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However, taking the next step into those advanced technologies that truly make a factory “smart” can be daunting—and may be pulling manufacturers out of their comfort zone. That’s where collaboration can help move the dial on a smart factory transformation—from both across and beyond their value chains.

Expanding horizons

Applying these advanced technologies in new and innovative ways to get the most out of a smart factory transformation might not come naturally to manufacturers. According to a Deloitte Global survey of more than 850 manufacturing executives across the globe, the ratio of investment in advanced technologies to operationalization is underwhelming. When it comes to investing in such advanced tech applications as quality sensing and detecting, plant consumption and energy management, augmented workforce efficiency—among others—an average of 81% had invested in these technologies but only an average of 25% had managed to operationalize this tech.

That’s why more and more manufacturers are looking outside of their organization for inspiration. In fact, according to the 2023 Manufacturing Industry Outlook —a Deloitte US survey of more than 100 US manufacturing executives and other senior leaders—61% named partnering with specialized technology companies as a primary growth strategy in the coming years.

These kinds of collaborations can expand the innovation capacity of a company. For example, one electronics manufacturer is partnering with a research university and a telecommunications company to develop a fully enabled private 5G production environment to test use cases for industrial facilities. Collaboration can also bring access to new clients as well as help speed up a company’s internal transformation by enhancing their own capabilities (versus outsourcing certain activities).

Another way manufacturers are capitalizing on their smart transformations is via an ecosystem approach. An ecosystem is a collaborative network within the value chain that works to address shared challenges and meet shared objectives. It’s an approach that was accelerated by the pressures of the pandemic—when the smart manufacturing ecosystem came together to fast-track the production of protective gear and vaccines.

This collaboration across the value chain—many manufacturers have now realized—can maximize the potential of smart manufacturing. There are a range of benefits to working with ecosystem partners, including reduction in operational costs through greater efficiencies as well as improved pace of new products coming to market.

Making the connection

There is no one right way for a manufacturer to seek out collaboration. The important part is for them to move from just thinking about it and consider where they may not be getting the most out of advanced technologies—that is, what gaps need filling. And then they should consider how collaborating can help fill those gaps. Because to progress the application of technologies to a place where they are truly “smart”—and to help stay ahead of the competition—manufacturers will likely need to explore beyond their own factory floors.