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Factories of the Future: Is Revolutionary Change Ahead?

Posted By Paul Tate, October 18, 2012 at 11:44 PM, in Category: ML Council

A Recap of the October 16, 2012 Manufacturing Leadership Council Call


John Gagel, Lexmark

Ron Tarter, Flextronics

Val Zanchuk, Graphicast

David Robinson, Tusco Display

Brett Vasseur, Burgess-Norton Manufacturing Company

Sharon Jones, ATK-Alliant Techsystems Inc.


Paul Tate, Manufacturing Executive

Jeff Moad, Manufacturing Executive


--Manufacturers must design modularity and flexibility into plants in order to keep up with shifting customer demands while also balancing investment priorities.

--As manufacturers expand their production networks to participate in emerging markets, they must extend best practices and core technology standards in order to meet customer requirements and drive efficiencies. In emerging markets, however, it is important to protect intellectual property embedded in those processes and technologies.

--Manufacturers should track the potential of emerging technologies such as 3D printing, the cloud, and smart robots to drive improved quality and productivity.

--The emergence of new technologies and customer-driven complexity on the plant floor will continue to drive manufacturers to upgrade their workforces, adding more technicians, engineers, and workers with diverse capabilities and proactive work habits.

For many Council members, the designs and capabilities of their factories are being driven by the need to satisfy rapidly evolving customer requirements.

Ron Tarter said that, as a manufacturing services provider, Flextronics finds that many larger customers are interested in Flextronics supporting proprietary manufacturing techniques. This means that the company must implement a variable model that supports more tailored services while also allowing for flexibility and cost containment.

Val Zanchuk said, as a smaller manufacturer, Graphicast needs to be able to respond to customer requirements quickly. This also requires flexibility and the need to design the factory in a modular way and to understand customer demand using predictive techniques and econometric data.

David Robinson said increased collaboration will be a major requirement for Tusco’s plants in the future. The company plans to use outside vendors for more specialized processes, and customers increasingly look to the company to generate large production runs quickly.

Council members also noted that the configuration of their global factory networks is in flux.

Tarter said Flextronics needs to continuously align its global production network according to where markets are growing fastest. The company sees growth coming from India and China, while the economies of Europe and the U.S. are flat or down. Customers are driving Flextronics to invest more in markets such as India, China, Brazil, and Russia

Brett Vasseur said Burgess-Norton also is striving to stay aligned with where in the world customers want to operate. The company’s next two target geographies are India and Russia. But the company also must balance its investment strategy. One solution has been to export from existing plants to fast-growing regions until local plants can increase their output.

At the same time, as Burgess-Norton expands globally, the company is attempting to standardize on best practices and core technologies. The company invests 4-5% of revenue into this standardization effort. This includes, implementation of standard cold forging and finishing equipment in plants around the world.

As it expands core technology and best practices globally, Burgess-Norton is aware of the need to protect its intellectual property. In China, the company restricts what customers can see on the plant floor.

Tarter said Flextronics is using lean tools and practices to standardize best practices in its 90 global plants. The company has been at it for 7 years, and sees it as a journey.

Jeff Moad noted that some Council members have gained efficiency and productivity by pursing a Focused Factory approach in which they carve out multiple plants under a single roof, each of which is dedicated to a single product or value stream.

Zanchuk said this approach may help larger companies gain some of the advantages of small manufacturers who are able to bemore market-focused.  

Council members also said they are investing in emerging technologies such as 3D printing, the cloud, and smart robots to drive plant efficiencies.

Sharon Jones said ATK is interested in future of 3D printing. So far the company has found it useful for creating prototypes, but not for lights-out production. The technology needs to be able to use tougher materials.

ATK has a good deal of interest in smart robots. The company currently generates a lot of labor-intensive work. Robots with finer motor skills would be useful, if they were more cost-competitive, she said.

Robinson said Tusco is looking to move as much of its IT infrastructure to the cloud in order to support a lean organization.

Council members also said they are driving their plants to a zero defects, zero waste goal.

In the automotive industry, said Vasseur, zero defects can be a differentiator. Burgess-Norton was able to achieve zero PPM defects in 2010 and 2011. Key to that achievement were wireless and cloud technologies as well as statistical process control. The company uses wireless technology to transfer downtime information from the plant to the cloud where it can be captured and analyzed in real time. Management receives minute-by-minute updates.

Jones said ATK achieved plus/minus 12 Sigma by designing in redundant quality verification on critical parameters. In the future, the company needs higher skill employees to improve automation.

Zanchuk said he has seen manufacturers use lean training and tools to reduce energy waste and usage. NIST’s MEP network works with manufacturers to implement this.

And Council members discussed changing worker skills requirements that are being driven by new customer demands and changes on the plant floor.

Tarter said, as customers demand more services and other capabilities, Flextronics needs a more diversified workforce. Particularly in emerging markets, the company needs to build its brand on employees with a wider range of skills and who are proactive.

Jones agreed that as complexity and automation increase, ATK needs workers with at least trade skill certification.

Vasseur identified this as Burgess-Norton’s biggest challenge. The company needs more engineers, technicians, and technology-savvy employees. The company is training existing workers and hiring junior engineers out of college who don’t mind working on the shop floor. But finding enough next-generation workers is a challenge, particularly in emerging economies such as India and Russia.


--An exclusive Factories of the Future research survey will appear in the Manufacturing Leadership Journal in January.

--The next Manufacturing Leadership Council call on “Innovation Cultures” will take placeNovember 20 at 11 am ET. More information will be available on the Manufacturing Leadership Council website.

Category: ML Council
Written by Paul Tate

Paul Tate is Research Director and Executive Editor with Frost & Sullivan's Manufacturing Leadership Council. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Council's Board of Governors, the Council's annual Critical Issues Agenda, and the Manufacturing Leadership Research Panel. Follow us on Twitter: @MfgExecutive

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