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A Sneak Peak into Manufacturing’s Future

Posted By Chris Chiappinelli, February 22, 2013 at 6:54 AM, in Category: Factories of the Future

The most recent gathering of the Manufacturing Leadership Council cast a spotlight on the future of manufacturing. The topic has been a perennial focus for the executives on the Council, who must steer their companies toward an exciting yet uncertain horizon.

To help guide manufacturing executives on that quest, the Council commissioned an exclusive study to investigate how manufacturing plants will be designed, run, and managed in the future. The group’s most recent meeting covered those research findings in detail. Here’s an inside look at the future of manufacturing, courtesy of some of the study’s findings.

When it comes to planning where they will produce their goods over the next decade, manufacturing executives favor siting a few large factories to serve global demand, as opposed to a network of small factories close to local demand. However, the gap between those two models is expected to shrink in the coming decade. Today, 39% of companies follow the large-factory model, and only 20% maintain a network of smaller facilities near local demand. A decade from now, 31% of manufacturers will site big plants, and 24% will pursue the smaller footprint


Manufacturing executives have big plans to digitize their design and production processes, according to the survey. Today, only 13% of companies have completely digitized those processes. In 10 years, however, that number will rise to 53%. When respondents were asked that question just a year earlier, only 38% expected to be fully digitized a decade out.


As for what worries manufacturing executives as they create their factories of the future, a lack of skilled workers was the most vexing concern, the survey found. Indeed, the so-called skills gap in manufacturing is troubling enough to members of the Manufacturing Leadership Council that they have created a working group to devise a blueprint for addressing the problem. (Learn more about the Council’s Decision Compass working groups here.)


Asked what technology they would use in their future factories, manufacturing managers identified one clear-cut winner: manufacturing intelligence software. Sixty-nine percent of respondents indicated that they would employ MI software five to 10 years from now; 49% do so today. They also have big plans for simulation technology and for advanced robotics.


And manufacturing executives expect a drastic change in the way they power the plants of tomorrow. Today, 7% of respondents use wind power to help fuel operations, but a decade from now, 96% expect to do so. Similar spikes are expected for geothermal power and methane from waste. And those increases foretell a drop in more traditional energy sources: Whereas 97% of manufacturers today use electricity from the power grid, that number drops to 84% in a decade. Similarly, 83% of manufacturers today use oil, but just 63% expect to do so in the future.


Of course, the task of divining manufacturing’s future is always clouded somewhat by today’s assumptions. The closer we get to the future, the easier it is to predict. But members of the Manufacturing Leadership Council know that they must always look ahead, recrafting how their companies fit in the manufacturing ecosystem, and capitalizing on innovations that today are in their infancy.

To learn about joining the Manufacturing Leadership Council, visit the Council’s informational page.

Written by Chris Chiappinelli

Chris Chiappinelli is the online research manager for Manufacturing Leadership. He covers enterprise software, sustainability, economic trends, workforce issues, and emerging technologies.


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