top of page

It is time to take action! Join our Tribe of Changemakers. Sign up for Virtual Conversations! 

Issues around Advanced Manufacturing Production for today into the future are explored below:

Supporting Inclusive Technology Adoption

The development of a web of interconnected technologies is swiftly transforming production systems. New technologies are transforming the ways that we produce things.


Connectivity technologies like Wi-Fi and ZigBee, artificial intelligence technologies like speech recognition and biometrics, and flexible automation (equipment that can be refigured according to what it is being used to make) allow for radical innovation when it comes to production and related business models. Meanwhile concepts including the Internet of Things and mobile computing, and developments in data storage and processing, are enabling companies to access and analyze data from across their supply chains nearly in real-time.


Managing this tsunami of accessible data will be a key challenge for the advanced manufacturing sector going forward; according to current estimates, only between 1% and 5% of all data collected is currently being utilized, though that is poised to increase drastically in the near future. This need to make better use of data creates a corresponding need for effective governance of key enabler technologies, such as 5G networks.

Governments and manufacturers need to swiftly identify how to best leverage such new technologies. To help upgrade systems and apply cutting-edge technologies, the WEF’s Advanced Manufacturing and Production Platform set up the Global Lighthouse Network of advanced factories - highlighting their efforts, and creating a shared learning journey for manufacturers seeking to capitalize on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


In recent years the cost of sensors has been cut in half, bandwidth costs have become 40 times cheaper, and processing costs have become 60 times cheaper. By integrating “big” data (analysed using artificial intelligence) into their operations, manufacturers should be able to cut their product development and production costs in half, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.


Meanwhile developments in flexible automation have spawned networks of multi-purpose machines that are faster and more agile. In addition, 3D printing is reinventing production processes; according to the consultancy EY, about a third of plastics, automotive, aerospace, pharmaceutical and medical companies are using 3D printing to make actual components or products as opposed to just prototyping.

Mitigating Workforce Disruption

KIKAO SDG 11.png
KIKAO SDG 11.png

Advances in technology are disrupting the sector's labor market. More than half of the children now entering primary school will eventually have a job that does not currently exist, according to a report published by the WEF; as more business models are disrupted, it will very soon have a broad, profound impact on employment.


One of the biggest factors driving that change is the advancement of manufacturing technologies. This will transform manufacturing into a relatively sophisticated sector in need of fewer workers and more skilled engineers. Overall, as much as one quarter of the tasks currently completed by industrial workers in developed countries could be automated by 2025, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.

Preparing these workers for the difficulty of a transitioning labor market poses a serious challenge for both governments and companies, and is likely to require an inclusive, multi-stakeholder approach. In addition, schools and universities need to better anticipate the changes being brought about by disruptive innovation, and adapt accordingly - while outside of school, lifelong learning must become more common for workers in need of new skills for the future.

Educational institutions need to collaborate more closely with governments and companies in order to identify essential skills and attributes for the future - particularly science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills, critical thinking, and organizational science (studying the hows and whys of the ways that organizations function). There is a looming shortage of data scientists, for example, making it a potentially ideal educational path.

To that end, businesses can deploy digitally-enabled training that makes use of augmented and virtual reality. To help ensure a sufficient talent pipeline for advanced manufacturing companies, the WEF’s Advanced Manufacturing and Production Platform set up a taskforce of Chief Human Resource Officers (or their equivalent), supported by academia, governments and civil society to more proactively transition to the jobs of the future.


Most business leaders need to reorient their strategies in order to close the gap between employee supply and demand, and to better manage continuously evolving technologies. Innovative ways of upgrading existing skills must be integrated into daily routines, and companies need to be prepared to accommodate a new generation of digital natives.

Unlocking Data to Unleash Innovation


The benefits of access to richer information are clear, but fears of data sharing abound. Concerns about data use in manufacturing abound. According to a white paper published by the World Economic Forum in 2020, a significant portion of managers in the sector are concerned about inadvertently revealing competitive information through data sharing - even as the bulk of managers believe data sharing improves their operations.


Governments frequently play a significant role in data sharing - some countries have strict data localization requirements, for example, which can make it difficult even to exchange data within different international outposts of a single company (the data localization efforts of some emerging markets have been pared down in the face of lobbying by Western technology firms). 


Data, and the ability to manage it effectively, is critical for leveraging emerging technologies that are transforming production, like advanced analytics and artificial intelligence. Advanced analytics and AI require large amounts of data to train decision-making and prediction algorithms, for example. But not all manufacturers have sufficient data, or expertise in using it, to fuel these applications - compelling them to partner with other companies.

While companies may be worried about security and privacy as data is shared, the benefits of access to richer information are clear. For example, most manufacturers have relatively low visibility into their value chains (which include everything from production to sales); closer collaboration is therefore needed in order to more clearly understand product location, condition, and authenticity - and provide better quality. 


Even with emerging technologies such as blockchain and various privacy enhancing techniques, achieving complete security (and privacy) remains an elusive task. While analyzing a combined data set, all participants need to establish upfront who owns what, who can access the results, and who will benefit from those results.


Exchanging data also remains difficult in terms of technical standards; if participants do not use common standards, data models, and naming conventions, combining data becomes a chore. The WEF’s Advanced Manufacturing and Production Platform has established a project, Unlocking Value in Manufacturing through Data Sharing, which focuses on unleashing the full potential of data - and addressing related challenges faced by every stakeholder in the sector.

Navigating Global Value Chain Disruption


Traditional manufacturing supply chains are being replaced by powerful new digital platforms. According to the World Bank, some of the most popular destinations for offshore manufacturing now include Viet Nam and Cambodia.


Developments in trade, tariffs, and taxation are altering patterns of global production - as new markets develop, old markets adapt. Meanwhile formerly low-cost locations that have become more costly are finding new competitive advantages; for example, every second industrial robot made is now being shipped to China.


In contrast to the quickened pace of production within many regions, overall productivity growth has slowed. In late 2019, the International Monetary Fund cautioned that weakened economic growth momentum over the prior year had been a result of a broad-based, “notable” slowdown in industrial output. As they seek to reinvigorate productivity and navigate choppy geo-economic waters, developed countries are bringing manufacturing back from offshore locations.

According to the US Reshoring Initiative, some 338,000 manufacturing jobs were created in this way in the US between 2010 and 2016. However, the IMF has warned that reshoring production to advanced economies that cannot match the efficiency or labour costs of other locations may lead to a less-open global economy, and hinder economic activity.


In terms of attracting foreign direct investment, the US remains in the global lead, with China, Germany, and Brazil following. All stakeholders need to understand the implications of these shifts for global value chains (including everything from production to sales). In light of this urgent need, the WEF’s Platform for Advanced Manufacturing and Production is undertaking an effort to develop a better understanding of the transformations underway in production and value chains - both from a corporate and from a broader sustainable development perspective.


However, there has been an upswing in trade protectionism. The US and China have been locked into a trade conflict (which may yet thaw), while the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union following its exit from the bloc remains unclear.  Other regional shifts include the US, Canada, and Mexico preparing to cooperate under the terms of a trade agreement that replaces NAFTA, the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union pursuing new forms of cooperation with China and Iran, and the African Continental Free Trade Area.

Accelerating Sustainability


The circular economy, or an economy designed around production and consumption that produce zero waste through reuse and recycling, provides a model that can help the manufacturing sector contribute to broader global sustainability. Sustainable production is becoming a competitive advantage. Making production systems responsible for significant carbon dioxide emissions more sustainable is critical for fighting climate change, and for ensuring the right kind of future economic growth.


Examples of production that have employed circular economy practices include the construction of facilities for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London that were designed for deconstruction and later use (in addition to the use of leftover gas pipelines in the Olympic stadium’s structure), according to a report published by the think tank CEPS in 2017.


Related technology advancements and further organizational innovation could boost resource productivity - the amount of value that can be wrung from a single resource - and create new economic value. Leaders of governments, businesses, and non-governmental organizations all must play a role in making this shift to circular principles happen, particularly in light of the current rate of climate change.

About half of the world’s energy consumption and 20% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to the manufacturing sector; more sustainable production has to become the global standard as soon as possible.


Production requires a sufficient number of manufacturers and consumers willing and able to use recycled materials, and the Accelerating Sustainable Production project run by the WEF’s Advanced Manufacturing and Production Platform serves as a guide for optimizing the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in production - helping countries and businesses achieve sustainable growth and contribute to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.


Businesses can nudge consumers towards sustainable consumption by selling more durable products, while policy-makers can implement rules that reduce the price of those products - and levy taxes on goods made at facilities with large carbon footprints. Public procurement policies can help by requiring a minimum amount of re-purposed raw material in purchases. In addition, providing a standard way for companies to report sustainable activities could help them gauge their effectiveness, and regulations encouraging the use of sustainable products (like allowing electric cars to use bus lanes) can help increase demand.



Nearly all current manufacturing models are based on the old paradigm, which was proven to be inadequate. Therefore, manufacturing technology, along with culture and economy, are held responsible for providing new tools and opportunities for building novel resolutions towards a sustainable manufacturing concept.


One of such tools is sustainability assessment measures. Revising and updating such tools
is a core responsibility of the manufacturing sector to efficiently evaluate and enhance sustainable manufacturing performance. These measures should be adequate to respond to the growing sustainability concerns in pursuit of an integrated sustainability concept.


Policy-makers and business leaders will need to develop new related approaches and work together, in order to build innovative production systems that truly benefit everyone. Breakthroughs in computing, sensors, mobile connectivity, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, and advanced materials are transforming manufacturing and production systems.


New business models, based on platforms and developing an ability to offer new services rather than simply delivering products, will change the ways that manufacturing companies operate. The triple bottom line that includes environment, economic, and social dimensions has usually been used to evaluate sustainability.

bottom of page