Building Fast-Moving, Highly Automated Future Factories and Plants

Manufacturers embracing digital manufacturing, collaborative management structures, and more real-time production models

Monday, May 06, 2013

The Manufacturing Leadership Council and Frost & Sullivan recently released the results of a study titled Factories of the Future: Building Fast-Moving, Highly Automated Future Factories and Plants. The survey details how manufacturing executives and their companies are thinking about and planning for next-generation factories and plants.

Many of the long-term, transformational trends under way in the manufacturing industry today—the shift to build to order, the digitization of business and production processes, the desire for greater speed and agility throughout the business—are reflected in the survey results. The study finds that over the next five to ten years, manufacturing will trend to highly automated facilities, staffed with computer-literate people who have a penchant for collaboration, and where the “Perfect Order” is the rule not the exception.

Even as manufacturers embrace digital manufacturing, collaborative management structures, and more real-time production models, certain time-honored disciplines will remain in force. Reducing costs, improving productivity, finding new markets, increasing customer satisfaction, and product innovation are at the top of manufacturers’ priority lists as they look forward to the next 10 years.

When asked what their main business concerns have been, profitability was the most significant factor cited by survey respondents, followed by their ability to expand into new markets, rising energy and fuel prices, difficulty in finding skilled workers, and fluctuating raw material prices.

Key Survey Findings:

  • In the next five to 10 years, more than 90 percent of survey respondents indicated that their companies would be using geothermal, methane and wind power sources, compared with only a fraction doing so today.
  • Manufacturing skill sets are shifting. The ability to collaborate with other people, analytical skills, basic math and engineering skills, the ability to innovate, and computer-based skills all received high marks from survey-takers.
  • There is a clear and powerful trend toward “to-order” production models, whether assemble-, make-, or engineer-to-order. Just over one-quarter of survey respondents say they will adopt a hybrid model encompassing aspects of both manufacturing and assembly. What’s emerging is that manufacturers will employ multiple models in order to create the production and operational flexibility they need as they increasingly move to doing business in real time.
  • A majority of respondents, 59.4 percent, are now saying that their business and production processes will be largely digitized in the next five to 10 years.
  • Collaborative management structures are advancing strongly, with 34 percent of survey respondents saying they expect to embrace this model in the next five to 10 years, This finding corresponds directly to the importance
    manufacturers attach to the collaborative skill set they say they need in their workforces in the years ahead.

The study encompasses factory and production models, process digitization, measures of success and challenges, workforce requirements, technologies required, and expected energy sources. Approximately 175 manufacturers across a variety of industry sectors participated in the study. Click here to download the White Paper.