Will 2017 be the year of the smart factory?

2017 could be when the concept of the smart factory becomes a widespread reality, according to YCF – a not-for-profit organisation committed to supporting the manufacturing industry and its supply chain.

Social Network of Things - Internet of Things - Smart Factory - Connected MachinesThe smart factory 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 CEO, Jill Mooney thinks that 2017 could be the year that manufacturers start to plan the implementation of such machinery.

She explained: “The technology behind the idea isn’t simple at all. But the benefits – heightened productivity, more intricate product specifications and the potential to reach a wider customer base – are hard to ignore.

“So, while a wholly smart factory isn’t likely to be realised in 2017, we may see more manufacturers developing plans to implement new, collaborative machinery.”

However, 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 coming 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. Employers, schools and the government must push for more young people to take up vocational apprenticeships.

Mooney commented: “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 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.”