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The People-Intensive Factory of the Future

Q3 / Summer 2013
A new report from IDC Manufacturing Insights — “Business Strategy: The Journey Toward the People-Intensive Factory of the Future” — claims that manufacturers, faced with tough economic challenges and a more complex marketplace — are rethinking how they operate. The survey points to the following key findings:

  • The factory of the future will be measured according to its production capability and flexibility — not just its current efficiency and capacity.

  • Going forward, manufacturers will produce modular platforms centrally while using local small factories, suppliers, and distributors to tailor final products for local demand.

  • Although there has been increased plant automation, people — and the flexibility and decision-making capabilities they provide — will be at the center of the factory of the future. Availability of skilled workers will be a key issue.

The report notes that although manufacturing has taken a back seat to other industries in recent years, governments worldwide have come to the realization that their economies cannot be supported by service industries alone. Manufacturers, in turn, have renewed their focus on production in order to protect and enhance their technology. They’ve come to the realization that direct involvement in production fosters innovation and improves customer service. Additionally, rising transportation costs and the need to produce goods closer to the markets they are intended for has led to insourcing in developed economies like the U.S. and the U.K. Harry Moser, founder of The Reshoring Initiative, has written extensively about this topic.

"In the past, manufacturers, operating in growing and demanding mass markets, were called on to build large factories that were as automated as possible. The aim was creating perfect production entities able to minimize costs and maximize yields. Global markets have now taken another direction and manufacturers are finding themselves fundamentally unable to meet always changing customer needs, with rigid production processes and excess of capacity," said Pierfrancesco Manenti, head of EMEA Research, IDC Manufacturing Insights. "As our recent factory of the future research demonstrates, leading manufacturers in developed economies of North America and Western Europe are ready to make foundational changes to their production models and more than 43 percent have already a formal process in place to design their factory of the future."

Additionally, IDC has developed a “three-layer maturity model” that outlines the steps manufacturers will need to take in order to transform their factories.

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