To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumored death of the manufacturing sector is greatly exaggerated. Manufacturing, despite decades of lost jobs, is more productive than ever.
Most important, the tools are present to usher in the next industrial revolution. This shift – like its predecessors – will produce more products with greater efficiency to improve people’s lives.
The Cloud as Building Block for the Next Era
The quest for a competitive advantage is as old as commerce itself. Every business wants to be better, faster, and cheaper. Like the first industrial revolution, the next generation of manufacturing will yield exponential increases in quality, efficiency, and innovation. “The Jetsons” cartoon series is much closer to reality than you think.
“Cloud technology,” according to Jerry Foster, Chief Technology Officer at Plex Systems, “is at the core of the next industrial revolution.” According to Plex’s 2017 State of Manufacturing Report, the ability to operate in the cloud combined with affordable data storage and increasing computing power enables unprecedented visibility and connection in every element of the manufacturing process in ways that we’ve never seen before.
The results are improved decisions and execution through better data analytics and transformed supply chains. Cloud technology, according to the Plex report, creates “fully-orchestrated networks of people, materials, machines, systems, partners, devices, and even end-products.”
Foster explains it this way: “Manufacturing companies have utilized sensors to monitor performance at the machine level for years. Today, we have the ability to connect, monitor, and coordinate across an entire plant, company, and supply chain. There is an unprecedented opportunity for companies to differentiate based on innovation and performance.”
The Next Revolution and Jobs
Introducing new technology won’t suddenly make obsolete jobs relevant again. The jobs lost in manufacturing as “it used to be” will never return.
Embracing digital and cloud technology can, however, help in recruiting and retaining the next generation of manufacturing jobs. And, it’s the next generation of manufacturing employees that we should all be considering.
Manufacturing companies are in dire need of workers who can do the jobs of the future. A study by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte concludes that 2 million jobs are likely to go unfilled because of a talent shortage.
According to Jerry Foster, companies embracing digital transformation on the shop floor typically have a higher level of collaboration between workers and management as well as increased engagement. He says, “Cool stuff happens when companies adopt this technology, and everyone likes to work on cool stuff.”
What Holds Us Back
Adopting digital and cloud technology makes you more productive and profitable. It also has the potential to make your business more attractive to the next generation of workers you will need to thrive. You would think that every manufacturer would be running as fast as it could to change, right?
While CEO’s believe in the potential for digital transformation, there are challenges. Here are three that you should be concerned about today.
- Talent. There can’t be a revolution without soldiers, and there were 5.74 million manufacturing jobs open in March 2017. Improving basic skills is just the beginning. Critical thinking is also crucial. “Millennials come to the work understanding technology,” says Jerry Foster. “What’s needed is the ability to marry that basic understanding with how to improve business processes.”
- Fear. Connectivity makes results visible in real time. It is much more difficult to hide your lack of performance or place the blame on another part of the supply chain. The opportunity for immediate accountability empowers your star performers. It can scare your average and poor performers to death. Considering that the majority of your team falls into those latter two categories, fear can create reluctance to embrace new tools.
- Uncertainty. If there was one single starting point, you would have already taken it. That’s not the way it works. Everyone’s transformation journey is different. The uncertainty of knowing where to begin can trap you in extended analysis that makes it impossible for your company to catch up.
Do This Now
The most important thing you can do is begin. Jerry Foster suggests that you “find one or two areas where quick wins are achievable and tackle those first.”
Next, work on developing your talent and creating a culture that eliminates the fear of using new tools to improve performance. Remember, if it is worth doing different it is worth doing less than perfect at the outset.
The stage is set for a new industrial revolution. You have control over everything that stands between you and tremendous opportunity. For those unwilling to make the change, the alternative is irrelevance. What is holding you back?