Factory of the future fuels EU competitiveness

05 May 2010 Author: EIFonline

The Factory of the Future in the 21st century uses state of the art ICT solutions to optimize almost any process from manufacturing and procurement to sales and administration. The EIF breakfast on 5 May 2010 shed more light on these ICT solutions. 

ICT solutions have always tried to create opportunities for business collaboration. Companies such as Tommy Hilfiger for instance use SAP to have an instant overview in real time of their global business, connecting all kinds of business critical systems. Mike Day, Senior Vice President Operations & IT at Tommy Hilfiger explained  that in reality this means that when somebody in a store in the USA scans a bar code of a shirt, this is registered on a server in Amsterdam, directly linked to the ordering system. This real-time aspect requires high-speed network capability.

With the advent of such high-speed communication channels, the company decided to go one step further and developed a new type of video conferencing called the Virtual Fitting Room to reduce travel cost within the company. Within the fashion industry, executives often travel between for instance New York and Hong Kong to test the quality of garments or to give modification instructions on a particular design. The virtual fitting room is a high definition video conferencing system that gives users (such as designers and tailors) a handheld high definition camera and allows him or her to show in great detail what modifications are needed without time lag in voice and video. The experience feels like an informal physically interactive meeting. 

This allows reduction of the time to market a product; it also reduces working capital and risk because decisions can be taken in real time. When producing 25.000 designs for 4 seasons at a time, this is a significant improvement of the production process.

The EU, as explained from Hasan Alkas, Principal Economist at DG Enterprise is currently looking at this type of advanced manufacturing technologies. Partially motivated by the economic crisis, the EU is exploring how to use ICT to best reshape key European industries. There is consensus that the old paradigm where Europe does the creative process, whereas manufacturing takes place in the Far East is no longer sustainable.

This is why Europe needs a new industrial policy perspective. The European Commission is therefore looking at the key enabling technologies (such as robotics and carbon capture storage systems) that would allow Europe to create new process, product and services innovations. By 2011, a high level group will advise the Commission on the technologies that are both high-tech and enabling, with the aim to create crossover multiplier effects for European industry.


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