CTO, Irish Manufacturing Research
The future of manufacturing is intertwined with the major societal concerns of our time. The industry has a leading role to play in helping to address the climate crisis, labour equality and the future of work.
As the world emerges from COVID restrictions, demand has skyrocketed across many sectors, yet COVID has also left many lasting impacts in respect of industry operations and how consumers interact with brands.
Achieving net zero
Manufacturing can play a leading role in our transition to a net zero world, from product design through to adopting circular economic models, energy optimisation and supply chain decarbonisation.
A recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, commissioned by WWF, highlights that searches for sustainable goods have increased by 71% over the past five years, even during COVID. Life cycle assessment (LCA) reporting will increasingly inform consumer behaviour. Leading manufacturers will embrace this opportunity well ahead of the mandatory legislation that will inevitably follow.
Data enabled change
Data is ultimately the lifeblood of making informed change. The twin transitions of digitisation and sustainability depend on making data-driven decisions. Intuitive decision making is not scalable nor repeatable. The next evolution of manufacturing ecosystems will require even greater levels of sharing. Sustainable goals are shared goals and initiatives that are providing trusted shared data environments will be key to the realisation of many of these objectives.
Sustainable goals are shared goals and initiatives that are providing trusted shared data environments will be key to the realisation of many of these objectives.
The impact of AI in manufacturing
Better data also enables the deployment of AI which is highly suited to manufacturing environments to address tasks such as inspection, predictive maintenance and energy optimisation. A 2020 PwC report estimates that AI could have a 14% increase on global GDP by 2030 with manufacturing globally contributing over 10% of gains. However, to make this a reality, much more investment is required in R&D, skills and training.
Future of work
AI and automation are unstoppable trends, raising questions about the future of human work. However, these technologies do not replace human flexibility or creativity. Therefore, we are likely to see an increase in human-in-the-loop decision making, empowering humans to make critical decisions and address novel challenges, supported by flexible physical and digital automation.During COVID, many companies reduced their investments in digitalisation and sustainability transformations, yet research indicates that continued commitment to these plans would provide resilience against future economic shocks. The twin transition will eventually stop being nice to have and will become the only model for future success.