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The factories of the future are a lot closer than you think

Factories, mills, and plants are now seeking to improve factory efficiency, productivity, and sustainability to maintain a competitive edge in years to come. Not everyone will succeed, but it is easy to spot the telling signs of the companies standing among the winners in ten years, if you know where to look.

Imagine waking up in the morning. A fresh pot of coffee awaits with the press of a button from your home system app. Hopping into a self-driving car and reading the news on the way to work makes the commute a breeze. You greet some colleagues and an occasional factory robot passes by while making your way to the workstation. There was an unexpected interruption with the production line last week, and you are eager to try out some improvement simulations by using a digital twin. This is going to be a good day.

The future factory and industry 4.0 might seem like something out of a science fiction novel, but rest assured, we are already setting the basis for a smarter, more efficient, and sustainable tomorrow. A clean environment and keeping up with the global competition are massive trends that shape multiple industries profoundly – and determine if we even have a business to run in the future.

For plants and factories, it does not only mean building more efficient and sustainable operations but optimizing already existing facilities and processes to meet the needs of the future factory. Johan Ehrnrooth, Vice president of Etteplan’s Smart Factory offering knows the state of factories very well having worked many years in the industry.

“We are talking about long-term trends that are here to stay. Sustainability, maintaining biodiversity, and global competition all create the need to develop and renew to create optimized production facilities. We must do things smarter to enable factory efficiency and productivity that, in turn, creates benefits for business and the environment,” he says.

Factory efficiency does indeed cater to both needs. Decreasing loss, whether it is matter or energy, reduces costs and environmental impact. The benefits are undoubtedly intertwined, and Etteplan is already working with various professionals and experts to deliver the opportunities of smarter factories to its customers.

The benefits are tangible, and the winners of the future are already reaping them

Newer factories, and the ones being built right now, are already seeing vast improvements from their older siblings. But even the outdated facilities are advancing working on process optimization. Taking the first step is crucial and the key to success is to constantly keep moving to the right direction.

“We are talking about big investments, both financially and in practice. Factories, plants, and mills are massive in size, so it is impossible to achieve change overnight. The winners of the future, however, are the companies piloting, testing, and improving one step and function at a time,” Ehrnrooth says. There is no one solution to fit everyone. The companies who are seeking the best possible processes, technologies, and talent to support their individual smart factory journey have the best shot at success already today. And it is not only about cost-efficient business but being ready to cater to the demands of today’s consumers, partners, and employees.

“Clients, partners, and employees all make decisions based on values such as social and environmental responsibility. They are happy to vote with their feet if your business doesn’t meet the expectations. Of course, Etteplan’s global talent network exists to enable the change for the better,” Ehrnrooth points out. In terms of potential employees, the competition is tough, and the top talent prefers to work with modern technologies and processes. Outdated systems, fragmented data, and inefficiency that hinders workflow are rarely seen as appealing. The overall investment might seem steep, but eventually, it will become a self-feeding cycle – the smart in smart factories stems from people, after all.

“Big data predictions, factory robotics, and other advanced steps are of course highly beneficial to many. But they alone do not make a smart factory. It’s the combination of people, well-thought processes, and appropriate technology and software solutions that set the foundation to adapt and evolve in the ever-shifting landscape,” Ehrnrooth concludes.