The reinvention of manufacturing: From Henry Ford to tomorrow

A version of this article also appeared in the American City Business Journals

Factories have undergone a significant amount of change since the 1930s, and that change has accelerated in the last 10 years. Think of the advances in automation, robotics, sensors, the Internet of Things, analytics, big data, artificial intelligence, and design methodologies. How much more will manufacturing change in the next 10 years? Or the next 20?

We have entered a new era of manufacturing.

We have entered a new era of manufacturing.

How do manufacturing organizations keep up with this pace of change — and what will you, as a manufacturing leader, need to do to change with it?

We have entered a new era of manufacturing. Recent times have brought on increased demands, and not just to produce more product for less money. Customers are demanding better convenience, while regulatory agencies are demanding better quality. Recent times have enabled rapid advancements in the availability, storage, and use of data in manufacturing. Product and demand has become more complex. And as a result, companies have undergone operational or structural transformation efforts as they strive towards productivity improvements.

We believe successful manufacturing companies will both embrace new advances, while staying true to long-lasting beliefs: that the foundational elements of manufacturing performance that were true in the industrial revolution remain true for all manufacturers today.

Remember the basics

With global consumption on the rise, the need to understand demand — and how, where, and when to produce — has become even more critical. As digital capabilities become more attainable and understandable, the adoption of these technologies will drive levels of competitiveness and enable faster and more agile production systems. However, the basics of operational excellence will remain the foundation of an organization’s transformation and journey into the future.

Provide endless value

For organizations to remain competitive, they must think about the value chain from beginning to end, through all aspects of production. There are several specific topics that we think are important for companies to consider. Some are technical concepts, such as advanced manufacturing, network optimization, and advanced analytics, while others focus on critical behaviors, such as leadership and the workforce of the future.

Take small steps

With all of the ideas and concepts to think about, it is often intimidating to think about the actions necessary to make change happen. Trying to make everything happen at once can often lead to failure, while a competitive advantage can be missed by moving too slow. Managers need a quick start and early wins from near-term actions, such as cost reductions or revenue boosts, to establish credibility for the leadership team and generate momentum for the larger effort If you are a member of the executive team or C-suite, pay close attention to where the manufacturing industry is headed, to help you think about your strategic imperative and the future of your business.

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