”Lighthouse” factories are pushing advanced manufacturing and AOI driven technology forward

McKinsey is taking look at how “lighthouse” factories are pushing advanced manufacturing and AI-driven technology forward. Plus, new rules for retail banking, and reading picks from Robert I. Sutton, a Stanford professor and expert on workplace dynamics.

During the first industrial revolution, innovations in steam power drove work from hand to machine. Electrification largely powered the second revolution, with telephone lines and light bulbs connecting and illuminating people across the globe. A century later, the third began the process of digitizing the world, with the spread of PCs, the internet, and sophisticated IT.
Now, the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is here, and it’s tough to tag it to one predominant tech breakthrough. Try artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing. All of them promise to completely upend traditional manufacturing, blurring the lines among physical, digital, and biological spheres.
So how do manufacturers make their way through the fog? Lighthouses, of course. In the 21st century that doesn’t mean picturesque seaside towers with sweeping search beams, but rather cutting-edge factories that light the way forward. In Fourth industrial revolution: Beacons of technology and innovation in manufacturing, a report from the World Economic Forum in collaboration with McKinsey, the authors have identified 16 “lighthouses”—selected from a survey of more than 1,000 manufacturing sites—that are forging ahead, implementing advanced manufacturing and AI-driven technology at scale, and seeing significant gains.
These factories of the future have adapted the connectivity, intelligence, and flexible automation potential of their operations. They’ve also incorporated many of the lessons of Operations 4.0, including defining value by the needs of the customer and avoiding “pilot purgatory,” where businesses launch pilot after pilot without real productivity gains.

4IR is very different from the first industrial revolution, where mechanical equipment replaced individual looms. Lighthouses have emerged not through wholesale replacement but by transforming existing structures. Easier said than done. But these companies prove it’s possible. They’re making advances across many sectors—pharma, automotive, consumer goods, transport, chemicals—and they prove that there’s more than one way to embrace 4IR. Can the rest of the manufacturing world keep up?
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