HomeChannelsFundamentalsFrom BMW to Saudi Aramaco: Seven of the smartest factories in the world

From BMW to Saudi Aramaco: Seven of the smartest factories in the world

The World Economic Forum has expanded its list of the most advanced factories in the world, consolidating Europe’s position as the smartest region for manufacturing. China shores up its second place. The US and Middle East trail behind.

In total, seven new ‘lighthouse’ factories (listed below) have been added to an original cohort of nine, drawn up in September last year with consultancy McKinsey and Company. Of these, four are from Europe, two are from China, and one is from the Middle East.

They join five European and three Chinese facilities from the original list. Only US additive manufacturer Fast Radius, based in Chicago, made the top 16 from the US.

According to the World Economic Forum, nearly half (43.75 per cent) of the smartest factories in the world are from Europe, the home of the Industrie 4.0 movement, and nearly a third are from China (31.25 per cent). Outside of China, only Germany and Italy have more than a single entry. Italian-based white-goods parts manufacturer Rold, a firm of just 240 staff, is the only mid-sized enterprise; the rest are established names, with major scale.

Entrants were selected from an initial list of 1,000 manufacturers, based on their successful implementation of so-called ‘fourth industrial revolution’ technologies – such as the internet of things (IoT), automation, big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and multi-access edge computing (MEC) – in ways that have driven financial and operational impact.

The programme has been designed to help industries adopt the technologies of the future. All members of the network agree to share knowledge with other manufacturers. More than 70 per cent of businesses investing in new digital technologies fail to move beyond the pilot phase, it said.

Enno de Boer, head of McKinsey’s global manufacturing practice, proclaimed a “turning point” for smart manufacturing. “We are now seeing the start of the second phase… technologies are penetrating the core of all industries,” he said.

“However, these leaders have a two-year head start ahead of companies that are still sorting out how to scale. We are running the risk that the value creation will be centred around a few ecosystems, rather than disseminated across entire industries. The race has clearly started.”

Helena Leurent, head of the World Economic Forum’s ‘future production system initiative’, commented: “Rather than replacing operators with machines, lighthouse factories are transforming work to make it less repetitive, more interesting, diversified and productive. Rather than staying within the factory walls, Lighthouses build a broad innovation system with business, government and civil society.”

The seven new ‘lighthouse’ factories are as follow:

BMW Group (Regensburg, Germany)
“This car plant manufactured approximately 320,000 vehicles in 2018. By using the custom BMW internet of things platform, it incurred time and cost, but the result has been cut the time to deploy all new applications by 80 per cent leading to, among other things, a significant reduction in logistics costs and five per cent reduction in quality issues.”

Danfoss (Tianjin, China)
“This factory makes compressors for refrigerators, air conditioning units and other products. By using its full digital traceability system and digital tools such as smart sensors, visual inspection, auto monitoring system etc. to improve quality control, it has improved labour productivity by 30 per cent and decreased customer complaints by 57 per cent within two years.”

Foxconn (Shenzhen, China)
“This factory, which specialises in components for smartphones and other electrical equipment, boasts a fully automated manufacturing process with machine learning and AI driving auto optimisation of equipment, smart self-maintenance and real-time status monitoring in smart production. Its approach has resulted in efficiency gains of 30 per cent and lowered its stock cycle by 15 per cent.”

Rold (Cerro Maggiore, Italy)
“This 240-employee business makes locking mechanisms for washing machines and dishwashers. As the only SME in the Lighthouse network, its use of technologies such as smart watches, rapid prototyping and digital dashboards has helped improve turnover by between seven and eight per cent.”

Sandvik Coromant (Gimo, Sweden)
“This producer of cutting tools and solutions has created a digital thread through its production processes that has significantly raised labour productivity. One example is its ‘touchless changeover’ which allows design patterns to be changed automatically, even during unmanned shifts.”

Saudi Aramco (Uthmaniyah, Saudi Arabia)
“The giant’s gas processing plant has become a leader in a number of technologies, including the use of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence solutions via Saudi Aramco’s ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution Center’, the use of drones to inspect pipelines and machinery (cutting inspection times by 90 per cent), and wearable technologies such as digital helmets that help workers cut the time it takes to make inspections and repairs.”

Tata Steel (IJmuiden, The Netherlands)
“This plant of 9,000 employees is putting its people first, creating an ‘advanced analytics academy’ to help workers come up with solutions to reduce waste, and improve the quality and reliability of production processes. This work has resulted in a significant improvement in financial results.”

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