The scaling imperative for industry 4.0

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Four years ago, it was easy to dismiss advanced Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) manufacturing technologies as just so much “hype and hope.” But since its launch, the Global Lighthouse Network (GLN)—a World Economic Forum initiative in collaboration with McKinsey—has countered the skeptics by shining a bright light on 4IR successes. In so doing, the GLN has helped catalyze change across the manufacturing world: lighthouses have embraced vision, innovation, and responsibility as they adopt advanced tools and techniques at scale across their production networks, simultaneously unlocking value while prioritizing environmental sustainability.

Lighthouses have been the lead authors of the 4IR’s opening chapter, a compelling story full of challenge, excitement, and transformation, with more than 150 use cases and 1,500 benchmarks to prove potential value and achieve lasting impact. It drew to a close with its lessons distilled into a playbook for successful transformation.

The chapter ahead is sure to be no less demanding—and no less exciting. The theme now is scaling, across individual sites, companies, and entire value chains. In a recent survey of 36 manufacturers around the world (including both lighthouse and nonlighthouse organizations), some 80 percent of respondents identified productivity, sustainability, and resilience as their top priorities, and two-thirds of them believe that scaling will be a critical lever to achieving those priorities.

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The survey results underscore lighthouses’ advantages as they continue to forge the most successful path through 4IR transformation. In particular, three crucial enablers help explain how lighthouses are pulling ahead:

  1. Building a clear strategy. Without clear direction, the breadth of possibilities and the variety of use cases and technologies threaten to mire organizations in pilot purgatory. In contrast, lighthouses show that digital transformation must be designed from customer value back, in close alignment with the company’s overall business strategy.
  2. Invest in people. Without the right resource and capability models, a transformation will soon run out of resources and steam.
  3. Set up the right governance. Without value assurance and governance—and the right execution engine—companies can’t capture the value they seek or generate real impact. Lighthouses are succeeding at the hardest part: designing and adhering to new standards.

The newest members of the GLN—11 new sites and four new sustainability lighthouses (exhibit)—are the embodiment of the success of this approach to deliver scaling.


Lighthouses show that digital transformation must be designed from customer value back, in close alignment with the company’s overall business strategy.

Their stories reflect dramatic performance and sustainability improvements that reflect not only shrewd deployments of technology, but also a consistent focus on developing people’s skills and building the strategy and governance to support scalability. The following are among the highlights:

  • Reducing resource use by more than one-third while more than tripling factory throughput
  • Raising efficiency by more than 10 percent, cutting greenhouse-gas emissions in half, raising and at the same time improving quality—and in so doing, becoming the transformation template for a network of more than three dozen plants
  • Raising quality by 300 percent while reducing cost by more than 20 percent and emissions by more than one-quarter—for increased resilience in the face of inflationary pressure on inputs and erosion of pricing leverage
  • Increasing customer satisfaction and employee engagement while reducing material losses by more than three-quarters—and establishing a 4IR-enabled circular economy for electronic waste, enhancing long-term competitiveness

The Global Lighthouse Network

The Global Lighthouse Network is a World Economic Forum initiative in collaboration with McKinsey & Company. It examines the future of operations and considers how Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies are shaping production.

These breakthroughs illustrate that even as the GLN, the opportunity and urgency for manufacturers to take action is growing even more quickly. The 114 lighthouses provide a starting point for others to follow.

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