The pace of change is moving so fast today that to pinpoint what manufacturing in the future may look like is difficult. The areas of change are numerous related to technical improvements, information, culture and economics. I would like to relate my opinions on information, culture and technology in the future factory.
The companies which can leverage new information technologies, internally as well as with their vendors and customers, will have a leg up on the competition in the future. Information on the shop floor is already changing and will continue to change and expand. The efficient use of the information that new technologies are generating is the key to future success.
I have had many companies tell me that “We have tons of data, but no information.” Many companies have begun to collect live data from the shop floor, but few of those companies are good at the analysis that creates good information. People on the shop floor become frustrated with spending extra time on data collection without seeing positive results. Factories need to begin investing in resources that can analyze data, pinpoint trends and react accordingly. In the past, technical personnel such as engineers or quality technicians, were tasked with data analysis. The tools of tomorrow will allow line leads to complete this type of analysis in real time and then work with the shop floor team and supervision to drive to the root cause of their problems and solve them. Companies will need to invest in technology that can deliver the raw data, education of shop floor personnel to provide real time data analysis and elevating their supervision to coaches vs. expeditors.
The supply chain is another area that will be impacted heavily by information in the future. Companies will be using real-time data to collaborate with their vendors. Raw material inventory levels will be lowered, deliveries will be more frequent and tracked in real time. Some companies allow the shop floor to purchase commodity items directly from the vendor today. In the future, the delivery of products will be dictated from the shop floor using real time consumption data to assist with the decision making.
The staff on the shop floor will need to have a different set of tools to be able to handle the processes of the future. The floor of today and in the future, is a melting pot of different cultures and languages. I have been at facilities where four different languages were present on the shop floor. Shop floors will need the ability to be able to translate standard work training documents into multiple languages on the fly. There are software packages coming out now that will translate in real time; chose your language and select translate. No matter what, standard work documentation needs to have pictures, lots and lots of pictures.
The newer generation entering the shop floor is very comfortable working with computers and interface technologies. Machinery is following the same trend and becoming more user friendly. Collaborative robots are starting to appear. These robots are easy to program by shop floor personnel. They are also much safer than traditional robots which had to be segregated from the operators for safety reasons. Some collaborative robots are now working side by side with a human operator without the need for a safety cage. Many of the repetitive tasks now being performed by humans will be with completed with a human / robot team. This also means that the shop floor will need literate, computer and technology-savvy people to work on the shop floor with their robotic counter parts. Humans will be spending more time on the quality and process improvement aspects of their jobs.
The factory of the future will be a different, more collaborative world with the use of real-time information at the fore front. As the ranks of shop floor workers begin to thin out with the aging of the boomers, more collaborative technology that can be easily programmed will be replacing them. There will also be more non-English-speaking workers in the factory of the future to help replace the aging workforce. Managers will have to adapt to a higher-paced environment with lower levels of inventory, increased technology on the shop floor and they will have to invest more workforce training.