From Adam Smith's division of labor to the Industrial Revolution and the 1990s high-tech boom, manufacturing has been swept by periodic waves of disruptive change. A.T. Kearney examines how companies can thrive in the Future of Manufacturing.

In the 19th century, it was interchangeable parts. In the 20th century, it was Henry Ford’s assembly line and Toyota’s later improvements on the concept. Today, it is new technologies such as 3-D printing, the risks of global supply chains, the exponential growth of data, and changing demographics.

The Future of Manufacturing is once again a hot topic, as disruptive forces quickly erode the status quo and open up exciting new opportunities. On a broad level, CEOs and COOs need to be thinking about questions such as:

  • What are the longer-term challenges that will impact operations?
  • How will these challenges affecting the manufacturing setup and competitive environment?
  • What solutions and best practices are being applied to address these challenges?

What makes this exercise especially complex is the convergence of trends from two directions: from familiar areas that constantly influence the business, and from lesser-known areas that can nonetheless profoundly affect the company. Conceptually, it can be useful to think in terms of the six core areas reflected in the interactive graphic immediately below.

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The world often takes manufacturing for granted. But when disruptive trends change manufacturing in fundamental ways, all eyes turn to those capable of navigating the rapid shifts with insightful and responsive strategies. In this first in a series of papers on disruptive changes in manufacturing, we discuss three driving forces occurring in familiar areas: new manufacturing technologies, going beyond lean, and shifting labor relations. These are followed by an examination of driving forces that could be the source of looming blind spots: the power shift from West to East, end-to-end optimization, and elevated volatility and risk.
Adopting an approach that isolates and evaluates the most relevant trends within the six core areas of your manufacturing business is essential for formulating strategies that deliver both an immediate impact and a longer-term advantage.

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