The Factory of the Future is a Thing of the Past
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The Factory of the Future is a Thing of the Past

By Steven L. Blue, President, CEO & Director of Miller Ingenuity

Steven L. Blue, President, CEO & Director of Miller Ingenuity

I keynote speak at manufacturing conferences all over the world. These days, the agendas in these conferences all look the same. Smart manufacturing. Connected manufacturing. Internet of things manufacturing. Industry 4.0. Blah, blah, blah.

Smart manufacturing is a trendy, fresh topic of discussion in manufacturing circles. Industry 4.0 is all the rage these days with scores of manufacturers rushing headlong into web connectivity with machines to make autonomous decisions without human intervention. And let’s throw a little AI in the mix too.

Manufacturing executives spend a lot of money going to conferences of the future and paying consultants to help them build factories of the future. Life is always better in the future. That is why most people spend all their time thinking about it. Conference organizers know this, so they tempt you with agendas chock full of how to do it. They offer you natural solutions. It’s easy to buy a machine or hook your devices to the IoT. Done. Check it off your list and count yourself as one of the cool kids living in the promised land of Industry 4.0. But not so fast.

"Every organization wants cooperation, and yet most of them recognize and reward people for individual behavior"

The problem is, you must make money in the factory of today, not the factory of the future. If you spend all your time in the future, you’ll go broke before the future arrives.

Don’t misunderstand me; every manufacturer needs to invest in the future. But investing in trendy technology alone is doomed for failure. You may get bragging rights at your country club for being one of the Industry 4.0 guys, but your organization won’t have a clue as to what it means. Or how to use it to achieve a competitive advantage.

If you want to compete against the Doomsday Machine called China, you’ll have to do a lot better than hooking up machines to the world wide web. A lot better. I am not saying you shouldn’t go down the 4.0 path -- you should -- but not until you are ready. Here are four things you can do to pave the way:

1.) Send everyone back to school

Make sure your manufacturing employees are technically able to understand and deploy 4.0 technologies. Send them to technical schools, or better yet, bring the schools to your factory. And make it a job requirement that they take and absorb the training. As an example, in the case of my factory, one of the things we did was get a Raspberry PI for every single employee. Be prepared to turn over some of your workforces because not all of them will be able to, or even want to, learn the skills of the 4.0 world.

2.) Invest in your organization’s capacity to innovate

I don’t know what the manufacturing world of the future will look like. I know pieces of that puzzle, but undoubtedly, the world of the manufacturing future will throw some curves and challenges I haven’t thought about or prepared for. That is why it is crucial that every single employee can innovate on demand. And innovation shouldn’t be just the job of the engineering department. It should be an all-hands job requirement. Factory workers can’t be creative, you say? Not true. Studies have debunked the belief you’re born an Einstein or not. Creativity can be taught. So, show everyone the principles of creativity. Then hold them accountable to do something with their new skills. Build it into every job description.

3.) Give people the time to be creative

I expect my manufacturing employees to spend 20% of their time in creative thinking. But if I also told them I expected them to get the work done in the other 80% of the time, creativity would be the first thing to go. So, I hired enough extra people to cover that 20%.

4.) Align the organization’s policies with the objective of 4.0

I see so many manufacturers make the mistake of staking out a mission only to have all the corporate policies working against it. A perfect example is a teamwork. Every organization wants cooperation, and yet most of them recognize and reward people for individual behavior. It is like the quality manager gets paid to make sure nothing ever gets out the back door that has a defect. The manufacturing manager gets paid to shove everything out the back door no matter what. OK, I am a little ironic, but not much.

In the case of teamwork, you absolutely must have it to achieve 4.0. So, make sure you compensate, promote, recognize, and reward people for the team, not individual efforts.

Another example would be hiring policies. If you are striving for the factory of the future, be sure you a hiring employee of the future — people with the technical skills and knowledge for the 4.0 world.

One last word. Industry 4.0 should not be a bunch of machines talking to each other. It should be a thought process and a strategic initiative.

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