Key trends emerge at World Manufacturing Forum in Milan

Posted on 3 Jul 2014 by Tim Brown

Industry leaders, policy makers, and engineering researchers from 45 nations contributed to increasing confidence in the manufacturing sector’s ability to contribute to global prosperity.

Supported by the European Commission, the World Manufacturing Forum 2014, which yesterday concluded two days of meetings at Milan’s Palazzo Mezzanotte, addressed topics such as the sector’s problems and opportunities across the technical, economic, and educational domains. Other trends which were identified included: next-shoring, automation, bigdata, component tracking, workforce development & cyber-security

“There has been a very enthusiastic mood at this year’s forum, and definitely a proactive approach,” said Dr Marco Taisch, Scientific Chairman of WMF 2014 and Professor of Operations Management and Advanced and Sustainable Manufacturing at Politecnico di Milano University. “The discussions have been marked by an assurance that manufacturing is a driving force for economic growth.”

Dr Thomas Kurfess of the US’s Georgia Institute of Technology, who recently concluded a year as the White House’s policy adviser on advanced manufacturing, agreed that “things are on the upswing” in the manufacturing sector. He suggested that normality is returning following the uncertainty and disruption that, for two decades, accompanied the advent and growth of globalisation. “Things are levelling out again now,” he observed.

Among the wealth of topics discussed at the forum’s eight plenary sessions were some major new challenges that are facing the industry. Firstly, the forum highlighted the existence of next-shoring and also addressed the needs for the formulation and establishment of technical, social, and environmental standards that could be applied worldwide both to manufacturing systems and to the products that emanate from them. Secondly, the forum focused on the need for the protection of the sophisticated cyber-systems that are ever more prevalent in the manufacturing field. Workforce training to confront the “education skills gap” also remains a prominent concern.

This year’s forum, the third in a series that began in May 2011 at Cernobbio, attracted 601 registrants from 438 distinct organisations, including top managers from companies like ABB, COMAU, Dassault Systèmes, KUKA, McKinsey, Samsung, and Siemens. Of those who attended, 54 percent came from industry, 35 percent from research institutions, and 11 percent from the policy sector. “The policy makers seem keener on working with manufacturers than they have in previous years,” Taisch concluded.

The theme of World Manufacturing Forum 2014, “The Way Forward to Prosperity through Global Manufacturing Collaboration” was reflective of its sponsorship. The event, organised by Politecnico di Milano, was supported by the European Commission; by Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (IMS), an international cooperation program; and by other leading companies and associations that provided in-kind contributions. Among these companies were the European Factories of the Future Research Association (EFFRA), Boeing, General Electric, IBM, and Whirlpool.