In an attempt to get some perspective on where the industry stands today with regards to the idea of what a future factory might look like, I took a stroll back in time to the January 2012 issue of the Manufacturing Leadership Journal. The theme of that issue, like the one you are reading now, was on Factories of the Future, then and today a “Critical Issue” for manufacturing as defined by the Manufacturing Leadership Council.

Re-reading a selection of the articles in that 2012 issue, I was struck by the language in some of the headlines. “Future Factories: Flexible, Fast and Customer-Driven”, “The Agile Factory”, and “Future Factories: An Engine for Job Creation” were among the articles in that issue. Aren’t we still talking this way about what a future factory should be?

We are when it comes to the vision of what a future factory can be. We envisioned then, and we envision now, that a modern factory should be characterized by speed, flexibility, agility, and the ability to increasingly build variations of products to satisfy specific needs. Seven years ago, we also expected that factories and plants would become more and more automated and more data- and analytically-driven, a prediction that has come true to some extent but remains a work in progress.

But we’ve also learned over time that the realization of the larger goals of flexibility and agility and speed are difficult and require more time than we at first imagine. That’s because the challenge isn’t just technological. It also involves cultural and organizational changes that can sometimes be more difficult than the technology itself.

This issue, we once again take a snapshot of where we are with Factories of the Future. Some of the headlines reveal the picture at the start of 2019 – “Factories of the Future Are Closer Than You Think”, “The Tween Years of Manufacturing 4.0”, and “A National Plan for Future Factories”.

Are we making progress? Write to me at dbrousell@nam.org     M