Get ready for the new industrial revolution

The industrial landscape in Scotland is far removed from the hectic, noisy production facilities of the past. The latest techniques, designs and equipment mean that modern manufacturing is highly efficient, organised and structured. But what will tomorrow bring? What do the Factories of the Future hold related to our future competitiveness? Indeed, what do our factories need to look like and how will they compete in global markets? The reality is, based on the powers of economics, if we don't do something different, other countries will.

The biggest changes to the factory of the future will come from technology. Computer-aided design and simulation reduces the time and cost of bringing new goods to market. Advanced robotics makes automation cheaper and more flexible. New production processes, such as 3D printing, which makes things by constructing layer upon layer of plastic and metals, are already well used, but in general, when we discuss productivity relating to advancements in technology, people inevitably expect job losses and people reduction.

The reality is, this is about making better use of the people capacity that we have and developing skills to meet Factory of the Future objectives.

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Interwoven with The Factories of The Future is Industry 4.0, whereby factory automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies spearhead the working practices. There is a misconception, in my view, that the Industry 4.0 focus is all about capital investment – to me that is wrong.

The reality is, what we need to do is better understand what makes up our current processes and look to link those up and make an integrated system. We’ve got real centres of excellence and knowledge in areas such as informatics, robotics and data management within our innovation centres and within our university clusters therefore, the “toolkit” is at our disposal. My view is, we just don’t employ it in the right way or throw the right challenges to that network to come and help, so I see huge opportunities for Industry 4.0 as a means of incremental step-up and improvement to be smarter and successful in our Factories of the Future.

Industry 4.0 is a commercial term so, typically, people associate this with the Capital Expenditure side of investment and for some that might be a requirement, because we have industries which have been under-invested in for some time. They may now have to make a step change.

However, for many manufacturing and process-driven companies, it is about understanding what they have at their disposal in terms of assets and how to we make them talk to one another to link the processes up. In other words, how do we make our operations smarter?

Many of the latest technologies related to Factories of the Future will require convergence of skill sets from process and manufacturing engineering to incorporate informatics, data analytics and app-driven programming. This will drive a change in all jobs in manufacturing, in terms of structure and skills requirements.

However, taking a broader view of manufacturing and related services, factories of the future can boost overall employment. Understanding this more complex value chain will be critical to any government wanting to assist industry rather than hinder it.

This is very much part of a new Industrial Revolution. Those who embrace factories of the future will create competitive advantage and open new opportunities.

Scott Sinclair, CEO, CeeD