The future of manufacturing is powered by data and analytics. Here’s why

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Memia Fendri, Initiatives and Community Lead, Advanced Manufacturing and Value Chains, World Economic Forum, Felipe Bezamat, Head of Advanced Manufacturing Industry, World Economic Forum, Ruben Behaeghe, Project Leader, Boston Consulting Group


  • Effective use of data in manufacturing can make businesses more sustainable and more profitable.
  • But just 39% of manufacturing executives report that they have successfully scaled data-driven use cases beyond the production process of a single product.
  • The Forum’s Manufacturing Data Excellence Framework provides a guide to developing new analytics capabilities and partnerships, giving manufacturers a playbook for extracting greater value from their data.

The manufacturing industry is on the verge of a data‑driven revolution. Companies are collaborating in hyperconnected value networks, using data‑and‑analytics applications to drive productivity, develop new customer experiences and improve the societal and environmental impact of companies.

This technological advance has come at a time of uncertainty. Climate change, supply chain disruption and conflict plague the global system — but the innovative use of data in manufacturing could actually be a stabilizing force for the global manufacturing industry.

Data, analytics and manufacturing

To realize this vision of hyperconnected value networks, manufacturers must employ a large variety of data‑and‑analytics applications, such as predictive maintenance, advanced robotics and tracking and tracing in supply networks. The underlying data assets are the lifeblood of these applications. This data can:

  • Provide actionable insights by discerning patterns from data through human analysis of reports and dashboards.
  • Predict future outcomes for business stakeholders to act upon, using advanced analytics on historical data.
  • Enable self-optimizing systems that take autonomous action through self-learning self-steering algorithms, with input from historical and real-time data.

While most manufacturers have now begun their journey towards manufacturing data excellence, many are still struggling to capture significant value from it. A 2021 study, surveying over 1300 manufacturing executives, revealed that just 39% had successfully scaled data-driven use cases beyond the production process of a single product and thus achieved a clearly positive business case.

Unlocking value by sharing data

To accelerate the development of globally connected manufacturing data ecosystems, the Forum and its community have developed a Manufacturing Data Excellence Framework. The framework helps companies develop new capabilities, build new partnerships and evaluate the maturity of their data-driven applications. They can also use it to assess their progress in establishing the organizational and technological enablers required to extract value from data at a company, supply chain and ecosystem level.

We asked members of the Forum’s “Unlocking Value in Manufacturing Through Data Sharing” initiative to share how they addressed these challenges and how engaging in the community and applying the Manufacturing Data Excellence Framework has helped their businesses.

Here’s what they had to say:

Michelangelo Canzoneri, Global Head of Group Smart Manufacturing, Merck Group

Cutting-edge plug-and-produce technologies, advanced robotics and AI-enabled systems have placed smart manufacturing at the heart of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. At the forefront of this wave is the encapsulation of product and manufacturing knowledge through Digital Twins, powered by data. By converging science and technology, Digital Twins offer various manufacturing advantages, including the simulation of production processes and supply chains for improved prediction as well as a more efficient approach to quality-by-design.

It has been invaluable to be part of this pioneering community, learning together and sharing best practices. These collaborations have enabled us to evaluate how to further incubate and scale data ecosystems for manufacturing across the value chain. The next step for manufacturing stakeholders using Digital Twins will be to develop a collaborative and safe approach to share data and models to overcome the interoperability challenge, exchange data on a common framework and adapt with speed and agility to the ever-changing environment.

Gabriel Gonzalez, Senior Vice President, Corporate Production, ZF Group

Data ecosystems are a huge advantage to operations excellence, whether inside our plants, across global supply chains or at the level of our final customers. At ZF, we have been developing our Digital Manufacturing Platform that we are currently rolling out through all our plants to bring them to a level of digital usage and thus leverage our complete performance: condition monitoring or OEE analyzers as well as shopfloor management applications.

Participating in the World Economic Forum’s Unlocking Value in Manufacturing through Data Sharing initiative helped us increase knowledge about our plant’s digital maturity. We learned to work with it with an intensive program of six self-assessments in plants from Europe and North America. Clear advantages are the quick assessment time needed, an easy management system without any need of external assistance for the plants and the possibility of comparing results and best practices with many other companies.

The Framework could be improved to increase the granularity of the assessment, and to derive a roadmap to full digitalization that considers cybersecurity and connectivity.

Dr. Gunter Beitinger, Senior Vice-President Manufacturing and Head of Factory Digitalization, Siemens

Winning the race against global warming and limiting it to below 2.0°C is one of the biggest challenges humanity faces, and decarbonizing industrial value chains is a necessary action. But we will only win this race if we start to share data along the supply chain to aid decarbonization and take responsible and sustainable actions in all aspects based on actual emission numbers, not on estimates.

Data ecosystems are a prerequisite to addressing this challenge. In the World Economic Forum’s working group Unlocking Value in Manufacturing through Data Sharing, we defined how such ecosystems must be designed to overcome the fundamental conflict between transparency and confidentiality. We developed an approach for trustworthy exchange in supply chains and funded an association on these principles, which allows us to use a decentral, open and trustworthy ecosystem that also guaranties data sovereignty.

Haldun Dingec, Executive Director, Digital Production Techniques, Arçelik

In manufacturing, data helps create end-to-end connected value chains. You need this to be more sustainable and agile, to improve productivity and drive an innovative customer journey. In this digital era, Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies are making data-powered ecosystems a reality in order to build applications such as demand forecasting, quality assurance intelligence, smart energy management, smart workforce management, field surveillance, supplier connectivity and fully customized products.

Engaging in the World Economic Forum’s Unlocking Value in Manufacturing through Data Sharing initiative opened my eyes to the possibilities surrounding data exchanges. It also allowed me to overcome the barriers of intellectual property protection and sharing technical knowledge because I had the opportunity to consider otherwise. Completing one project with a team of experts coming from different companies was an unbelievable experience, and happily, the project was about sustainability.

We look forward to continuing this journey with the community to realize a vision of hyperconnected value networks driven by data and explore how intelligent manufacturing technologies such as artificial intelligence can further help capitalize on the power of data.

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