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European manufacturers are failing to effectively leverage smart factory technologies

Published: 11 October 2019 - Sarah Mead

Two in three European manufacturers are missing an opportunity to use insights generated by smart factories to enhance decision making, according to new study results published today by Fujitsu. Despite a widespread consensus about the return on investment from the use of smart factory tech, the majority of manufacturers are yet to leverage its full benefits.

Findings from a survey conducted for Fujitsu by leading European technology research organisation teknowlogy|PAC1 confirm that most manufacturers are still in the early stages of digital transformation. With the manufacturing sector currently undergoing an economic downturn, smart manufacturing could provide the impetus for growth – with 97 per cent of manufacturers who have implemented the technology reporting positive results within three years.

Ranging from the Internet of Things and cloud computing to artificial intelligence, smart factory technologies help enhance efficiency and profitability, for example by enabling the efficient mass customisation of products, and by using predictive maintenance to reduce unplanned downtime.

Johan Carstens, CTO, Manufacturing and Automotive, Northern and Western Europe Region comments: “Today, the vast majority of manufacturers are still missing out on the actionable insights provided by smart factory technology. Only 28 per cent are using this intelligence to support business decision making, although a further 29 per cent expect to start doing so within three years. Our interpretation is that the digital manufacturing revolution is about to happen, but is being held back by cost, complexity and the lack of ability to analyse the data.”

Despite low widespread adoption, there is clear recognition within the manufacturing industry regarding the potential of smart factory technologies. Almost two thirds (63 per cent) of companies plan to increase investments in the next three years, and only one in 50 companies plans to reduce its budget in this area.

Smart factory projects are still very early on in their smart factory journeys: 37 per cent are still in the planning stage, a similar number (36 per cent) are running some early pilots and 19 per cent have live implementations that are delivering business benefits.

Most companies consider smart factories to be a key strategic objective

Fujitsu expects smart factory implementations to grow rapidly, since most companies consider smart factory initiatives to be a key strategic objective: 62 per cent rate its importance between 7/10 and 9/10. However, technology implementations are complex and the majority of businesses are still in the early phases of implementation2. Today, only eight per cent of businesses consider their smart manufacturing implementations to be at an advanced stage.

Despite this relative immaturity, businesses are reporting an encouraging return on investment. Not only have 44 per cent of projects achieved ROI, but the returns have been rapid. Of manufacturers that have seen benefits, for almost half (45 per cent) this occurred within less than a year, while for 52 per cent, it took between one and three years.

Johan Carstens, CTO, Manufacturing and Automotive, Northern and Western Europe Region adds: “It’s no longer enough for manufacturers simply to offer a range of standard options – we are seeing consumers increasingly demanding custom orders with a lot size of one, but for the same price. This is simply impossible to achieve via traditional manufacturing, but smart technologies make it possible – and as a consequence, first movers in the market are currently commanding a price premium. Manufacturers can move rapidly from proof of concept to commercial-grade smart factory rollout by choosing a trusted partner like Fujitsu, with deep experience of planning and deploying all aspects of these projects – with the end result being more effective leverage of the valuable data assets they are already generating.”

The survey found that the main challenges in implementing smart manufacturing include purchase cost (58 per cent), building the business case (48 per cent), the lack of skilled staff (47 per cent) and the complexity of analysing data (43 per cent). To tackle these challenges, early adopters are working with software firms (92 per cent) and IT service providers (90 per cent).


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