Smart factories to treble by 2022 despite ‘complexity of technology’ – report

There is a growing confidence in the role of automation and disruptive technologies in Australia’s manufacturing market, according to the results of an international study.

A new report from Zebra Technologies, 2017 Asia Pacific Manufacturing Vision Study, has analysed trends and challenges that manufacturers are facing across the region, and appears to show a “transformational shift” away from methods of manual data mapping that still make up the bulk of the market.

Following contributions from 1,100 company executives across Asia-Pacific, the industry is forecasting a dramatic rise in “smart factories”, with the number of plants that are fully connected set to treble in the next five years. 

Adoption to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is believed to be gathering greater pace in Asia-Pacific too, and is significantly higher compared to Europe, North America and Latin America.    

However, the report recognises barriers experienced by the manufacturing industry – most notably the “complexity of technology”, which more than half of respondents claimed to be an ongoing issue. 

Other areas of difficultly are set around the industry’s resource capability in IT (41 per cent), security concerns (45 per cent) and the cost of adoption (46 per cent).

Despite this, there are three key trends that are happening in Australian manufacturing, according to Tom Christodoulou, Zebra’s regional director for Australia and New Zealand.

“One clear trend companies will experience in the next five years is towards fully-connected factories, with 46 per cent of those surveyed anticipating they will have this capability by 2022,” Christodoulou said.

“In addition, quality control is at the top of the mind for all 1,100 executives that were involved in the study and this was driven by the fact they all want to see their company grow over the next five years.

“From the point of visibility, quality control is becoming more important and is helping the reduction of cost. 

“Smarter factories are becoming more connected and the move towards Industry 4.0 is another area where Australia, in particular, is going to see a positive trend.”

The manufacturing industry in Australia has seen jobs moved offshore with the appeal of cheaper labour across Asia – notably Australia’s automotive assembly sector which is winding down next month.

Christodoulou is nonetheless adamant that manual business is too inefficient and expensive to last, and says the introduction of automation will eventually raise the bar in Australia.

“One of the other trends we are seeing today is the move away from [data] silos, which are expected to drop from around 60 per cent to 20 per cent, as factories become more automated.

“A connected business is now considered a ‘must-have’ if your company wants to grow outside of Australia. If your data is out of date, you will become a difficult company to work with and that will really slow down growth.”