There’s a lot of buzz about the fourth revolution of manufacturing. Most discussions highlight the exciting new capabilities in a “Digitized Factory”: advanced robotics, the Industrial Internet of Things, Big Data, Augmented Reality, Additive Manufacturing (think 3-D Printing), etc. Some challenge us to change our production models for scale customization and regional trade models. The main idea is that if these technologies and business model changes are applied wisely they will stimulate additional growth in the economy through increased productivity…because after all increased productivity is a main driver of economic growth and manufacturing has delivered before.

Here are 2 of my favorite TED Talks on the subject:

But I have to wonder how the vision of the next level of Digital Manufacturing plays in some of the plants we work with on a regular basis. Let’s call it Main Street Manufacturing. At Main Street Manufacturing, it’s not shocking to see storage tank levels occasionally recorded using the old “Board of Education,” a really long stick with a target depth level marked in magic marker. It’s certainly not uncommon for production to be tracked or quality to be recorded on clipboards and trended by hand in Excel. So, for Main Street Manufacturing, it may feel like this fourth revolution of manufacturing talk is an episode of Star Wars fiction.

Yet, you can see that a wholesale fourth Industrial Revolution is on the way. There is already considerable market pressure on many producers to be much more agile (i.e. more SKUs, more changeovers, more local supply chains, more sustainable production and design practices, etc.) and new methods will be required to meet those demands. However, the wholesale arrival date for the revolution is debatable, and may not be here for decades.  As a country, we are 5% along on the journey.

That’s good news if you don’t consider your organization to be on the bleeding edge. That’s good news if you want to participate but feel like you’re a bit behind at this juncture. That’s good news if you’re interested in growth and increased productivity. You haven’t missed the bus; you’re not late.

That said, now is the time to decide to make the leap and start plugging away. As Scalabre puts it, “…here’s the thing with growth — it does not come automatically. Mature economies will have to seize it.” You can’t jump from a non-digital manufacturing environment to predictive analytics without a thoughtful incremental approach. It will not happen overnight but over a series of years, if not decades, of investment in digitization and change. It will require a different culture; a different type of employee engagement.

Here’s 4 steps you can take today:

  1. Decide you want to have a Manufacturing Digitization Plan.
  2. Talk to others about what’s possible. You’re not too late, but others have started and you can learn from them.
  3. Assess possible areas of focus. Draft an incremental plan for strategic investments in technology, process re-design & training.  Rank potential projects by ROI & ease of execution.
  4. Talk to a young person and get them excited about what you’re doing. We’re all going to need help over the next few decades. Get involved in Manufacturing Day on October 6, 2017.

Commit. Take the first step. Bring it on. Let’s go!!!!!! You’re not late…yet.