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Lighthouse Factories Are Shining Examples for Supply Chains Everywhere


Friday January 18, 2019

A quick Google search on lighthouses reveals some interesting trivia: Lighthouses have been around since ancient Egypt; here in the U.S., lighthouse keeping was one of the first government jobs available to women; and in the 1700s, fog was not signaled with a horn, but by a canon blast. Along with warning of foggy conditions and other potential dangers, a lighthouse is, of course, a navigational aid — a tower and beacon illuminating the waterways and serving as a vital reference point.

Supply chain leaders could also benefit from this kind of illumination, as corporations around the world struggle with issues including the labor shortage, rapidly advancing technologies, complex trade challenges, and smarter and more demanding customers. In fact, the World Economic Forum (WEF) found that 70 percent of manufacturers can’t get past the pilot phase with their big data, artificial intelligence and additive manufacturing initiatives.

But there is a light in the distance. Last year, the WEF vetted 1,000 manufacturers, eventually selecting the “lighthouses.” WEF describes these advanced factories as those that weather the storm with quick-thinking teams, the fastest shop-floor innovation and effective maximization of fourth-industrial-revolution technologies. These tools are known for fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds.

Lighthouse manufacturers represent diverse industries and geographical locations, and all are sharing their knowledge with others. “These model factories … are starting a unique learning journey that will benefit the production ecosystem,” write authors Enno de Boer, Helena Leurent and Adrian Widmer, in a recent article from McKinsey & Company, which partnered with the WEF on this project. “They are thinking scale, acting agile and resetting the benchmark.”

The authors go on to explain that, although most companies appear to be stuck in “pilot purgatory,” when fourth-industrial-revolution innovation is taken beyond the pilot phase, supply chains realize extraordinary efficiency gains and demonstrate how technology can upskill and engage people.

Enlightened employees

Contrary to prevalent fears over worker displacement, these lighthouse factories are not choosing technology over people. Rather, humans are being trained on less-repetitive, more interesting jobs. Operators now focus on pursuits in which their decision-making skills and flexibility in new situations bring value.

The Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM) may be brand new, but we have always recognized the importance of corporate transformation via workforce learning and development. To that end, ASCM will continue to offer the industry-leading APICS certifications you have relied on for more than 60 years.

We are also expanding to deliver end-to-end professional development and education through our global network of thought-leadership partnerships and alliances. And our new Supply Chain Learning Center is a centralized hub for education and professional development providing online and on-demand learning opportunities.

Gearing up for the fourth industrial revolution is easier said than done, but these lighthouses are pointing the way. Look to ASCM for the tools you and your workforce need to get there.

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