Factories Aren’t What They Used To Be

Manufacturing facilities need to adapt to the demands of a changing world, but many are struggling to keep up, writes Gareth Robbins, director, Built Asset Consultancy, Arcadis Australia Pacific.

The 2017 Industrial Capital Expenditure Survey on the changing world of manufacturing pointed to the enduring nature of many of the most pressing challenges that have faced industrial firms for decades. The survey, based on analysis across a broad range of the world’s biggest manufacturers, highlighted the increasing need for those firms to learn cross-sector lessons, as well as demonstrate the insight that can be gained when a global consultancy is genuinely in tune with its clients’ needs.

Decision-makers must consider capital investment programs that encompass the whole lifecycle of the assets being created, the need for flexibility across that lifecycle, and the economic as well as social benefits of building sustainability into plans. Additionally, they need to focus on the benefits of communication, collaboration and partnership, across stakeholder groups and the supply chain.

However, the report also highlighted that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Firms remain stricken by old problems, such as the war for talent, and the difficulty in creating business cases for improvements that are robust enough to obtain the required funding.

In tackling issues like those it’s not the “big idea” that’s the answer, it’s often the mastering of the incremental improvements that create Olympic gold medal winners. The ruthless identification and removal of waste in every aspect of processes. The seeking out and reuse of best practice from all industries, not just a narrow group of peers. The benefits of coordinated programs of work rather than fragmented case-by-case interventions.

It may feel, especially in the developed world, manufacturing is changing but it isn’t going away. With speed to market for many goods creating a pull to shorten the distance from the factory to the customer, technological advancement and the very slow but unstoppable equalisation of global labour costs, the push towards offshore manufacturing may lessen.

Additionally, with fast-changing product requirements creating a need for more bespoke short-production-run goods, and the advent of technologies to support that agility, the factories of tomorrow will not resemble the mass production factories we have seen since the industrial revolution.

Factories of the future will not look like they used to, but manufacturing may yet. With modern demands and abilities raising the potential and competitiveness of small, technologically enabled “craft” workshops, elements of manufacturing could yet begin to look more like they did before the advent of mass production.

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