We cannot predict the future of manufacturing, but what is known, is that the factory of the future will not be a ‘one size fits all solution’ instead every manufacturer will need to undergo a journey of discovery and answer this question for themselves.
The topic of the ‘factory of the future’ is of course a very hot topic in manufacturing at the moment. Standing on the cusp of the next big industrial revolution (industry 4.0) and the monumental shift this will cause in production efficiency, it is easy to understand why manufacturers are keen to be able to answer this question.
However, as is often the case in predicting the future, trying to create a general vision of what the ‘factory of the future’ will be, a foolish pursuit.
The better question should be, “what will our factory look like in 10,20 of even 50 years”.
To try and group together manufacturing sectors and predict their factory layout and technology would be irrelevant. For example, take the automotive sector;
Yes, they produce vehicles using similar production methods (moving assembly line, just in time parts delivery infrastructure and so forth) and have similar technology (ergonomic tooling for operators, paint spray and welding robotics etc.) but other than general methods of operation and particular groupings of technology, each factory is uniquely different.
They have different locations, servicing different customers. They have different vehicle models, requiring separate supply chains. They have different levels of in-house competency, and operator capability. They serve different types of clients based on their brand, and ultimately uniquely different factories in every location.
Taking this example further, we can extrapolate the lessons learned from the automotive sector, into exploring the factory of the future.
We can say (with some certainty) that digital technology with be more prevalent, and in widespread use, throughout all operations within the factory, no longer reserved for the more repetitive tasks.
We will require operators and staff to be much more agile and adaptable to change, and we would require an infrastructure in place that can handle rapid change while maximising efficiency.
The key thing to acknowledge however, is that this new technology would be available to all manufacturing sectors and competitors, therefore it will be down to those companies who can wield the technology most efficiently and effectively that will be the most successful in the ‘factory of the future’
Put simply “the factory of the future” will be different, for every manufacturer, the challenge would be ensuring that can answer that question for themselves.