Jason Bergstrom 1 634eb5f308ea7

Tackling manufacturers’ mounting challenges: Lessons from The Smart Factory @ Wichita

Oct. 18, 2022

Today’s manufacturers face greater complexity than ever before. According to Deloitte’s 2022 Manufacturing Supply Chain Study, 80% experienced a heavy supply chain disruption in the previous 12-18 months as a result of delays, scarcity of parts, and transportation issues due to truck-driver shortages and congested ports. Add the continued impacts of COVID-19, a shifting economy, global conflicts, cybersecurity concerns, and a widening talent gap, and you start to see the full picture manufacturers are up against.  

Compounding these problems, many organizations still find themselves relying on outdated systems to power operations in their factories and warehouses. They are finding it is no longer possible to keep up. 

As such, companies are reevaluating the physical location of their operations. Reshoring—or bringing back domestic production—and nearshoring—establishing new production, domestically, which was once international—is on the rise. Industry players in medical technology, batteries and semi-conductors are leading the way with this trend, influenced by recent encouraging government policies and investments in the US. 

How can manufacturers tackle these challenges and evolve their operations to become more resilient and exceed customer demand? Smart-manufacturing processes that combine cutting-edge technologies—think artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, cloud and edge applications, robotics, vision solutions and more—are helping manufacturers completely reimagine their business strategies by turning them into end-to-end predictive and proactive operations. Marrying the unique challenges each company faces with a deep understanding of the tech stack and they fit together is critical—and we wanted to bring that to life to help manufacturers on their journey.  

Thus…The Smart Factory @ Wichita was born. 

Located on Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus, The Smart Factory is an immersive, experiential, sustainable, and education-based facility that showcases an end-to-end smart-manufacturing production line. The factory is made up of an ecosystem of more than 20 world-renowned solution providers, technology innovators and futurists who bring their technology, knowledge, expertise, and ideas to the table to help organizations make Industry 4.0 come to life.  

The idea is that we are working together to bring these companies into the future so they can better respond to the challenges of today and tomorrow. But before anyone steps foot into The Smart Factory, we spend time with our team of specialists, innovators, and ecosystem alliances to come up with tech-forward solutions that can accelerate innovation.  

In our experience, bringing organizations into The Smart Factory to test new approaches and technologies in a real-world factory environment is helping accelerate innovation and bring true smart operations to life for manufacturers.  

The talent alongside the tech 

The technology and its benefits are here for companies to use to their advantage, but what about the talent gap? While acquiring workers with the right skills is currently problematic in all industries, the gap in manufacturing fields has been widening for decades. In fact, a study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute found that the manufacturing skills gap in the US could result in 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030.The Smart Factory @ Wichita’s ecosystem is trying to help narrow this by supporting Wichita State University students in an applied-learning program at The Factory, while also inspiring a younger generation of engineers and technicians to aspire to work in factories of the future.  

One remarkable success  story is that of Mmasi Obi, a recent mechanical-engineering graduate from Wichita State University, who came to the US from Nigeria in 2017 to pursue her college education. Through her academic work at The Smart Factory @ Wichita, Mmasi helped on tours with organizations addressing pain points in their manufacturing operations and learned the ins-and-outs of the robots on the shop floor. She also helped support teachers through The Smart Factory Believers Program, which distributes a smart-rover kit to schools in underserved communities to expose middle-schoolers to product-design, coding and engineering.  

Before the applied-learning program, Mmasi had not considered the many opportunities a career in manufacturing could bring her. She hopes that younger students may consider the possibilities if also given the chance. Mmasi is now the first Smart Factory applied-learning student hired into Deloitte; this summer, she started as a full-time application-and-program analyst; she implements cloud software for businesses to make their industrial processes more effective and streamlined. 

So far, The Smart Factory @ Wichita is playing the role we hoped it would—serving as a proving ground to help manufacturers address complex challenges. As we continue to observe global events that are disrupting the supply chain, availability of goods and skilled workers, we look forward to playing a role in helping organizations solve their biggest manufacturing challenges.  

By Jason Bergstrom, principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP