The impact of AI on manufacturing, the development of M4.0 roadmaps, the need for more collaborative and innovative corporate cultures, and what tomorrow’s manufacturing leaders will look like, are among the key highlights of the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s new Critical Issues agenda for 2018/2019.


The Manufacturing Leadership Council’s Board of Governors this week approved the ML Council’s new Critical Issues Agenda for 2018/2019.

Under the overall theme of The Journey to Manufacturing 4.0, the unique and  annually-refreshed Critical Issues agenda is specifically designed to identify the most important issues facing manufacturers in the year ahead. It is the result of extensive research, consultation, debate, and refinement involving over 1000 Manufacturing Leadership Council and Board members, and establishes the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s strategic plan, directly influencing all major elements of its research, content, events and services portfolio over the next twelve months.

2018/2019 Theme: The Journey to Manufacturing 4.0

The global manufacturing industry is at a pivotal point in its history.

Driven by competitive pressures to become more agile, innovative, and cost effective, and a surge in the use of advanced digital and analytical technologies, large and small manufacturing companies around the world are now pursuing a future vision for their businesses that will transform the rules of competition, how work will be performed, how companies will be organized, and how leadership must lead.

We term this future state: Manufacturing 4.0.

The vision for Manufacturing 4.0 is a state in which production and supply networks are increasingly data-driven, automated, modular, agile, sustainable, predictive, and rapidly reconfigurable to meet changing demands and competition. Products are smart, customized, connected, self-diagnosing, and provide a rich platform for new service revenue streams. Supply chains are visible, traceable, risk-resilient, responsive, and constantly analyzed in real-time. Enterprises are cross-functional, collaborative, and highly integrated, often around a single digital thread that stretches from design to deployment. And leaders and employees are highly engaged, digitally-savvy, customer-centric, continually innovative, and ready to adapt to new challenges and grasp new business opportunities.

Such a Manufacturing 4.0 transformation, of course, will require many companies to identify and master a number of technological, organizational, cultural, workforce, and leadership challenges. The Manufacturing Leadership Council’s Critical Issues Agenda, therefore, is specifically designed to help manufacturers align their thinking and practices for a successful journey to Manufacturing 4.0.

2018/2019 Critical Issues

The Manufacturing Leadership Council’s Critical Issues for 2018/2019 are:

1/ Factories of the Future

Large and small manufacturers, in both process and discrete manufacturing, need to understand and embrace the potential of new and evolving production models, materials, and technologies along the journey towards Manufacturing 4.0 to help them create more cost efficient, responsive, flexible, transparent, connected, automated, and sustainable factories, production models, and new business models for the future.

Areas of Focus

  • M4.0 roadmaps, maturity models, and transformation frameworks to help companies move along their journey to Manufacturing 4.0, from current production models, often based on legacy systems, to a future state of increasingly digitally-enabled production readiness.
  • End-to-end digitization and analysis of manufacturing and engineering processes and functions in both centralized and distributed production networks.
  • Manufacturing cybersecurity risk management including preventative measures and cyber attack response strategies, for both large and small companies, that minimize potential vulnerabilities and impacts in increasingly networked production platforms.

2/ M4.0 Cultures: Collaborative, Innovative, and Integrated

To maximize and harness the potential of Manufacturing 4.0, manufacturers of all sizes need to actively transform traditional operational cultures to create more collaborative, innovation-driven, cross-functional and integrated enterprise cultures to drive growth, new product and service development, operational efficiencies, and competitive success in the world of Manufacturing 4.0.

Areas of Focus

  • Cross-functional processes and integrated organizational structures that harness multiple sources of data and expertise to drive both continuous and disruptive innovation, make faster and better decisions, reduce time to market, and enhance competitive agility.
  • Collaborative innovation cultures and platforms that leverage the ideas and development resources of employees, suppliers, external partners, customers, academia, and ‘the crowd’ to create new products, improve business processes, and create innovative new business models.
  • Best practice approaches, and the challenges involved, in deploying integrated Manufacturing 4.0 technologies and platforms such as digital threads, that enhance collaboration, integration, and innovation to help manufacturers deliver new ideas and improvements faster than ever before across the enterprise.

3/ Transformative Technologies in Manufacturing

Manufacturers must learn how to identify, adopt, value-proof, and scale the most promising M4.0-enabling technologies in order to achieve greater speed, agility, efficiency, and competitiveness and to drive innovative new business models and improve customer experiences.

Areas of Focus

  • The impact of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cognitive analytics on the future of manufacturing.
  • The latest developments in other transformational technologies including the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), 3D printing, modeling and simulation, collaborative robotics, augmented and virtual realities, 5G networks, blockchain, and other emerging technologies now on the horizon.
  • Best practice business case approaches for selecting, cost justifying, and deploying disruptive new M4.0 technologies in a manufacturing enterprise, while encouraging and implementing standards and architectures that support open, interoperable systems.

4/ Next-Generation Manufacturing Leadership and the Changing Workforce

Manufacturing 4.0 requires manufacturing leaders and their teams to be more collaborative, innovative, and responsive to disruptive change. That means leaders must embrace new behaviors, structures, cultures, value systems, and strategies, and develop more effective ways of identifying, attracting, developing, retaining, and engaging the talent and skills of both the current workforce and the next generation of employees.

Areas of Focus

  • Effective leadership role models, behaviors, and mindsets that best support the company’s journey to Manufacturing 4.0 and help define a successful profile for tomorrow’s manufacturing leaders.
  • Employee transition, development, and engagement strategies for an inclusive, diverse, multi-generational, multi-cultural, multinational workforce that is increasingly interacting with advanced technologies such as AI and cobots.
  • Identifying, attracting, and encouraging next-generation talent and skills for tomorrow’s manufacturing workforce, including adopting new working cultures and changing ethical value systems, and by developing more effective ways to collaborate with educational and community organizations.

5/ Manufacturing 4.0 Sustainability

Manufacturing 4.0 technologies provide companies, large and small, with the opportunity to leverage new analytical insights and more flexible production platforms to maximize the use of resources, achieve major efficiency gains, drive revenue growth, and minimize environmental impacts. Successful engagement with customers, suppliers, partners and the next-generation workforce also requires manufacturers to become increasingly transparent about their environmental and socially-responsible practices.

Areas of Focus

  • Design products for easier reuse, remanufacture, refurbishment, or recycling at end of life.
  • Manufacturing 4.0 production strategies that streamline production processes to increase efficiency, reduce costs and waste, and ensure all resources, products, components, energy, and materials are kept at their highest utility and value at all times.
  • Holistic, sustainable manufacturing business models, supported by collaborative cross-sector partnerships and deeper community engagement, that help create a more regenerative, industry-wide, M4.0-driven, cost-effective, circular manufacturing economy. 

Details of the ML Council’s 2018/2019 Critical Issues agenda will also be available soon on