Advanced Manufacturing

Why workers are key to the sustainable, smart factories of the future

The pink supermoon, the biggest full moon of 2020, rises behind a lighthouse in Valletta, Malta April 8, 2020. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi - RC2I0G9MIUJM

They might not be literal lighthouses, but our session shone a light on the factories of the future. Image: REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

Kate Whiting
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Advanced Manufacturing

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  • 10 new Lighthouses have been inducted into the World Economic Forum's Global Lighthouse Network of factories adopting Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies.
  • Leaders discussed how agility and putting customers and workers first have been crucial lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic.

However smart our factories become, the human workforce will always be central to their success.

This was a key message from global leaders at the very first Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum's Global Lighthouse Network.

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The 10 new factories awarded Lighthouse status, joining 44 others, have not only survived the disruptions of COVID-19, they've pivoted to scale up operations, make supply chains more sustainable, upskill the workforce and improve customer satisfaction - all by adopting technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Here are some of the key quotes from a wide-ranging panel discussion that touched on the importance of reducing carbon footprints and lessons from the pandemic:

Workers come first

Schneider Electric received its third Lighthouse designation for its Lexington, US, operation, its first end-to-end Lighthouse, which has reduced energy costs by 26%, paperwork by 90%, and improved customer satisfaction by 20%.

Mourad Tamoud, Executive Vice-President of Global Supply Chain, said: "When visitors come to Lexington, they realize it’s a 60-year-old entity that was digitized. But it’s not all about technology, it’s about people and developing learning processes to implement digital culture."

Susanne Hundsbaek-Pedersen is Senior Vice President - Devices and Supply Chain Management at Novo Nordisk, whose Hillerød, Denmark site invested in digitalization, automation and advanced analytics.

She said: "Digital transformation is transformation for all: upskilling [workers], leaders going back to school, adding new tools to the toolbox, better use of resources and faster problem-solving."

In another example, Janssen Large Molecule, part of Johnson & Johnson, digitally connected R&D and its internal and external manufacturing. It also deployed advanced process control solutions to meet fast-changing and increasing demand for biological products at its Cork, Ireland facility.

Of the initiative, Kathy Wengel, Executive Vice-President & Chief Supply Chain Officer, Johnson & Johnson, said: "A big part of what we focused on is make sure our 40,000 on-site heroes who have been coming into the plants every single day are healthy, safe and their families feel safe.

"We’re working on the [COVID-19] vaccine, so we have global teams working 24/7 – it will take more than one company to vaccinate the world, so as an industry, it’s part of our responsibility to give back."

manufacturing lighthouses
How Lighthouses leverage digital technology to become more agile. Image: World Economic Forum

Agility and customer-centricity

The need to be agile and respond quickly to changing customer needs has been a huge learning from the pandemic, added Wengel, saying Johnson & Johnson had seen a major shift to e-commerce, with more customers wanting deliveries of contact lenses to their homes, for example.

Over in China, Alibaba Group's prototype digital factory Xunxi - another of the 10 newest Lighthouses - has been able to test out quick responses to changing customer demands.

Daniel Zhang, Chairman and CEO of Alibaba Group said: "When we started our digital factory initiative, the driving force was consumption change.

"How can we upgrade supply to meet changing demands and share insights of consumer behaviour on our digital platform and create new products?"

Zhang said he'd been happy with the early results, which have seen an end-to-end upgrade. "We can produce products on a small scale and with a small supply chain and help our sellers test example products. In future, large-scale production will transform into small production."

Efficiencies have included a 75% reduction in delivery times and water consumption dropped 50% across the whole production process.


It's not all been smooth sailing for the Lighthouse factories, but with greater collaboration and innovation, they could reduce their carbon footprint and improve efficiency.

Wouter van Kempen, CEO at DCP Midstream, whose Denver operation has joined the network, said energy companies were faced with a double reset - the need to digitize, which was a hard step-change in itself - and find clean energy solutions.

"Innovation and sustainability must go hand in hand."

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Related topics:
Advanced ManufacturingFourth Industrial RevolutionSustainable Development
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