2017 could be the year of the smart factory.
That’s the opinion of Huddersfield-based YCF – the not-for-profit organisation committed to supporting the manufacturing industry and its supply chain.
The statement follows months of speculation around Industry 4.0 – the idea of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technology.
Simply, it’s the computerisation of manufacturing, involving systems that communicate with each other, monitor physical processes and make decisions. And YCF’s CEO Jill Mooney thinks that 2017 could be the year that manufacturers start to plan the implementation of such machinery.
“The technology behind the idea isn’t simple at all,” Jill said. “But the benefits – heightened productivity, more intricate product specifications and the potential to reach a wider customer base – are hard to ignore.
“So, whilst a wholly ‘smart factory’ isn’t likely to be realised in 2017, we may see more manufacturers developing plans to implement new, collaborative machinery. Watch this space for the ‘fourth industrial revolution’!”
But YCF’s predictions are offset with concern for the skills gaps that the manufacturing and engineering industries are already experiencing. Emerging technology requires new skills, and there’s already a short supply of people trained in high-level maintenance and repair. Plus, over the next decade, there will be 3.5 million manufacturing jobs that need to be filled, according to Deloitte.
The supply chain sector therefore needs to start training people to meet this impending shortage, stresses YCF. Employers, schools and the government must push for more young people to take up vocational apprenticeships.
“This is something we’ve gone some way to champion, as we helped to launch the new process manufacturing centre at Kirklees College in Huddersfield, earlier this year,” said Jill. “And, next year, we’ll be introducing a ‘skills hub’ – a forum to allow companies, careers services and budding young talent to come together in one, online space.”
“For manufacturing firms to remain competitive, they must adapt to an ever-changing business environment, meaning that further spending on technology is inevitable. But to implement new systems successfully they must also invest in the training and development of their people – something crucial to the survival of our industry.”
YCF is a membership organisation for the manufacturing and process industries, offering support and networking opportunities to companies both large and small. Its members share best practice and overcome common industry challenges.