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Accelerating the Value of Manufacturing 4.0: 2019/2020 Critical Issues

The growing importance of data entrepreneurship and digital acumen, the need for a three-dimensional approach to M4.0 transformation, the increasing value of digital twins and virtualization, and a heightened emphasis on new digital skills and employee training, are among the key highlights of the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s new Critical Issues agenda for 2019/2020. By Paul Tate

The manufacturing industry is at a pivotal point in its history. Driven by competitive pressures to become more agile, innovative, and cost effective, and enabled by advanced digital and analytical technologies, manufacturing companies of all sizes are now pursuing a future vision for their businesses that will transform the rules of competition, how work will be performed, how companies will be organized, and how leadership must lead.

We term this future state: Manufacturing 4.0.

The vision for Manufacturing 4.0 is a state in which production and supply networks are increasingly data-driven, predictive, sustainable, secure, and rapidly reconfigurable to meet changing market demands and competition. Products can be smart, easily customized, autonomous, and provide a rich platform for new service revenue streams. Supply chains are responsive, risk-resilient, traceable, socially responsible, and constantly analyzed in real-time to support faster and more accurate decisions. Enterprises are cross-functional, collaborative, inclusive, and highly integrated, often supported by a digital thread that stretches from design, to deployment, to materials reclamation. And leaders and employees at all levels are digitally-savvy, customer-centric, continually innovative, highly engaged, and ready to adapt to new challenges and grasp new business opportunities.

Underpinning these fundamental changes is the growing importance of data as a critical asset in an M4.0 world – harnessing insights to drive better and more effective decisions. Access to new data-derived insights also provides the foundation for a new era of data entrepreneurship, allowing manufacturing companies and leaders to imagine, develop, and deliver new processes, services, and potentially disruptive business models for the future.

Such a comprehensive and enterprise-wide Manufacturing 4.0 transformation requires a three-dimensional approach in which companies need to identify and master the challenges and opportunities of advanced new technologies and data assets, organizational restructuring and cultural improvement, and new workforce and leadership skills and strategies.

The Manufacturing Leadership Council’s Critical Issues Agenda, therefore, is specifically designed to help manufacturers align their thinking and practices for a successful journey to Manufacturing 4.0.



The Journey to Manufacturing 4.0
The Manufacturing Leadership Council’s Critical Issues for 2019/2020 are:
Factories of the Future
Manufacturers of all sizes, in both process and discrete manufacturing, need to understand and embrace the potential of new and evolving production models, materials, and technologies including advanced analytical tools along the journey towards Manufacturing 4.0. These help increase business value by enabling more cost efficient, responsive, quality-driven, secure, safer, and more sustainable factories, production processes, and new business models for the future. 

Areas of Focus

  • M4.0 roadmaps, maturity models, and transformation frameworks to help companies move along their journey to Manufacturing 4.0, from current production models, often based on legacy systems, to a future state of increasingly digitally-enabled production readiness.
  • End-to-end digitization and analysis of manufacturing and engineering processes and functions in both centralized and distributed production networks. This also covers integration upstream with the tiered supply chain, and integration downstream through channels-to-market to connect with end customers.
  •  Deployment of M4.0 visualization, digital twin, simulation, and advanced modeling techniques to help digitize, accelerate, and streamline a more materials-efficient manufacturing design and production process.
  •  Increasingly more effective cybersecurity risk management approaches to combat the exponentially expanding issue of cyber threat in today’s increasingly networked manufacturing environment. A key focus is effective collaboration with corporate IT teams to ensure successful preventative measures and cyber attack response strategies that minimize potential vulnerabilities – from direct production interruption, to data / IP theft, and ransomware.


Establishing M4.0 Cultures: Collaborative, Innovative, Integrated, and Connected
To maximize and harness the potential of Manufacturing 4.0, manufacturers of all sizes need to actively transform traditional operational cultures by empowering people to help drive growth and strengthen competitiveness. This is achieved by improving collaboration to deliver operational efficiencies, innovating more effectively to develop new products and services, and integrating and connecting functions to maximize the value of shared data and drive greater organizational agility and speed.

Areas of Focus

  • Cross-functional processes, change management approaches, collaborative structures, and more integrated organizational designs that leverage multiple sources of data and expertise to drive both continuous and disruptive innovation, make faster and better decisions, reduce time to market, and enhance competitive agility.
  • Collaborative innovation cultures, behaviors, and platforms that leverage the ideas and development resources of employees, suppliers, external partners, customers, academia, and ‘the crowd’ to create new products, improve business processes, and create innovative new business models.
  • Best practice approaches, and the challenges involved, in deploying integrated Manufacturing 4.0 technologies and platforms, such as digital threads, that enhance collaboration, integration, and innovation to help manufacturers deliver new ideas and improvements faster across the enterprise.

    Transformative Technologies in Manufacturing
    In order to create innovative new business models and drive competitiveness, manufacturers must learn how to identify, assess, and scale the most promising M4.0-enabling technologies in order to achieve greater speed, agility, efficiency, and quality to improve customer experiences.

    Areas of Focus

    • The impact of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cognitive analytics on the future of manufacturing.
    • The latest developments in key transformational technologies including the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), additive manufacturing, virtualization and simulation, collaborative robotics, augmented and virtual realities, 5G networks, blockchain, and other emerging technologies.
    • Best practice business case approaches for evaluating, selecting, and deploying new value-generating M4.0 technologies to enhance business capability, while embracing standards and architectures that support open, interoperable digital ecosystems.


    Next-Generation Manufacturing Leadership and the Changing Workforce
    Leaders in the M4.0 era must develop the digital acumen needed to understand the business-changing impact of new technologies, how to lead a collaborative enterprise empowered by information, and to prepare for the workforce of the future. This will require them to identify the new digital skill-sets their companies will need for their M4.0 journey, while continuing to attract, develop, train, retain, and inspire both the current workforce and the next generation of employees. It also requires M4.0 leaders themselves to embrace new behaviors and value systems and be comfortable with new corporate structures and collaborative cultures.

    Areas of Focus

    • Effective leadership role models, behaviors, and mindsets that best support the company’s journey to Manufacturing 4.0 and help define a successful set of competencies for tomorrow’s manufacturing leaders.
    • Employee training, transition, development, and engagement strategies for a diverse and inclusive multi-generational, multi-cultural, multinational workforce that is increasingly interacting with advanced technologies such as AI and cobots.
    • Identifying, attracting, and encouraging next-generation talent and skills for tomorrow’s manufacturing workforce, including adopting new working cultures and ethical value systems, and by developing more effective ways to collaborate with educational institutions at all age levels and multiple types of community organizations.


    Manufacturing 4.0 Sustainability
    New analytical insights derived from Manufacturing 4.0 technologies help provide companies of all sizes with the opportunity to optimize the use of resources, achieve major efficiency gains, reduce time and materials in mass-customization, minimize waste and environmental impacts, and add direct value to the business. Successful engagement with customers, suppliers, partners and the next-generation workforce also requires manufacturers to become increasingly transparent about their environmental and socially-responsible practices. 

    Areas of Focus

    • Harness key M4.0 design technologies to support the intentional design of products for easier reuse, remanufacture, refurbishment, materials reclamation, or recycling at end of life.
    • Manufacturing 4.0 production and supply chain strategies that streamline processes to increase efficiency, reduce costs and waste, and ensure all resources, products, components, energy, and materials are kept at their highest utility and value at all times.
    • Holistic, sustainable manufacturing business models, supported by collaborative cross-sector partnerships and deeper community engagement that help create a circular manufacturing economy. M 

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    About the Critical Issues 

    The Manufacturing Leadership Council’s annual Critical Issues agenda is the outcome of a unique member-driven process that identifies the most urgent and important issues facing the global manufacturing industry in the year ahead. It is based on extensive consultation with more than 1500 senior executives and associate members of the Manufacturing Leadership Council and Board of Governors.

    The Critical Issues agenda also establishes the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s strategic plan, directly influencing all major elements of its research, content, events and services portfolio over the next twelve months.

    Full descriptions of the ML Council’s 2019 / 2020 Critical Issues agenda available on

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