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Advanced manufacturing: 3 priorities for industry and government leaders

The best advanced manufacturing technologies and solutions put people at the centre. Pictured here: Man operates the contractor line at Rockwell plant:

The best advanced manufacturing technologies and solutions put people at the centre. Image: Rockwell

Revathi Advaithi
Chief Executive Officer, Flex
Blake Moret
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Rockwell Automation
Felipe Bezamat
Head of Advanced Manufacturing Industry, World Economic Forum Geneva
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Advanced Manufacturing

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Advanced manufacturing still faces challenges when it comes to widespread adoption.
  • The advanced manufacturing industry has rebounded at an accelerated pace since the drawbacks of the pandemic due to innovative technological solutions.
  • There are three priorities for collaboration between industry and government to cement broader uptake of advanced manufacturing solutions: innovation, inclusion and sustainability.

Following the shutdowns and slowing in 2020, the manufacturing industry is embracing challenges with innovative solutions. Despite the significant workforce and supply chain pressures, manufacturers worldwide are building capacity and strength.

Accelerating advanced manufacturing

A large part of this rebound is the accelerated adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies and solutions in response to the pandemic. From machinery and robotics, software and technology providers to native manufacturers, pioneering solutions are transforming operations and business models at scale. The growing importance of environmental, social and governance considerations are also driving change, increasing productivity and reducing environmental impact while making the shop floor cleaner and safer for workers.

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Challenges to widespread adoption

The benefits of advanced manufacturing may be well understood (with data from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) revealing that industries using more innovative technology saw better production performance) but broader adoption presents ongoing challenges. The access, incentives and investments available to manufacturers vary greatly depending on several factors, including location and company size. If left unchecked, climate change, geopolitical instability, wealth disparity, resource shortages and the escalation of supply chain disruption will only widen these gaps.

For example, manufacturers in countries with high levels of unemployment will have fewer incentives to implement advanced manufacturing technologies, while disruptions to international investment flow could stall the progress of companies in developing nations.

The responsibility of the global manufacturing community, therefore, is to include developing nations and small and medium enterprises in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) and beyond. The good news is that with proper management, these advances can empower a more inclusive workforce and minimize our overall environmental impact.

Public and private sector organizations will need to work together to build roadmaps that re-skill the workforce in preparation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, allowing manufacturers to develop new capabilities for resiliency across value chains.

Three top priorities

The road to making advanced manufacturing ubiquitous starts with a high degree of change and collaboration. To get there, we have identified three priorities for partnership between industry leaders and public sector advocates:

1. Innovation: Sharing ideas, technologies, and best practices openly

2. Inclusion: Harnessing the potential of advanced manufacturing to put people first.

3. Sustainability: Advancing sustainable operations through increased efficiency

Exchanging knowledge, accelerating innovation

As the private and public sectors come to accept advanced manufacturing, they should continue to create venues for the open exchange of knowledge and best practices. Sharing the successes and use cases of advanced manufacturing, like the World Economic Forum Global Lighthouses Network, can accelerate the change while increasing productivity and growth. These efforts also help governments and investors understand potential future benefits.

Knowledge sharing is critical within an organization as well. Larger enterprises can encourage end-to-end collaboration in the value chain by pushing these technologies out through the supply chain and nurturing collaboration from a buyer to seller market. Doing so will strengthen and improve productivity within the supply chain and help speed adoption by creating visibility, planning, digital collaboration, sharing data, flexing up and down, and buying capacity.

We cannot stop at just encouraging the implementation of these technologies – we must constantly innovate. As more enterprises use these tools, the technology will need to adapt to new use cases, react to market and climate change disruptions and anticipate customers’ new needs, enabling agile, co-created innovation for new products and services.

Advanced manufacturing offices of Flex.
Advanced manufacturing offices of Flex. Image: Flex

Centring people through advanced manufacturing

The best advanced manufacturing technologies and solutions put people at the centre. In previous industrial revolutions, inequality within and between countries increased with each technological advance. This time, we must empower and upskill workers for better engagement and retention.

Advanced manufacturing has the potential to turn workers into superhumans – enhancing and boosting their creativity, problem-solving, collaboration and productivity. We must enable up-skilling and re-skilling of workers through new investments and programmes. We agree with the Forum’s Community of CEOs in Advanced Manufacturing on the need for collaboration with industry peers and community partners to invest in academic innovation, training and curriculum designed to accelerate the adoption of new technologies and skillsets.

These technologies can also level the playing field for workers – removing the “ability to lift” requirement from some job descriptions and allowing people of all genders and ability levels into roles that were previously too physically demanding. Advanced manufacturing can also reduce common repetitive injuries. Cleaner and safer shop floors will make the production environment more attractive and help address the talent gap.

Creating a more sustainable world

Advanced manufacturing has the potential to do the most good by introducing efficiencies to the manufacturing environment. It will help reduce wasted materials, avoid production overruns and mistakes, reduce water and electricity usage and shrink factory footprints, creating shorter, more stable supply chains and simplified flows.

For instance, Severn Trent – the UK’s second-largest water company – collaborates with Rockwell and other tech innovators to explore how artificial intelligence (AI) can enable autonomy in waste catchments. AI models can predict the likelihood and customer impact of sewage pumping station failures or floods, allowing for proactive intervention and reducing flooding and pollution.

Flex – a global technology, supply chain and manufacturing solutions partner – presents another example. It has empowered its customers to achieve their sustainability goals, using technologies and techniques that make it easier to meet the increases in regulatory requirements while effectively managing the full lifecycle of products, including return, repair, recovery and reuse.

Industrial Internet of Things technologies allows for smaller plants closer to the end customer to be controlled and monitored remotely. Advanced manufacturing will provide next-generation technologies and solutions to increase efficiency while tracking and reporting new sustainability metrics.

Fostering a robust global advanced manufacturing community can help responsibly accelerate industry transformation. Leading companies can demonstrate the importance of technologies and solutions that enable the transition towards more sustainable and circular processes and value chains. That will build new ways to navigate future crises and foster resilience.

We are encouraged by the momentum already in place and urge the Advanced Manufacturing community to embrace a collaborative mindset as we look toward continuing this discussion at the Annual Meeting in Davos-Kloster and in the year ahead.

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