The future of manufacturing

The world of manufacturing sometimes appears to be divided neatly into two.

First, there are developed nations such as Australia. These countries have long, proud manufacturing histories but have lost most of their high volume work and are facing uncertain times.

Then there are the developing nations. These are where the high volume work has gone. The world’s clothing, tooth brushes, cutlery and so forth are now made by the (lower paid) workforces of their now flourishing manufacturing sectors.

However, as the experts tell us, this status quo will not last long. Things are sure to change. And the change looks likely to be brought about by the already available advances in digital technology.

Welcome to the world of ‘networked manufacturing’. The advent of sensor technologies, robotics and wireless communication, along with improved data processing and storage capabilities and cloud computing are set to change things.

Increased data capture within the larger context of a world connected through the cloud will give manufacturers in the developed world the chance to survive by improving their flexibility. By becoming more flexible and being highly responsive to changes in demand they will be able to ensure their competitiveness.

In the years to come, such manufacturer will be making highly configurable and even individualised products. Increasingly, consumers will be put in the driver’s seat. They will dictate what is being made.

Developed nations will be the first to take advantage of networked manufacturing but the developed nations also stand to reap the benefits of the change.

Improved communications is likely to open opportunities in the supply chain. It will become easier to locate production facilities closer to resources and, as James Manyika, a director at the McKinsey Global Institute in the US points out, developing nations will be able to position themselves as “staging grounds” or “final assembly points”.

Already, China has started to feel some pressure from other developing nations with still lower labour costs. As Dr Manyika of the McKinsey Global Institute points out, the nation is starting to up investment in robotics and technology.

Of course none of this is a given. There are a number of pre-requisites that will need to be met if networked manufacturing is to be allowed to flourish.

Governments will have to help in terms of policy but it will also require effort from business and academia. In addition, technical standards governing processes and interconnectivity will need to be met; and freedom of trade and information will be a necessity.

Organisations such as Siemens, a maker of automation and industrial plant-related products, will continue to be integral to the advent of networked manufacturing.

The company’s services are sure to be part of manufacturing’s future.

For more information click here to download Siemens' free whitepaper.