There is nothing like an existential crisis to spur change. And the manufacturing industry seems determined not to waste the opportunity.

The tumultuous experience of last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic tested manufacturers’ ability to adapt and rapidly respond to the crisis, has resulted in a heightened sense of urgency in the industry as manufacturers seek greater flexibility, adaptability, and speed in their operations.

And the sense of urgency is translating into action plans. The MLC’s new Factories of the Future survey, results of which are published in this issue, reinforce and expand upon a finding that first surfaced in June of last year – the pandemic has caused an acceleration in the intention to adopt Manufacturing 4.0 technologies and techniques, reshaping the rules of competition in the years ahead.

Senior Content Director Paul Tate reports in “Fast Forward to Future Factories” that 41% of survey respondents say they will put the pedal to the metal on M4.0. “COVID-19 has triggered a surge in M4.0 adoption across almost every function of manufacturing production, promising to rapidly transform the way factories are designed, operated, and managed in the next decade,” he writes.

As the industry tightens its digital embrace, the ripple effects of change will be felt in all areas of manufacturing, requiring careful attention to how people will adapt as well as how manufacturing companies manage the new model.

In “Technology Driven and Human Centered”, EY’s Sachin Lulla and Himanshu Khandewal write that digital’s role in transforming manufacturing will be successful only if it is combined with a people-first approach to change. “As future resilience and agility become increasingly critical, the human-centered factory of the future helps to plan, prove, and scale value, defining your journey to becoming a data-driven, resilient enterprise with a culture of innovation.”

And in “Closing the Loop Across Products, Processes, People, and Places”, a team from PTC says that digital performance management systems are now required to manage future factories and plants.

All in all, the year 2020 will be looked at as an inflection point in the trajectory of M4.0. What lies ahead will prove to be even more exciting than what came before. Write to me at dbrousell@nam.org   M