World Manufacturing Forum Indicates Renewed Industry Optimism
Industry leaders, policy makers, and engineering researchers from 45 nations contributed to increasing confidence in the manufacturing sector’s ability to contribute to global prosperity at the two-day World Manufacturing Forum in Milan.
Topics addressed included the sector’s most pressing challenges at present as well as highlighting opportunities across the technical, economic and educational domains.
“There has been a very enthusiastic mood at this year’s forum, and definitely a proactive approach,” said Dr Marco Taisch, Scientific Chairman of WMF 2014 and Professor of Operations Management and Advanced and Sustainable Manufacturing at Politecnico di Milano University. “The discussions have been marked by an assurance that manufacturing is a driving force for economic growth.”
Dr Thomas Kurfess of the US’s Georgia Institute of Technology, who recently concluded a year as the White House’s policy adviser on advanced manufacturing, agreed that “things are on the upswing” in the manufacturing sector.
He suggested that normality is returning following the uncertainty and disruption that, for two decades, accompanied the advent and growth of globalisation. “Things are levelling out again now”, he said.
Among the wealth of topics discussed at the forum’s eight plenary sessions were some major new challenges that are facing the industry.
Firstly, the forum highlighted the need to address the formulation and establishment of technical, social, and environmental standards that could be applied worldwide both to manufacturing systems and to the products that emanate from them.
Secondly, the forum focused on the need for the protection of the sophisticated cyber-systems that are growing ever-more prevalent in the manufacturing field. Workforce training to confront the “education skills gap” also remains a prominent concern.
This year’s forum, the third in a series that began in May 2011 at Cernobbio, attracted 601 registrants from 438 distinct organisations, including top managers from companies including ABB, COMAU, Dassault Systèmes, KUKA, McKinsey, Samsung, and Siemens.
Of those who attended, 54 percent came from industry, 35 percent from research institutions, and 11 percent from the policy sector.
“The policy makers seem keener on working with manufacturers than they have in previous years,” Taisch concluded.
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.