IOT, 4th industrial revolution, augmented reality, virtual reality, are just a few terms that everybody is talking about. That’s trendy, that’s even sexy, saying that ‘my factory is equipped with the ultimate machines and prepared for the future’.

Talking about the future and having in mind a study from BCG, ‘manufacturers will improve production by applying new design principles, implementing digital technologies and integrating processes across the value chain.’. The question is: are the factories and the employees really prepared for this change?

750 production managers from leading companies were asked by BCG and Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering at RWTH Aachen University, to answer a survey that had the goal to define a vision for the factory of the future in 2030. Definitely that the ambitions are very high and the ones that are already working for it are the German companies that are already developing their first concepts for the factory of the future.

Having a modern factory is not the only wish. The saving time and money is also an issue that everybody should be worried about and it’s something that this study talks about: ‘such steps will reduce total conversion costs by up to 40%.’

But what about the employees? Are they going to be replaced by robots? What about those that work in that factory for years and years? Are they going to understand and adapt to all the changes that are required? Having in mind the BCG study, ‘the number of manufacturing jobs requiring skills in IT and data science will increase’. The question is that, not only hard skills are needed, but also soft skills like solving problems, responsibility and teamwork.

‘Manufacturers cannot expect workers to build the necessary technical and social competencies on their own.’ According to the BCG study, to successfully transition to the factory of the future, manufacturers need to develop an approach to training and qualifying workers. Unlike everyone thinks, in this transition more jobs will be gained than lost if the workers are prepared with the right skills. Another BCG study announces that greater use of robotics and computerization will reduce the number of jobs in assembly and production by approximately 610 000. However, this decline will be more than offset by the creation of approximately 960 000 new jobs, particularly in IT and data Science.

‘At the industry level, the expanding market for the intelligent machinery will allow manufacturers of this equipment to add 70,000 jobs to their workforce’. It is estimated that robot assisted production will be the main cause of unemployment on the shop floor, but fear not because robotics, predictive maintenance and even augmented reality will give access to new business models and, consequently, create more jobs.

It is important that ‘companies ensure that humans remain responsible for innovation and coordinate overall processes, rather than trying to automate these critical capabilities’. We have to change our way of thinking. Qualifications are important, but are they capable of solving a problem? BCG gives an example: instead of seeking a mechanic who is certified to perform a specific repair, manufacturers should look for a mechanic who is open to change and has expertise in repairing machines during production hours, specific experience working with a given machine brand and experience using certain types of IT interfaces’.

Now, be honest with yourself. Is your factory truly prepared to embrace the future?


*Boston Consulting Group – Factory of the future – December 2016

*Boston Consulting Group – Man and machine in Industry 4.0 – September 2015