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Revealed: The world’s smartest factories and manufacturers

The most advanced factories in the world are in Europe and Asia, according to a new review of smart manufacturing by the World Economic Forum. Just one of the top factories is in the US.

However, German and the US companies, often working outside their home countries, are the best represented on the list with more than half hailing from Germany, and a third from the US.

German manufacturing giants Bosch and Siemens both appear on the list for their factories in China, in Wuxi and Chengdu respctively.

The World Economic Forum has identified nine manufacturing plants, from a survey of over 1,000, as ‘lighthouse’ factories for their digital transformation. It ranked them according to their implementation of smart manufacturing initiatives, broadly covering data analytics and artificial intelligence, as well as techniques like additive manufacturing (3D printing).

In each case, the World Economic Forum measured the financial and operational impact of this technological change, variously described as part of the ‘Industry 4.0’ movement and a ‘fourth industrial revolution’. The study took a year.

Five of the leading ‘lighthouse’ factories are in Europe, three are in China, and only one is in the US. The World Economic Forum said the geographic spread makes clear Europe is a “powerhouse” when it comes to smart manufacturing, even if it has failed to produce an “internet giant” of its own.

The list, detailed below, features some of the biggest names in manufacturing, including Bosch, Haier, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Schneider Electric, and Siemens.

Their best factories are not necessarily in their home countries, it might be noted. Five of the manufacturing companies named in the list are headquartered in Germany, and three are from the US; the other two hail from France and China.

A Fast Radius site in Chicago, Illinois, managed by logistics company UPS, is the only venue in the Americas to make the ‘lighthouse’ list. No companies from the aerospace, automotive, or semiconductor industries, traditionally held up as the leading lights in smart manufacturing, make the list of top factories.

Helena Leurent, member of the executive committee at the World Economic Forum, said: “The fourth industrial revolution is expected to deliver productivity gains and transform the future of manufacturing but we are still at the beginning of the journey.

“Our efforts to create a learning platform with the lighthouses as the cornerstone are part of the giant leap needed to capture the benefits for the larger manufacturing ecosystem including multinationals, SMEs, start-ups, governments and academia”.

Enno de Boer, partner and global head of manufacturing at McKinsey & Company, which collaborated with the Forum on the project, commented: “The fourth industrial revolution is real. Workers and management equally get augmented with technology. These pioneers have created factories that have 20-50 per cent higher performance and create a competitive edge.

“They have agile teams with domain, analytics, IoT and software development expertise that are rapidly innovating on the shop floor. They have deployed a common data/IoT platform and have up to 15 use cases in action. They are thinking ‘scale’, acting ‘agile’ and resetting the benchmark.”

The World Economic Forum wants to build a network of ‘manufacturing lighthouses’ to address problems confronting industries when it comes to investing in advanced technologies. Seventy per cent of businesses investing in new are not able to take the projects beyond pilot phase, it said.

According to a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, South Korea, Germany and Singapore are best positioned to lead the world for industrial automation, thanks to their approaches to artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.

These three, along with Japan and Canada, are the top five countries for “automation readiness”, it said, scoring highest for their innovation, education and labour policies.

The smartest factories in the world

Bayer (Garbagnate, Italy)

The German firm’s pharmaceuticals plant in Garbagnate has leveraged digital solutions and data for significant productivity improvements. Notably, the site has utilised ‘digital-twin’ based scheduling to drive improvementsin its quality control lab.

Bosch (Wuxi, China)

Bosch runs an automotive plant in Wuxi that has used advanced data analytics to “deeply understand and eliminate output losses, simulate and optimise process settings, and predict machine interruptions before they occur.”

Haier (Qingdao, China)

Appliances maker Haier’s factory in Qingdao is making the most of “user-centric mass customization”, says the World Economic Forum, with artificial intelligence underpinning its every process, including an ‘order-to-make’ mass customisation platform and a cloud-based predictive maintenance programme.

Johnson & Johnson (Cork, Ireland)

US firm Johnson & Johnson’s factory in Cork makes orthopaedic and neurosurgery devices for its DePuy Synthes business. The plant has used internet of things technology to create digital representations of physical assets leading to advanced machine insights, resulting in lower operating costs and a reduction in machine downtime.

Phoenix Contact (Blomberg, Germany)

Germany firm Phoenix Contact manufactures industrial automation, interconnection, and interface solutions; its site in Blomberg has used ‘customer-driven digital twinning’ to reduce production times by 30 per cent.

Procter & Gamble (Rakona, Czech Republic)

US consumers goods company Procter & Gamble has implemented a web based analytical model at its Rakona factory to spur agility in its the supply chain, resulting in improved speed to market, inventory efficiency, and higher customer satisfaction.

Schneider Electric (Le Vaudreuil, France)

French multinational Schneider Electric has developed a smart factory model that provides increased visibility of operations, maintenance, and energy usage; its site in Le Vaudreuil has seen a reduction in energy costs of 10 per cent and in maintenance costs of 30 per cent.

Siemens (Chengdu, China)

The German giant’s plant in Chengdu makes industrial automation products; its owner has deployed an integrated  platform for flexible production, enabling it to take orders, allocate resources, and schedule production time at once, in a single interface, leading to 100 per cent quality compliance and 100 per cent traceability.

Fast Radius (Chicago, IL)

US additive manufacturer Fast Radius has set up shop with UPS in Chicago to enable mass customisation and rapid delivery of products through “distributed, industrial-grade” 3D printing, driving real-time analytics and rapid design, production and global fulfilment.

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