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Critical Issues 2016/2017


The Manufacturing Leadership Council’s annual Critical Issues Agenda reflects a unique member-driven process that identifies the most urgent and important issues facing the global manufacturing industry in the year ahead. The Critical Issues also drive the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s strategic plan for the next twelve months, directly influencing all major elements of its content, research, events, and services portfolio.

The Journey to Manufacturing 4.0

The global manufacturing industry is at a pivotal point in its history.

Driven by a surge in advanced digital and analytical technologies, manufacturing companies around the world are now pursuing a future vision for their businesses that will transform the rules of competition, how work will be performed, how companies will be organized, and how leadership must lead.

We term this future state: Manufacturing 4.0.

The vision for Manufacturing 4.0 is a state in which production is increasingly automated, modular, data-driven, agile, predictive, and rapidly reconfigurable to meet changing demands and competition. Products are smart, customized, connected, self-diagnosing, and provide a rich platform for new service revenue streams. Supply chains are visible, traceable, risk-resilient, responsive, and constantly analyzed in real-time. Enterprises are cross-functional, collaborative and highly integrated, often around a single digital thread that stretches from design to deployment. And both leaders and employees are highly engaged, digitally-savvy, customer-centric, continually innovative, and ready to adapt to new challenges and grasp new business opportunities. 

The Manufacturing Leadership Council's Critical Issues Agenda is designed to help manufacturers align their thinking and practices for a successful journey to Manufacturing 4.0.


The Manufacturing Leadership Council’s Critical Issues Agenda for 2016/2017 includes:

Factories of the Future

Large and small manufacturers, in both process and discrete manufacturing, must now understand and embrace the potential of new and evolving production models, materials and technologies along the journey towards Manufacturing 4.0 to help them create more autonomous, flexible, connected, automated, intelligent, reconfigurable, and sustainable factories and production models for the future.

Specific Areas of Focus for 2016/2017

  • Migration paths and road maps towards Manufacturing 4.0, from current production models to a future state.
  • End-to-end digitization and analysis of manufacturing and engineering processes and functions.
  • Agile, modular, and sustainable production models for Manufacturing 4.0.

The Integrated Manufacturing Enterprise

To maximize the potential of Manufacturing 4.0, manufacturers of all sizes need to actively transform traditional, inhibitive functional silos to create more integrated, cross-functional, collaborative enterprise structures, both within and beyond their organizations. These structures must be supported by new digital thread technologies that stretch across the value chain from ideation, to product end of use. 

Specific Areas of Focus for 2016/2017

  • Integrated, end-to-end, enterprise-wide value chains that unify the company’s overall mission and key activities.
  • Digital threads that constantly connect and inform all functions of the enterprise.
  • Holistic, integrated approaches to sustainability that keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times while minimizing environmental impacts as part of a circular industrial economy.

Innovation in Manufacturing  

Manufacturers must now successfully develop and manage rapid, continuous, collaborative, and often disruptive innovation processes across the enterprise to drive growth, new products and services, operational efficiencies, and competitive success in the world of Manufacturing 4.0.  

Specific Areas of Focus for 2016/2017

  • Best practice innovation processes that deliver innovative ideas and improvements across the enterprise – from the plant floor, to new products and services.
  • Collaborative innovation that leverages employees, suppliers, external partners, customers, academia, and 'the crowd'.
  • How manufacturing can play an active role in product and business model innovations that ultimately deliver enhanced customer experience.

Transformative Technologies in Manufacturing

Manufacturers must learn how to identify, adopt, and scale the most promising M4.0-enabling technologies in order to achieve greater agility and competitiveness and to drive innovative new business models and better customer experiences.  

Specific Areas of Focus for 2016/2017

  • The latest developments in smart machines, the Internet of Things, Big Data, 3D printing technologies, plant floor analytics, modelling and simulation, mobile, cloud, and collaborative robotics.
  • Smart, connected products and digital platforms that allow companies to develop and deploy new service-driven business models.
  • Strategies for encouraging and implementing standards and architectures that support open, interoperable systems.

Next-Generation Manufacturing Leadership and the Changing Workforce

Manufacturing 4.0 requires manufacturing leaders and their teams to become more collaborative, innovative, and responsive and to make decisions based on a greater understanding of manufacturing’s role in company strategy. That means leaders must embrace new behaviors, structures, and strategies. And they must transition the talent within their organizations by identifying, attracting, developing and retaining the next generation of people and skills.

Specific Areas of Focus for 2016/2017  

  • Leadership role models, behaviors, and mindsets for Manufacturing 4.0.
  • Employee engagement strategies for a multi-generational, multi-cultural, multinational workforce.
  • Identifying and developing new skills for tomorrow’s manufacturing workforce.

Cybersecurity in Manufacturing

In the face of increasing vulnerability to external cyber threats and potential internal disruption, manufacturing companies must identify the most effective cybersecurity processes and technologies and create a culture that will ensure operational continuity, data security and IP protection.  

Specific Areas of Focus for 2016/2017

  • Cyber vulnerabilities, detection methodologies, and security technologies in manufacturing operations and the supply chain.
  • Bridging the gap between IT and Operations to improve manufacturing cybersecurity.
  • Cybersecurity best practice policies, training, behaviors and education, including an understanding of the global cybersecurity regulatory environment.