One of the more interesting sentiments we’ve been tracking in our annual Factories of the Future surveys is whether manufacturing executives believe that all of the advances attached to the Manufacturing 4.0 movement will result in truly transforming the industry, or whether they will be significant but will fall short of reordering the manufacturing universe.

Is this a case of seeing the glass as half empty or half full? Are the perspectives linked to whether someone is naturally pessimistic or optimistic? Could views be influenced by a company’s history or culture or perhaps by its current standing in its market? Or could this sentiment be governed by the degree to which someone understands and has experience with M4.0, meaning that the sentiment could shift as knowledge and experience are gained?

Well, the answer is probably some unfathomable mixture of all of the above. But as I think more about it and look at the survey results on this particular question over time, I’m beginning to believe that the most important factor may indeed be the last one – the more experience and knowledge one develops about M4.0, the more one is able to see the possibilities in becoming a digital business.

The ML Council’s new Factories of the Future survey, results of which are published in this issue, show a small but noteworthy shift in that sentiment since last year, when, presumably, many manufacturers continued to climb the M4.0 learning curve. This year, 50% of survey respondents say they believe that M4.0 will be a game-changer for the industry, truly ushering in a new era for manufacturing. This finding is up eight points from our 2017 survey.

We shall see whether this group becomes a sustainable majority in the months ahead. One thing we have learned during the past few years is that M4.0 progress is not linear and not without hiccups of all sorts.

So as we stumble forward to the inevitability of M4.0, the true tests of whether M4.0 is a game-changer will no doubt be found in the numbers. Did your company perform better financially? Has it increased its market share and shareholder value? Has a real, sustainable competitive advantage been created?

“If we can answer these questions in the affirmative, we’ll know we have truly created a new era for manufacturing.”

– David R. Brousell