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6 Lessons About the Future of Manufacturing from the Winners of the ML Awards

Posted By Jeff Moad, February 22, 2016 at 5:02 PM, in Category: Factories of the Future

FS_ML_winner_logo2016_RK.jpgFor the past 12 years it’s been our pleasure to sponsor the Manufacturing Leadership Awards. One reason it’s a great experience is that it’s rewarding to help honor manufacturing innovators who, all too often, don’t get the recognition they deserve. Another is that, each year, the innovative projects and individual achievements selected as ML Award winners by the Judging Panel give us invaluable insights into where manufacturing is going. That’s because the awards—which are based on nominations submitted directly by manufacturers themselves—tell us exactly the types of initiatives into which these leaders are investing their precious financial and intellectual resources with the ultimate goal of gaining meaningful competitive advantage and delivering increased value to customers.

This week we will publically announce the identities of the 2016 Manufacturing Leadership Award winners. These companies and individuals will be formally honored on June 8 at a black tie gala event following the annual Manufacturing Leadership Summit. And, once again, this year’s winning projects tell us a lot about what manufacturing leaders are thinking and doing and how they are driving the industry into the digitized, real-time Manufacturing 4.0 era. Here are a few of the more important things we learned from this year’s group of ML Awards winners:    

  • Big Data is a competitive weapon. Leading manufacturers are now well down the road when it comes to leveraging advanced big data and analytics technologies and implementing process changes that lead to the kind of real-time, actionable insights that spell top-line growth and significant operational savings. One manufacturer in a fast-moving high tech market, for example, created a big data app that scrapes public product data from competitors’ websites as soon as it’s available and uses that data to automatically provide its sales people with information they need to replace competitors’ parts in customer designs.

Another very large global manufacturer is using a big data repository to collect massive amounts of operational data from across its global production network. With this data, this company is able to identify in real time potential unstable plant conditions and identity the possible impacts, not just on the immediate plant in question but also across the company’s production network.

  • Manufacturers are transforming into full-service solution providers that support customers through the full product life cycle. One large packaging manufacturer invested in building a series of innovation studios where it collaborates with its customers on innovative, next-generation packaging designs and materials. Moving up the design/build food chain in this fashion helps this manufacturer and its customers speed new designs to market and reduce packaging waste. It also gives this manufacturer early insights into market shifts while strengthening affinity with customers.

Other ML Awards winners, aware that customers increasingly expect to buy—or subscribe to--solutions and business outcomes rather than just products, are creating detailed customer experience maps and supporting processes that cover every aspect of the customer’s experience, from the sales/quoting process through to fulfillment and implementation.

  • Production line flexibility will separate winners from losers. With customer expectations for quicker turn-around times and greater product variety increasing, manufacturers no longer have the luxury of very long, high-volume production runs. They need to be able to be able to switch lines over between different products as demand and production schedules change. One ML Award winner addressed this by completely revamping the design of its production lines, creating modular, multi-function, and intelligent platforms. Switch-over and operation is highly automated.
  • Employee engagement is also a competitive weapon. Effective cross-functional collaboration is essential in a Manufacturing 4.0 world. To encourage that, several ML Award winners rolled out social media platforms that cut across information silos and enable knowledge sharing. The social platforms not only increase innovation and speed problem solving, they also give employees a better idea of how their work affects and supports others in the company and, ultimately, how it benefits customers.
  • Mobile, wearable technologies are transforming the plant floor. The flood of data being generated by today’s plant floor isn’t limited to the kind of structured, tabular data generated by machines. It also includes unstructured and graphical data generated and consumed by operators and inspectors on the plant floor, from photos and videos of equipment to drawings of production lines, parts, and products. To help operators safely make use of and collect all the data required, some ML Award winners are equipping them with wearable technologies such as Google Glass. This approach lets operators and inspectors keep their hands free while making sure the line is operating as expected.
  • Supply chain excellence is a team sport. Manufacturing is increasingly a virtual proposition, involving globally-disbursed networks of suppliers, partners, contractors, and customers. Recognizing the need to involve all of those supply chain players in response to sometimes volatile market changes, ML Award winners are building cloud-based collaboration platforms. One winner—a large high tech manufacturer—built a platform that delivers a single version of truth for all supply chain players and allows them to collaborate on inventory management, while providing comprehensive visibility and alerts when unexpected events take place.

Want to learn more about these ground-breaking projects and meet the leaders who make them possible? You can do so by attending the Manufacturing Leadership Summit and ML Awards Gala June 6-8 at the La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, CA.

Written by Jeff Moad

Jeff Moad is Research Director and Executive Editor with the Manufacturing Leadership Community. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Awards Program. Follow our LinkedIn Groups: Manufacturing Leadership Council and Manufacturing Leadership Summit

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Posted on
Mr. Moad, what is your thought on the feasibility of developing manufacturing facilities of the future in urban metropolis environments.
Posted on
Hi, James
In recent decades, manufacturers have tended to stay away from urban centers because of concerns about cost and space constraints. But that was when the emphasis was much more on centralized, high volume production. We're seeing the emphasis shift to agility and truly demand-driven supply chains, required by more demanding customers and enabled by new digital technologies. In that context, the idea of manufacturing in urban centers begins to make more sense. Manufacturing in urban centers would be closer to customers, and closer to an educated workforce. And--good news/bad news--there's lots of medium-size factory space available in many urban centers. We do see this starting to happen. Check out New Lab, a manufacturing space being created in the old Navy Shipyard in Brooklyn. Also, Under Armor has announced Project Glory, a plan to get into distributed production that is closer to its customer base. http://www.baltimoresun.com/business/bs-bz-under-armour-local-manufacturing-20151010-story.html
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