The Factory of the Future
The publication of the second “Factories of the Future” study by the Manufacturing Leadership Council and Frost & Sullivan provides a useful glimpse into how leading manufacturers see their production facilities evolving over time. Approximately 175 manufacturers across a variety of industrial sectors participated in the research, which found that many of the transformational trends are already well under way:
“Many of the long-term, transformational trends under way in the manufacturing industry today—the shift to build-to-order, the digitization of business and production processes, the desire for greater speed and agility throughout the business—are reflected in the new survey’s results. These trends portend a future in which factories and plants are highly automated, staffed with computer-literate people who have a penchant for collaboration, and where the “Perfect Order” is the rule not the exception.”
The study identified “to-order” production as a powerful manufacturing trend, whether assemble-, make-, or engineer-to-order. In doing so, it echoed the findings of last year’s initial study. Build-to-stock production continues to decline precipitously, being down 36 percent from the prior year.
An Information Flow Revolution
As manufacturers move inexorably towards doing business in real time, they’re undergoing what the authors call “a revolution in how information will flow through business processes.” This digitization of business and production processes is perhaps the signature trend of the study, with more than half of participants indicating that they expected design and production processes to be fully digitized in the next five to 10 years, an increase of over 40 percent from the prior year.
From a software perspective, these findings reinforce our belief that MES will continue to emerge as a key production management tool in factories of the future. As Accenture explains in a recent study:
Companies can move their plants forward with sophisticated sets of tools such as historians, batch managers, reporting applications, dashboards, scheduling systems, and integration software, known collectively as manufacturing execution systems (MES). With MES, companies can weave together plant systems, integrate them with ERPs, give plant operators and management better information about schedules and shop-floor processes, and make better use of automated information.
This statement is consistent with the two top statements seen as “likely” regarding factory strategy in the “Factories of the Future” study: one, that future factories will be measured by production capability/flexibility rather than capacity, and two, that IT will be essential in creating real-time decision making environments.
Given that one of MES’ key benefits is provision of complete visibility for informed, real-time decision making support, MES dovetails neatly with this strategic vision.