Manufacturing a future

Ricardo Pérez. Professor. IE Business School

29 September 2015

More efficient factories that are faster and have more precision, greater levels of integration between supplier and client, customized products…The 4.0 industry offers all these things - and it is already here.

“Our director of operations says that this is not important.” This was a key comment from a member of the audience of a talk on the future of manufacturing in an environment of connected machines, data-analysis in real time, with much greater flexibility in production processes. The audience member was worried though and asked if it really was not that important. The components of the backdrop to this question are well-known to us all - the internet of things to connect up machines, cloud computing to store data, big data to examine trends, and new, more integrated systems, to make everything happen faster and better than before. The aim is to make factories more efficient, faster, with higher quality products and fewer mistakes. It will permit a far greater level of integration between suppliers and customers, with far greater customization of products.

It won’t be long before we start seeing these things. In fact, it is already happening. In Germany the power tool sector is already undergoing a transformation. The so-called 4.0 industry, which develops technologies and concepts of value chain organization, is in need of major changes.  First it needs investment in technology, which is actually the least of its problems. The additional sensors it needs will add 1% to the cost of installation. The most important part of this change is the need for a different way of doing things, and the importance of being permanently connected to improve results and invent new approaches. One of the key aspects will be having people with enough knowledge and experience. People who can improve processes and invent new ones. 

All this requires policies for training in the field of advanced technologies, stable employment that enables the uber-specialization of users or operators. Technology companies that can provide the software. Such an ecosystem could render conservative approaches – and many people - utterly obsolete. There will be a new digital gap between countries and people. Europe will once again have an opportunity in this field. Either it is done now, or it will arrive late. The abovementioned director of operations will either have had a change of heart by then, or job.

 

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