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Event Summary – The Future of Manufacturing

June 11, 2019 Bren de LeeuwBC Lower Mainland 196 Views

If you could look into the future 10, 15 or 20 years from now, is there one thing that would be different for you in the manufacturing world?

With this thought in mind, so began this month’s BC Lower Mainland SIG (Strategic Interest Group) peer networking event focused on ‘The Future of Manufacturing!’  Guest Speaker, Scott McNeil-Smith joined us to provide an excellent overview of industry trends including workforce issues (shortages, future skills, productivity), technical impacts (advanced manufacturing and automation, digitization, cybersecurity) and sustainability (energy, carbon, legislative impacts and strategies).

Manufacturing process, future skills, industry trends, Scott McNeil-Smith

There was a lot of information to take in and our guest speaker provided a thorough and fabulous overview that led to some interesting discussion about the future and what it means for BC and Canadian industries.

As manufacturers seek to build their future, increasing issues affecting business growth are driving additional demands on day-to-day operations and the ability to remain competitive.

The rapid advance of technology, as an example, is accelerating the need for new and enhanced expertise – some of which may not yet be defined – adding to the growing skills shortage.  This advancement also creates greater pressure on many other aspects of business that inhibits competitiveness.  However, the path to innovation and acceleration to technology will enable companies to become more adept, efficient and agile once the manufacturing processes and right talent is in place.

We began the session by looking at the top challenges manufacturers are facing in 2019.  Scott mentioned that for the first time in seven years, the skills shortage has overtaken cost control.  Cybersecurity continues to be a rising concern.  For the most part, companies continue to grow and build on their people, capacity and capability needs.  The skills shortage exists in every region across Canada.  Lack of skills and experience and a low number of applicants continues to be the number one cause of hard-to-fill vacancies. 

“When developing strategies for the future success of manufacturers and processors, there are many aspects beyond the traditional 4.0 items (automation, robotics, AI, etc.) that need to be considered,” said Scott McNeil-Smith. “The pace of change is increasing exponentially, people, plant & processes are being stretched thin and the demand on skills for jobs not-yet envisioned is a huge challenge.”

The pace of change is so significant in the manufacturing environment, that oftentimes the way we think gets in the way.  How can we be competitive without changing our mindsets on what we do and how we do it?

We reviewed the four industrial revolutions and also looked at the differences between innovation and disruption.  Scott mentioned that when people and technology are integrated into growth, we have the greatest manufacturing success.

Among the top 10 skills most important in today’s workforce are creativity, critical thinking and decision making.  We heard other manufacturers are hiring for fit.  A peer comment heard was “skilled labour isn’t cheap…  and cheap labour isn’t skilled…”.

By 2030, it is projected 80% of workers will be impacted to some extent, by the technological changes to come in manufacturing.  Analysts predict there may be 20-25% fewer workers deployed on a line or project, but ideally doing other things within the business. This will result in an estimate that operating costs may improve by 10% or better with the impending changes to come.

Technical impacts and cybersecurity became our next topic.  Scott pointed out that although this has been identified as one of the most critical issues facing manufacturers in the next five years, there is still considerable complacency.  He told the group that only 58% of Canadian firms have noted that ‘information security’ has little or no influence on their business strategy or plans, 67% of firms do not have a threat intelligence program, and 52% confirmed that they have no breach protection plan.

He underscored that cybersecurity issues are not “if” it will happen but is now “when” it happens.  It can take upwards of 230 days to find malware (which can mimic programs seamlessly) on a system.  We need to monitor traffic not only at the firewall but beyond the firewall as well.

Best practices when it comes to cybersecurity include:

  • Educating staff
  • Taking inventory of all assets
  • Implementing access controls
  • Bring your own devices for personal communication
  • Monitoring
  • Provide information needed to make good/safe decisions

Again, with the future in mind, manufacturers present turned thoughts to energy and sustainability matters and how we can do more with less.

Carbon is becoming one of the most significant catalysts. It is driving additional costs to business, society, the environment and the economy in general.   Developing good business plans on sustainability can drive improvements helping companies to become more compliant, opportunistic, strategic and transformational.  All in attendance agreed that we cannot improve something unless we measure it.

Scott reviewed the manufacturing business case of the ‘Triple Bottom Line’ (People/Planet/Profit) and that the most important aspect in this are the people.  People are the drivers of everything.  Within each center are also opportunities and profit centers. 

Energy will always remain a major cost, but if we can look at ways to mitigate that cost by driving improvements in key areas, than that can be very significant.

Following, Scott shared information on the MEC (Manufacturing Essential Certification) Program and we chatted about non-traditional sources of employment and the development of essential skills.  Essential skills will enable all future skills to come.

We began with a post-it note exercise that asked those participating in our session today to name one thing that might be different 20-25 years from now in manufacturing – and we finished our discussion by reviewing those:

  • Robotics
  • Highly automated
  • AI
  • Data/Cloud management will grow
  • Higher skill requirements (such as technical labour)
  • Attraction and retention of employees in non-automated processes
  • Ongoing skill shortages
  • Increase in innovation and reduction of manual labour
  • Less waste and more sustainable practices
  • More state-of-the art equipment with greater efficiencies

Roundtable Networking:

Roundtable discussion included:

  • Skills shortages issues, challenges and opportunities
  • Growing demand for customer design, variability and customized requirements
  • Production pricing overriding product value
  • Escalating business growth
  • Cost of doing business locally and price pressures to enable competitiveness
  • Customization and investment in new equipment and automation
  • Engagement of shop floor for improvement initiatives
  • Building and fostering a culture of teamwork
  • The impact of waste
  • Plastics will be a thing of the past causing a flip on packaging

It was a very interesting morning and many companies enjoyed the opportunity to connect with peers after to continue the discussion and to meet to learn more about each other.

Very special thanks to our Guest Speaker, Scott McNeil-Smith, who did a fabulous job at sharing his thoughts and perspectives about the Future of Manufacturing.  Thank you as well to all of our Manufacturing Members, Guests and Community Partners who joined us for this lively presentation!

All the best, as always!

Bren de Leeuw, Western Canada Operations
Excellence In Manufacturing Consortium - bdeleeuw@emccanada.org - 519-372-6009