The Future of Manufacturing: what post-covid scenario?

Futuro della Manifattura

Manufacturing is going through a period of extreme difficulty. There are obviously exceptions, but in general Covid is killing many manufacturing companies active above all in the transport sector. The most affected industry in this sense is Aviation: with aircrafts laying on the runways, manufacturers have stopped selling new components and spare parts. Fewer parts also means fewer industrial machinery, fewer robots, fewer plants and fewer services. Clearly, no one could have foreseen an event of this magnitude, so companies were not structurally ready to face such an impact.

In this article we will try to show the future path that manufacturing industries will have to take and we will do so by referring to two sources of certain reliability.

The first source is the webinar held by Professor De Weck of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology entitled “Future Of Manufacturing” in May 2020. The question posed to respondents from different research groups within the institute was the following:

What are the prospects for manufacturing in the United States? Where are we headed?

The first consideration that is made is that none of the new emerging technologies will generate a large amount of new jobs, however the new jobs generated will require a higher level of skills.

Respondents were asked to indicate which emerging technologies with the greatest impact on manufacturing would be for the next 5-10 years. Below are the 5 technologies that obtained the highest consensus among respondents:

  • Smart automation, i.e. systems that enable automation (eg. Robots) but also equipped with hardware and software for the exchange and processing of digital information (cyber-physical systems)
  • Precision manufacturing, i.e. all those technologies that increase precision and reduce variability within industrial processes, from mechanical machining to assembly processes
  • Lightweight materials, i.e. the development of materials capable of maintaining high mechanical properties, but at the same time reducing their specific density, hence the weight
  • IT technologies for manufacturing, i.e. all ERP, MES and PLM systems that manage the flow of information within the technical office and the workshop
  • Advanced sensors, or the development of sensors capable of interconnecting the various cyber-physical systems underlying the Internet of Things

In the following image, a series of technologies associated with the concept of advanced manufacturing are shown, and where these technologies can be used within the transformation flow of a factory to maximize their potential:

Credits: Future of Manufacturing, MIT, Olivier De Weck

Finally, some considerations are made regarding the impact of Covid-19 on the US manufacturing system:

  • Covid-19 highlighted the weaknesses of the production and supply chain strategy
    • The transport blockade has highlighted bottlenecks in the national distribution system
    • Uncertainty in knowing the inventory level in real time
    • Poor ability to increase or reduce production capacity in a short time
    • Poor ability to manage the factory in “light-out” mode with or without a limited number of people
  • Future US / China collaboration
    • Greater pressure in commercial relations is expected
    • Relying on China as the only source will at least become questionable

The second source is the webinar held by Makino in mid-January 2021 in which the German consultancy firm Roland Berger presents the impact of Covid-19 in aerospace manufacturing industry, but also a strategy to react as quickly as possible to the crisis.

The question therefore is: How to make aerospace manufacturing ready for the post-Covid future?

Credits: Roland Berger

Roland Berger shows the way in 5 key points:

  • Flexible Production: companies will have to rethink their adaptive approach, i.e. they will have to make their products more resilient and flexible through a higher level of
    • Agility, that is to reconfigure their production systems quickly (read our article about reconfigurable manufacturing systems)
    • Scalability, or rather to increase or reduce production volumes rapidly (same observation made previously by Professor De Weck. A provocation: is Tesla’s new Giga Press going in this direction? We talked about it here)
    • Digitalization, to maximize the added value generated by data exchange
    • Automation, to reduce the dependence on manual labor
    • Use of new technologies, including additive manufacturing, AR, VR, autonomous robotics
  • Adapting the industrial footprint, which means making the supply network more resilient through:
    • Flexible factories in strategic regions, for example with small and flexible assembly lines close to key customers and inventory capable of coping with temporary material shortages
    • A supply chain close to the assembly line, creating a Just in Time system with local suppliers
    • Integration of suppliers in countries at competitive cost, through the integration of IT systems and monitoring of parts in real time
  • Sustainable production, that is, companies that do not integrate environmental sustainability into their processes will find themselves facing many problems towards their customers in the future. Solutions will therefore have to be found in different areas of the production chain:
    • Supply chain, for example by selecting responsible suppliers and limiting CO2 emissions by creating a network of local suppliers
    • Energy consumption, creating increasingly efficient and low energy impact processes
    • Production processes, using processes with low environmental impact
  • Design for Manufacturing, i.e. product / process integration must be increasingly strong and cohesive through cross-functional design and organization processes
  • Diversification: in the aerospace field, for example, companies will need to be able to create synergies by leveraging businesses and markets with similar technological capabilities and solutions, such as wind, electric mobility, fuel cells, medical technology

Final Considerations

Based on the considerations described and collected by two reliable sources such as Boston’s MIT and Roland Berger, many points in common can be found to map out a future strategy in manufacturing production:

  • The creation of Smart Factories will be required. The use of new automation and digital technologies are in fact able to make factories more and more flexible and scalable, quickly adapting supply to changes in demand
  • Loss of low value-added jobs will likely be inevitable due to the higher level of automation required, in favor of the creation of new high-skilled jobs
  • The supply strategy will need to be rethought, making it more local to strategic customers and less dependent on low-cost countries
  • The use of digital information will be essential to monitor the progress of the parts in the supply chain and within your production site
  • The large-scale use of new Industry 4.0 technologies as a fundamental tool to enable the requirements of flexibility, adaptability and scalability required at every company level: organizational, logistical and technological.

In this sense, Accialini Training & Consulting, thanks to the skills acquired in various international contexts, is able to offer concrete support in the definition and implementation of a technology strategy in line with the requirements of the factories of the future. We have also developed a series of courses available online to increase awareness and knowledge of new 4.0 technologies at all company levels.

Check out our services and contact us for a first free consultation.

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