or recycling.
  • Production strategies that streamline production processes to increase efficiency and reduce costs and waste.
  • Holistic, sustainable manufacturing business models supported by collaborative cross-sector partnerships and deeper community engagement that can create a circular manufacturing economy. 

Seize the Future

What does all this mean for your company? Manufacturers must embrace the future or risk being left in the dust. As you set your budgets and goals for 2019, review the ML Council’s agenda and consider ways you can leverage emerging technology, innovative business strategies, sustainable practices and other opportunities to grow your business agenda. Visit the ML Council’s website [Insert: http://nammlc.wpengine.com/about-us/#critical].

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