COVID-19: Demand for the Next Generation of Smart Factory
‘Smart factory’ is a popular term these days, and it’s synonymous with ‘the factory of the future’ ─ a term which provokes a myriad of different images but what actually is it? It could be a place where people, data analytics, and technological enhancement combine to provide manufacturers with a highly efficient facility that leverages the best minds and machines in manufacturing to innovate new solutions to old problems. Or, perhaps, it’s the light out, data-driven factories that are capable of seamlessly creating customised goods on demand, at the click of a button?
The reality, I think, sits somewhere in between the two. A ‘smart factory’ can probably be accurately described as a factory that features a skilled workforce, augmented with artificial intelligence and machine learning-enhanced assets and tools, working collaboratively. It’s a hive of technological wizardry and data-fuelled equipment.
That’s my classification, anyway. To officially be considered as a ‘smart factory’, companies must have undergone digital transformation, which is multivariate in itself. As Peter Fretty recently put it: “after all, every manufacturer has unique needs. Needs that ultimately prioritise an assortment of digital technologies and capabilities. And, there is no denying the new normal will place [a] new emphasis on certain technology investments. For instance, advanced remote capabilities include mobile augmented reality, and advanced collaboration tools were not as high on the list as they are for many businesses post COVID-19.”
I suppose you could and probably should argue that true digital transformation isn’t actually about the technology part. Sure, it’s a big factor, and it enables a lot of your everyday processes but to survive in an increasingly digital world, under the new normal, manufacturers must ensure that their investments enable outputs that align with the continuously changing customer expectations and growing demand. As many companies have realised in 2020, courtesy of the pandemic, maintaining customer engagement and successfully completing business as we previously did, remotely, is a tough task in itself. With consumers being more demanding than ever before, with an emphasis on ‘on-demand’ economy, it’s time for businesses to truly invest both themselves and their cashflow in the solutions that digitisation brings to the table ─ that way, they’ll always be able to keep their customers engaged.
"With a one-stop customer portal, customers can collaborate with an organisation remotely and at their convenience, through a suite of all-in-one capabilities. Leveraging a platform is helpful, as it enables a business to provide a best in class experience as technology trends change," Leen Iyar, Head of Marketing at Moxtra tells IndustryWeek. "Businesses need their digital strategy to mirror their organisation’s management structure and tailor permissions within the portal to ensure effective workflows for internal teams, and therefore, deliver timely and quality responsiveness to customers."
Gartner: Leaders Lack Skilled Smart Manufacturing Workers
With organisations rapidly adopting industry 4.0 capabilities to increase productivity, efficiency, transparency, and quality as well as reduce cost, manufacturers “are under pressure to bring their workforce into the 21st century,” says Gartner.
While more connected factory workers are leveraging digital tools and data management techniques to improve decision accuracy, increase knowledge and lessen variability, 57% of manufacturing leaders feel that their organisations lack the skilled workers needed to support their smart manufacturing digitalisation plans.
“Our survey revealed that manufacturers are currently going through a difficult phase in their digitisation journey toward smart manufacturing,” said Simon Jacobson, Vice President analyst, Gartner Supply Chain practice.
“They accept that changing from a break-fix mentality and culture to a data-driven workforce is a must. However, intuition, efficiency and engagement cannot be sacrificed. New workers might be tech-savvy but lack access to best practices and know-how — and tenured workers might have the knowledge, but not the digital skills. A truly connected factory worker in a smart manufacturing environment needs both.”
Surveying 439 respondents from North America, Western Europe and APAC, Gartner found that “organisational complexity, integration and process reengineering are the most prevalent challenges for executing smart manufacturing initiatives.” Combined they represent “the largest change management obstacle [for manufacturers],” adds Gartner.
“It’s interesting to see that leadership commitment is frequently cited as not being a challenge. Across all respondents, 83% agree that their leadership understands and accepts the need to invest in smart manufacturing. However, it does not reflect whether or not the majority of leaders understand the magnitude of change in front of them – regarding technology, as well as talent,” added Jacobson.
Technology and People
While the value and opportunities smart manufacturing can provide an organisation is being recognised, introducing technology alone isn’t enough. Gartner emphasises the importance of evolving factory workers alongside the technology, ensuring that they are on board in order for the change to be successful.
“The most immediate action is for organisations to realize that this is more than digitisation. It requires synchronising activities for capability building, capability enablement and empowering people. Taking a ‘how to improve a day in the life’ approach will increase engagement, continuous learning and ultimately foster a pull-based approach that will attract tenured workers. They are the best points of contact to identify the best starting points for automation and the required data and digital tools for better decision-making,” said Jacobson.
Long term, “it is important to establish a data-driven culture in manufacturing operations that is rooted in governance and training - without stifling employee creativity and ingenuity,” concluded Gartner.