2023/2024 MLC Critical Issues Agenda

Guiding Theme: The Journey to M4.0 Value

The manufacturing industry is at a pivotal point in its history.

Driven by market forces to become more agile, innovative, resilient, cost-efficient, and sustainable, companies of all sizes are pursuing a future vision for business value enabled by digital technologies that will redefine 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.

Such a comprehensive enterprise-wide transformation requires a three-dimensional approach: mastering the challenges and opportunities of advanced digital tools and data; improving organizational structures and cultures; and developing new workforce talent and leadership skills.

While shaped by company size, sector, and level of digital maturity, all manufacturers share the need for a common set of key M4.0 competencies.

These enable them to drive value from digital investments in critical areas of business activity – from product design and innovation, to supply chains and customer relationships, to more eco-efficient manufacturing operations.

The Manufacturing Leadership Council’s Critical Issues agenda is specifically designed to help manufacturers align their thinking and best practices to deliver true business value from their journey to M4.0.

2023/2024 MLC Critical Issues Agenda Framework

Critical Issues: Areas of Focus

Value Drivers

Smart Factories and Digital Production

  • M4.0 roadmaps, maturity models, transformation frameworks – including adoption, scaling, and upscaling/integrating legacy systems to be M4.0 ready
  • End-to-end digitization of manufacturing processes and functions in centralized or distributed production networks
  • Deployment of key M4.0 technologies, particularly AI, to streamline and accelerate materials-efficient design and new digital production approaches.

Resilient Supply Networks and Ecosystems

  • Digitally enabled supply chains leveraging M4.0, including AI, to improve resiliency, visibility, planning, agility, predictability, and rapid response to disruption
  • Collaborative ecosystem best practices for sharing data, insights, and plans across key suppliers/partners/customers
  • Digitally supported business continuity planning, risk management, and organizational preparedness

Sustainability and the Circular Economy

  • Digital tools that help companies accelerate and deliver Net Zero targets (production, distribution, materials, energy, etc.)
  • Digital approaches to support Scope 3 supply chain strategies
  • Key technologies, including AI, to aid the intentional design of products for remanufacture, disassembly, reuse, or recycling at end of life.
  • Holistic, sustainable business models and cross-industry ecosystems that drive a more circular industrial economy.

Value Enablers

Data Mastery and Analytics

  • Operationalizing analytical insights to drive better decision making and empower innovation
  • Latest developments in data analytics, AI, Machine Learning and new analytical technologies
  • Data governance, strategy, architectures, ethics, and standards


  • Cybersecurity policies, risk management, mitigation, and recovery strategies
  • Key technologies, including AI, for stronger cyber protection and defense across production sites, partner networks, smart products
  • Latest developments, guidelines, and best practices from cyber standards groups and institutes

Transformative Technologies

  • M4.0 foundational IT, OT, automation, networking architectures
  • Latest developments in key M4.0 technologies – AI, collaborative robotics, digital twins, additive, AR/VR, blockchain, 5G, etc.
  • Industrial potential of horizon technologies – quantum, micro-bots, nano-tech, smart materials, etc.

Leadership, Organization, Culture, People

  • Digital era leadership visions, skills, behaviors, business acumen
  • New workforce approaches – remote, collaborative, human-machine relationship, etc.
  • Digital skills development, empowerment, engagement, talent attraction, diversity, inclusion
  • Collaborative, cross-functional structures and cultures; M4.0 change management strategies


The MLC’s Critical Issues Process

Since 2010, the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s Critical Issues agenda is the outcome of a unique, annual, member-driven process to identify the most urgent and important issues facing manufacturing companies in the year ahead. Refreshed every year, it is based on extensive consultation with more than 3,500 senior executives and associate members of the Manufacturing Leadership Council and Board of Governors.

The Critical Issues agenda establishes the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s strategic plan, and directly influences all major elements of the MLC’s research program, content focus, events, and services portfolio for the year ahead.

For more information, contact [email protected].