Digitalisation, automation, IoT, AI, blockchain, 3D printing – I could continue the list with quite a few juicy terms. How many times have you read or heard one of these words during the last week? I dare to wager that it was quite a few. Certain themes rise to the surface and remain a topic for discussion, until a new trendy word rises to everybody’s lips. Instead of using inordinate amounts of time and energy around an individual concept or technology, we should shift our focus to the change taking place in the big picture and to what kind of a future we could create with the help of various technological enablers.
New trends force changes upon the current operations
Automation and robotisation alone are not enough to answer the challenges placed on companies by the global market and the increasingly demanding customer needs. Companies have no choice but to draw parallels between their development and, for instance, the following trends:
- Smart products, production systems, production and delivery chains;
- Renovation of the design of products and production through digitalisation and automation;
- Need-based production, real-time delivery chain, distributed production;
- Robotisation and flexible automation combined with artificial intelligence;
- Service business with (or without) the help of digitalisation; and
- Industrial ecosystems and platform economy.
I believe in the claim that the smart products and services of the future will be created in new industrial ecosystems supported by a globally connected platform economy. The leap from today to this vision seems wild, and the ability of companies to see the steps they need to take can be limited, when there is no concrete action plan available. It is therefore gratifying that we can find examples around us where a company’s own desire for development launches a networking project full of growth potential.
Expand your operations with the help of industrial networks
When a Finnish medium-sized machine manufacturer wishes to broaden its offering in order to speed up its growth in the global marketplace, the traditional model is to start planning business acquisitions. It would be more agile to avoid the risks and slowness of acquisitions by establishing a network structure, where a number of companies linked to the sector in question commit to creating a shared offering.
For global customers, this network appears as a seamless entity, while inside it, different actors work according to their own core competencies and deliver their share of the total. In this model, the success comes from working together, challenging each other within the network and obtaining help from select key customers.
Automation streamlines and adapts production
The radical renovation of design, manufacturing and service business with the help of digitalisation builds competitiveness and business opportunities for the industry also in countries with traditionally high cost structures. Robotics offers various solutions for making production more efficient and increasing productivity in the manufacturing industry.
However, it is not a question of robotisation only; an industrial company must be able to increase its agility and flexibility in order to create solutions that maximise the customer benefit. New manufacturing processes and the delivery chains built around them will bring customer-specific solutions up to a level we have not yet seen.
Thus far, automation has mostly been linked to equipment and production processes. However, the real leap in productivity will take place at the systemic level, where the entire delivery chain is examined, boldly questioning the current operating models. Must a company producing products have its own manufacturing capacity, or could it connect to a network of manufacturing plants and commission the manufacturing of the products from the plant that is most optimal to the need? On a longer term, one could think that this kind of a system is self-learning and able to adapt to the production needs of the owner of each brand. Once again, these are major questions from the perspective from the Finnish manufacturing industry; after all, we wish to ensure that we have strong connections to the future network models.
We help companies realise bold and ambitious visions
VTT possesses strong competence in the above-mentioned themes of industrial renewal, and even now, we are involved in enabling the birth of several industrial networks. In addition to technological research and development, we are a natural and competent partner also for the creation and organisation of new ecosystems.
Vice President, Sales and Business Development
(Smart Industry and Energy Systems)