Pre-pandemic manufacturers already faced very real digital transformation challenges, all of which gained varying levels of support based on business and customer benefit prioritisation or risks, such as replacing legacy systems and infrastructure with newer digitally integrated connected platforms designed with Internet of Things features enabling real-time data collection, analytics, digital twins, through to just in time processing and significantly improved data management, data protection, and cyber security capabilities.
These business or technology initiatives were often being driven as much by consumer demand as they were by regular business needs such as increasing operational excellence and safety to cost reductions and profitability gains.
The emergency of the COVID pandemic brought with it an entirely new range of challenges, many of which need to be addressed immediately such as online ordering and eCommerce integration, as well as greater flexibility around more diverse supply chain options as lockdowns and shipping challenges directly impacted production capacity at a time when demand was often at its highest levels in many organisations operating history.
NAVIGATING OUT OF THE PANDEMIC
Now with the world navigating the recovery from the global pandemic, manufacturers face a perfect storm of challenges with pre-pandemic and post-pandemic business, technology, and telecommunications needs to address.
This is where the “Factory of the future” enters the scene, a design principle which in part has grown out of the Industry 4.0 initiatives such as robotics, automation, additive printing, real-time data insights, supply chain optimisation, and cloud-based software “as a Service” solutions.
A key ingredient to the success of the future of manufacturing operators is that of technology, which has become a key ingredient for process manufacturers, as found by a recent report by AT&T Business and WBR Insights asked sixty leaders from within the manufacturing industry, in roles ranging from the factory floor to the board room, about their technology priorities, and how they were approaching the challenge of building the factory of the future.
Respondents from Process Manufacturing industry segments reported that among their current priorities as they aim for future processes, were the following “top three” areas where priority was placed for immediate focus: **1
- 25% said they are seeking Innovative products which enable new revenue streams
- 25% shared the need to integrate design, operations, life cycle and supply chains
- 22% reported they were looking to increase automation in their factory operations
Regardless of which aspect of technology, business systems, telecommunications or infrastructure organisations might be focused on, it is clear the overarching aim is consistent, manufacturers are seeking to future proof their organisations with practical applications that improve overall performance and long term business value for their organisations, their business partners, and their customers – this is where the factory of the future can now address all and more of these needs.
THE FACTORY OF THE FUTURE
What does the factory of the future look like, what core capabilities and features make up what might be described as the perfect blend of Industry 4.0 and a factory of the future? And where can decision-makers within manufacturing industry operators look for such opportunities to bring key benefits to their businesses?
Respondents from Process Manufacturing industry segments to the WBR Insights research sponsored by AT&T Business, shared just those key answers with the following: **2
- 75% stated that Big Data & Analytics were on their radar
- 70% said Predictive Maintenance was a must-have for their factories
- 69% said Internet of Things (IoT) is a core element of their future strategies
Jason Inskeep, Assistant Vice President of AT&T’s 5G COE recently said of AT&T’s core competencies:
“Our private network capabilities can help manufacturers achieve more. AT&T provides enterprise-grade connectivity, which can help the manufacturing industry transform their infrastructure and adopt time-saving new technologies.”
Manufacturers looking to implement the factory of the future will need to focus on identifying market trends early, and being able to respond to them in a timely fashion, avoid downtime, build IoT infrastructure and implement it into operational status as quickly, cost-effectively, securely and safely, in as seamless fashion as possible. Those operators who can achieve this will find it to be a recipe for success.
Achieving each of the key business, technology, and telecommunications/network necessary to transition to a factory of the future operating model, will see very real and long known challenges present themselves, such as:
- Early roadblocks gaining executive support
- Concerns around slow return on investment (ROI)
- Available skills & resources
- Managing costs
- Data management
- Security & Compliance / Governance
To these points, we recently ran a Twitter poll around these very challenges seeking senior business, technology & telecommunications decisions makers in C-Suite roles to share their position on the following question, this is what four thousand five hundred and thirty-one (4,531) of them had to say: **3
“What’s the biggest challenge to tackle within the legacy processes & infrastructure in your manufacturing business?”
- 46.6% = Integration of New Technology
- 26.7% = Labour ( Skill ) Shortages
- 19.9% = Real-time Visibility
- 6.7% = Data Capture
Screenshot of Twitter Poll final results
Many of the poll participants from around the world who took part by voting, also shared valuable insights to the poll via Comments to post for that Twitter Poll. Here are some responses of note:
Kate Carruthers: Kate is Chief Data & Insights Officer for UNSW Sydney, is the Head of Business Intelligence for the UNSW AI Institute and is also an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the School of Computer Science & Engineering. She is currently undertaking postgraduate studies in terrorism and security.
“integration of new tech is the real challenge. In manufacturing re-tooling the kit is always hard (they call it hardware for a reason). But the skills are also a challenge.” – Kate Carruthers
Bill Mew: Bill is a global futurist, though leader and expert with 20 years spent working in blue chip organisations, an IBM veteran, mostly in pan-European and global communications roles.
“Skills is a massive issue that spans both labour shortages and the integration of new tech. It is precisely the skills that you need to integrate such new tech that are in greatest demand and shortest supply”. –Bill Mew
FACTORS FOR FACTORIES OF THE FUTURE
Other key factors which are currently impacting the manufacturing industry as a whole as the year 2022 comes to an end include rethinking age old assumptions while addressing hear and now needs, such as:
- Extending supply chain visibility beyond immediate suppliers
- Protecting profit margins against inflation and geo-political impacts
- Reshoring decisions, i.e. manufacture on-shore of off-shore
- Strengthen Brand-Supplier Partnerships and Collaboration
- Adopt agile project management and learn from the likes of software industries
- Expand HR departments, take longer term views on Skills & Workers / Working models
- Consider placing combined measured KPIs on Productivity + Agility across all workflows
- Develop short, medium & long term Sales, Inventory & Operations Planning roadmaps
- Run regular reviews of your Digital Transformation position looking for blindspots & risks
- Seek out low cost, low risk, quick wins via outsourcing via “as a Service” ( i.e. SaaS )
- Implement more granular & integrated reporting on Compliance, Heath, Safety & Quality
Underpinning each of these key factors is the challenge to ensure you have at ever opportunity trusted data, trustworthy tools and systems, fully trained and qualified expertise and at every point regularly validated single sources of truth.
The coinage of data-driven decision-making has been a goal for all businesses, none more so than manufacturing organisations, but the risk of making key business decisions based on assumptions or bad data are very real, and can have dire impacts.
There exists a very real need to put in place guardrail style safety mechanisms, checks and balances, where at any time, spot checks, partial or full reviews, and or audits can and are undertaken, both by in-house and external teams, to continually assure the board and it’s executives, staff, suppliers, and customers, that the business is making the right decisions based on the right data, at the right time, for the right reasons.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR SUCCESS
It should come as no surprise that process manufacturers have differing perspectives and needs to those of discrete manufacturing operators, but what we can see from the data from key industry leaders, is that there are core elements which underpin what they see as critical elements and factors to the success of the factory of the future for them, and they are:
- Technology and it’s integration to their environments, plant, infrastructure & systems
- Finding, on-boarding & retaining Human Resource & Skills to implement these solutions
- Modern networks and Connectivity in the form of intelligent telecommunications
- Data & Analytics, leveraging data value, insights, management, and it’s protection
- Executive sponsorship, Costs, Return on Investment, and Business Benefits or Value
- Future proofing of key components of the organisation, Safety, and Compliance
Each of these key areas on their own can be described as a “heady challenge”, to combine them and attempt to undertake them in-house, needs to be seen as neigh on impossible. Manufacturers are going to endure, at a time such as this, manufacturing organisations need to remain true to and focused on their “core business” and not make the mistake of taking on challenges they are not ready for or capable of implementing.
Zee Hussain, Senior Vice President, Global Business at AT&T recently said about the challenges organisations are facing currently:
“In the short term there will be a skills gap because businesses have lost knowledgeable workers who didn’t come back after getting furloughed. But on a broader scale, we’re not so much experiencing a digital skills gap. Rather, we are at a turning point in a world that has grown over-complex regarding its technology systems. Companies often don’t like to replace legacy systems, but one benefit that comes from modernising infrastructure is better integration with time-saving technologies”.
This is where my infamous term Partner Of Choice comes to play, that is, operators in the manufacturing space, need to be very clear about what their core business is, where their core strengths are, and at the earliest possible time, bring in Partners of Choice, such as AT&T Business, from as early as the planning and strategy phase, through the entire lifecycle of a project or key business initiative.
That means from day one, from early discussions around business wants and needs, corporate strategy, operational planning, project management, solution design & planning, business case & cost modes, and funding requirements, to design, development, seeking executive sponsorship, finding, design, testing, training, trials, deployment, through to full operational status, ongoing management, maintenance, security and data protection, monitoring, reporting, and support.
Now is not the time to risk “going it alone” – when CEOs around the world ask me “Where do we go from here?”. My immediate response is:
”Phone a friend, one with the required proven skills & experience. Seek out the world’s best in each key area of need, seek out ‘Partners of Choice’, organisations who not only have been here, and done it before, but those who are globally recognised as leaders in their space, with proven track records, as both the lives and livelihoods of so many can rest on the success of large scale projects which are the standard fare of the manufacturing industry segment.”
The time to begin the search for partners of choice is now, delaying your efforts to pivot to a factory of the future operating model, may result in your competitors gaining such a competitive edge over your organisation, that you may never actually catch up, which all too often can result in literally going out of business.The time to act is now, the approach to take is to aim for a factory of the future, to ensure your factory has a future.
This article was sponsored by AT&T Business. The opinions expressed are my own, and don’t necessarily represent AT&T Business’s positions or strategies.
**1 = AT&T Business free eBook on Discrete Manufacturing
**2 = AT&T Business free eBook on Process Manufacturing