Factories of the future set standards for excellence
There’s a clear vision of how technology and data are to be used for gaining competitive advantage.
Changing customer expectations, rapidly evolving market conditions and new applications of technology are transforming manufacturing around the world. Standards for assessing capabilities are also changing. So how should excellence in advanced manufacturing be judged?
Let’s start with the capabilities most likely to define the “Factory of the Future” – practices that set the benchmarks for performance over the next five to 10 years.
The adoption of state-of-the-art technologies is identified as the defining feature of advanced manufacturing. Digitally connected factories, multi-axis CNC machines, robots and automation, additive manufacturing and virtual engineering all feature prominently in depictions of Industry 4.0. Meanwhile, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, cobots, 5G networks and smart materials are setting the stage for Industry 5.0. But what really counts is the adoption of the most appropriate techniques and technologies. Key to this is the ability of companies to manage their technologies in a productive and ultimately profitable way.
What do factories of the future look like?
They deploy agile business strategies that take changing conditions into account. The focus is on a unique value proposition for customers and how innovations in products, services, production and business processes contribute to enhancing solutions. There’s a clear vision of how technology and data are to be used for gaining competitive advantage, which is incorporated in strategies and roadmaps with performance benchmarked regularly against industry best practices.
Employees are equipped with the skills required to manage the technologies they operate. And maintenance practices are based on real-time monitoring of critical components, with focused interventions that prevent productivity loss.
Digital technologies and data are used to transform products, systems or services. Employees are supported by integrated digital processes; shop floor systems are smart, interconnected and autonomously share information; and control of digital information enables virtual design and simulation of new systems prior to implementation. Data systems are secure and data accuracy is guaranteed with analytics incorporated into decision-making systems, supported by machine learning and AI.
End-to-end engineering maximizes customer value while managing risks and costs throughout product life cycles. Products and their related manufacturing processes, use, servicing and disposal requirements are designed and developed simultaneously by cross-functional project teams, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Meanwhile, data collected throughout product life cycles are fed back into the design and engineering process to improve performance, productivity and customer satisfaction.
Employees are enabled and engaged in product and process innovations, while investment supports their skills, expertise and competencies. Factories of the future stimulate life-long learning and individual growth paths based on open communications. Knowledge is shared and accumulated based on problem-solving experience. Project teams are agile. They work with authority managing processes and resolving operational problems.
Shop-floor processes are designed to exploit the full potential of user-friendly, automated, intelligent, efficient and flexible human-machine interactions. Self-managed quality and process control systems enable them to adapt quickly to changing orders and customer requests without jeopardizing quality levels. Knowledge of the relationship between manufacturing parameters and final product quality enables first-time-right, lot-size-one production and rapid changeovers.
Factories of the future are environmentally and socially responsible. Dependency on non-renewable energy resources, water and raw materials are systematically reduced. They identify, assess and mitigate operating risks, and they’re considered leaders in shaping and complying with new rules, regulations and standards. They cooperate, collaborate in partnerships to accelerate innovation, manage risks and adapt rapidly to changing business conditions. While participating in international innovation networks and demand-driven value chains, internally they work as innovation networks. And operations are regularly informed by external knowledge of best practices, technology, industry and market trends.
Today, standards of manufacturing excellence need to be assessed in light of these capabilities. They provide a good roadmap for business success in a world of constant change.
Jayson Myers, the CEO of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, is an award-winning business economist and advisor to private and public sector leaders. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.ngmcanada.com.