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By 2030 Apparel Factories Won’t be Far Off From Automotive

In a word, the factories of the future will be all about one thing: efficiency. But what’s perhaps of greater importance is that these futuristic facilities are expected to bring manufacturing costs down by 20 percent.

These factories of tomorrow will be automated, filled with robots, and all technologies will be smart and time-saving. But what does all of that actually look like in terms of structure and processes?

A recent Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study aiming to uncover the answers found that manufacturers are keen to enhance their factories, but many are struggling to build the necessary momentum to do it.

Seventy-four percent of more than 750 production managers surveyed said their company has either already implemented, or made plans to implement, elements of the factory of the future, but only 25 percent said they achieved the year’s progress targets.

Stalling or not, strides forward for the modern-day factory will only become more necessary.

“The factory of the future is a vision for how manufacturers should enhance production by making improvements in three dimensions: plant structure, plant digitization, and plant processes,” BCG wrote.

So what does the factory of the future actually look like?

In the future, factories will have more multidirectional layouts, incorporate considerably more digital technologies and exploit the full potential of lean manufacturing.

Plant structure: When it comes to structure, layouts will be more flexible, with modular line setups and sustainable production processes, the report noted. Multidirectional layouts will allow for products to be placed on driverless transport systems and guided through production by communicating with other production machinery. Line modules will be interchangeable and production machinery can easily be reconfigured. It means, simply, that manufacturers will be able to produce a greater variety of products and still maintain high output.

Apparel manufacturers may want to take more nods from the auto industry, which has so far reached the furthest in terms of the factory of the future.

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Toyota, for example, has set up “simple and slim” product lines at factories in Mexico and China, using a modular conveyor built on the factory floor instead of in a pit to allow workers greater flexibility in changing the length of a line or moving line equipment.

Plant digitization: Digitization is making headway among manufacturers already but by 2030 it will be ever more significant. Seventy percent of automotive manufacturers surveyed said digitization would be highly relevant in 2030, compared to just 13 percent who think so today.

Manufacturers ready to take on that digitization will install more smart robots to take on more complex tasks and to communicate with workers. Collaborating robots at Volkswagen’s plant in Germany, for example, tighten screws that are hard for workers to reach.

Augmented reality will also become a tool for human workers, functioning as an overlay to their existing range of vision to help with things like assembly, logistics and order picking.

Plant processes: In 2030, factories will be designed to maximize lean manufacturing and the main focuses will be on customer centricity and continuous improvement.

Big data will increasingly be a tool for companies to use their collected customer insights to improve designs and production processes. At Daimler, customers will be able to provide input on the production of their vehicle and make last-minute changes—like a different paint color—while the car is en route to the paint shop, something more apparel manufacturers will be wise to consider as an offering in a world where personalization is in high demand.

Value chains will be fully integrated

“In the factory of the future, the value chain—made up of suppliers; component manufacturing; press, body, and paint shops; final assembly; and the customer—will be fully integrated, blurring traditional boundaries,” BCG noted.

Manufacturing will be made possible by the integration of IT systems and the slew of available data. This kind of integration is expected to strengthen connections within companies across R&D, production, sales and other areas.

Automated adjustments of machine parameters will be a staple in the 2030 factory, and 3-D printing will be key for creating prototypes and printing tools.

“With respect to plant processes, lean principles will be important throughout the value chain in 2030,” BCG said. “The use of production simulations, for example, will enable manufacturers to increase ‘pull’ in production, thereby reducing waiting times and the work in progress.”

How will the factory of the future affect manufacturing costs?

According to BCG, 10 years after implementing elements of these future factories, conversion costs will come down by as much as 40 percent and total manufacturing costs could be up to 20 percent less.

Manufacturers will also benefit from greater flexibility, quality, speed and safety when it comes to the bottom line.

“Over a ten-year period, a company’s cumulative investments to capture these benefits will amount to 13 percent to 19 percent of one year’s revenue,” the report noted.