Smart factories are manufacturing facilities that use AI, the IoT, and other advanced technologies to improve their performance.
A smart factory isn’t restricted to a physical floor plan, either. The term refers to the digitization of the entire manufacturing process. This includes early product creation elements, such as supply chains, product design, and production, and goes right on through to sales and distribution.
The factory stands at the heart of much of the business world, and smart technology now resides within the heart of the modern factory. Let’s consider a few of the ways that cutting-edge technology is transforming manufacturing — and the rest of the business world, by extension — right before our eyes.
Smart Factories Have Reached Industry 4.0 Status
The evolution of any concept takes time. ESG 3.0, for instance, is a concept that has been in development for years. Smart factories are similar, which is why many are hailing the current state of technology manufacturing as “Industry 4.0.”
This references what IBM describes as “the fourth industrial revolution.” As a quick primer:
- The first industrial revolution took place in the late 18th century in Britain and focused on water and steam power.
- The second industrial revolution occurred in the late 19th century in the U.S. and focused on gas, oil, and electricity.
- The third industrial revolution happened in the mid-20th century with the advent of data, computers, and telecommunications.
Each of these events pushed the modern world forward at an incredible rate. And now, Industry 4.0 is poised to do the same thing in its own century through things like automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. As smart manufacturing implements these revolutionary production tactics, it is fundamentally changing how products are made, once again.
Smart Factories Are Reaching New Levels of Flexibility
Flexibility is a simple-yet-critical aspect of good business. Flexibility is particularly important in an area like manufacturing, where efficiency and adaptability can make or break a product’s viability.
For example, Siemens highlights that modern smart factories are utilizing data in real time. This creates an environment where “flexible manufacturing” can take place.
In other words, corrections, adjustments, and even tweaks in the manufacturing process no longer require lengthy processes to discover and correct. Smart factories are able to improve themselves as they collect data …and share it, too.
Smart Factories Are Networking
Manufacturing is no longer an activity that takes place exclusively in a single location anymore. Thanks to smart factories, facilities are now networking (once again, in real-time) as they operate.
Verizon Wireless points out that companies are leveraging network capabilities to introduce new levels of innovation and ongoing improvement across smart factories. A piece of data created by a mistake or correction in one corner of a factory in Beijing could improve the process in another facility in the U.S. because both plants are on the same network and share data.
The Need to Hire Innovative Manufacturing Executives
While smart factories are fun to talk about, the real goal with all of this change is to improve the bottom line. Smart facilities aren’t much good if they can’t improve productivity through greater organization and efficiency.
In other words, while they take care of the grunt work, smart factories still need the right human personnel overseeing their activity. This starts on the shop floor level. Companies must hire upskilled warehouse workers who intimately understand and oversee the performance of increasingly sophisticated warehouse technology. In addition, corporations must bring in savvy, forward-thinking leaders who can leverage the ongoing technological revolution to maximize revenue not just now but indefinitely.
“In addition, corporations must bring in savvy, forward-thinking leaders who can leverage the ongoing technological revolution to maximize revenue not just now but indefinitely.”
From on-site managers to Chief Supply Chain Officers and CFOs, executives must approach the burgeoning capabilities of Industry 4.0 with confidence and creativity. This isn’t a bonus that comes with producing products. Managing smart factory technology should be a defining part of manufacturing-related executive positions moving forward.
For the executive recruitment team at Stanton Chase, the need to understand and positively leverage Industry 4.0 has become a key factor that we look for with each manufacturing candidate that we place. In a world that is always changing at breakneck speed, those who lack the ability to advance will eventually fall behind. Leaders must learn to tap into the unfolding world of smart manufacturing as a way to survive, thrive, and ultimately lead their industry forward into the future.
About the Author
Rick Steel has over 40 years of experience in corporate human resources and executive search. He has extensive search experience in the recruitment of senior level to C-Suite executives across a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, retail, food, consumer products, and high technology. His clients have ranged from start-up ventures to Fortune 100 companies, with a special emphasis on the functional areas of marketing, sales, human resources, manufacturing, and general management. In addition, Rick is certified in Hogan’s three core personality-based assessments.
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