The Smart Factory @ Wichita: Experience the Future of Manufacturing

Innovation thrives when talented people with passion and skills have the physical space to exchange ideas and build and test their concepts. For example, the flat, grassy fields surrounding Wichita, Kansas, provided the fledgling aviation industry of the 1920s ample space for runways and hangars to foster innovation of the aircraft that would define a new era of transportation.

As this industry grew, the city attracted entrepreneurs, investors, and engineers to become the “Air Capital of the World.” Wichita now ranks nationally at No. 1 in manufacturing jobs as a percentage of all jobs and No. 3 in percentage of jobs classified as “very high-tech.”

The recent launch of The Smart Factory @ Wichita, a new, immersive experience center that showcases smart manufacturing solutions and technologies across a variety of use cases, is the latest milestone in the city’s proud history of innovation. The project, led by Deloitte, aims to accelerate digital transformation in manufacturing and address the challenges organizations are facing, including a volatile global economy, supply chain issues, labor shortages, and more, to help navigate today and build competitive advantage for the future. For visitors, it’s an opportunity to see first-hand how Industry 4.0 solutions bring connectivity, intelligence, and transparency to the supply chain within a fully operational, smart manufacturing environment.

Overhead view of The Smart Factory @ Wichita
© 2022 Deloitte Development LLC

The Smart Factory @ Wichita is expected to host more than 5,000 visitors over the next year. The 60,000 square-foot facility is housed on the Innovation Campus at Wichita State University, where it is connected to the university-managed smart grid and has renewable energy generation on-site. As a showcase for the future of manufacturing, The Smart Factory @ Wichita operates sustainably at net-zero energy consumption and is outfitted with wind trees, solar assets, and smart lighting.

The Smart Factory @ Wichita recently celebrated its opening with a summit in June. SAP is proud to be a founding sponsor – along with Deloitte, Dragos, Infor, Siemens, and Wichita State University – within an extended ecosystem that includes stakeholders from software, hardware, robotics, consulting, academia, and others.

Darcy MacClaren, senior vice president of Digital Supply Chain and Industry 4.0 for SAP North America, participated in the Opening Summit. She believes the facility is a must-see experience for customers.

“The Smart Factory @ Wichita is a truly unique experience for visitors to envision how Industry 4.0 can drive value for their business,” she says. “I cannot emphasize the value of the real-life experience strongly enough. The immersion in the live production environment allows visitors to experience smart manufacturing concepts in a way that’s not possible through standard conversations or presentations.”

De-Globalization Opens the Way for Innovation

The launch of The Smart Factory @ Wichita comes at a critical time as businesses search for solutions to overcome manufacturing challenges. As a result of the pandemic and supply chain pressures, deglobalization is leading businesses to diversify their supply chains away from dependence on one supplier or region. As recently reported in The Wall Street Journal, many businesses are looking for ways to move their manufacturing capabilities closer to home and improve automation.

“While there’s recognition in the industry that the evolution to true end-to-end smart manufacturing is a must-have in today’s ever-shifting environment, at the same time, it is challenging for an organization to put the necessary complex architecture in place on its own,” says Stephen Laaper, principal and smart factory leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP. “In response, we saw a huge opportunity to convene an ecosystem of world-class solution and technology providers and bring together the Internet of Things, cloud, artificial intelligence, computer vision, and more under one roof at The Smart Factory @ Wichita.”

Showcasing SAP Solutions for Industry 4.0

The Smart Factory @ Wichita brings the intelligent enterprise to life, providing organizations an under-the-hood view of how SAP solutions support digital transformation and intelligent automation, the underlying concepts of Industry 4.0. More than 50 use cases for smart manufacturing are available on-site, ensuring that both supply chain experts and newcomers will find the content accessible and informative.

“The Smart Factory @ Wichita is a terrific showcase of the digital supply chain technology that helps our customers unlock the value of Industry 4.0,” says MacClaren. Visitors will see an impressive array of advanced robotics and automation that power everything from the shop floor to the robot coffee baristas. At the core is SAP S/4HANA, the intelligent enterprise cloud solution that runs mission-critical operations with integrated supply chain solutions for manufacturing and asset management. These and other digital solutions enable the physical production line on the shop floor.

The next step, according to MacClaren, is to enable the full end-to-end supply chain scenario, including SAP technology supporting product innovation for R&D and engineering, logistics for warehousing and transportation, and supply chain planning.

For customers during their innovation journey, the RISE with SAP solution offers business transformation-as-a-service to smooth the evolution to a cloud-based, intelligent enterprise that runs smart manufacturing solutions. Find out about SAP’s Industry 4.Now program.

STEM Education Kits to Empower Students

Core to the purpose of The Smart Factory @ Wichita is its mission as a factory that helps produce and distribute a product with a purpose. In partnership with Elenco Electronics, The Smart Factory @ Wichita turns out components for Smart Rover Kits, all of which use 100% recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) collected from the local recycling stream as the primary raw material, bringing the circular economy to life.

The kits are then assembled and shipped to schools with initial donations impacting 1,000 middle school students in Metro Detroit, Philadelphia, and Wichita. The program aims to reach 800,000 students in the U.S. over the next four years. The mission of Deloitte’s Smart Factory Believers Program is to empower the traditionally underrepresented students of today to become the diverse STEM innovators of tomorrow.

Closing the Skills Gap in Partnership with Industry

The Smart Factory @ Wichita also serves Wichita State University students as an applied learning environment for smart manufacturing and its impact on sustainability outcomes. The need is critical, according to a report from Deloitte: “The manufacturing industry is facing a skills and talent gap that will leave 2 million of nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs unfilled.”

“We’re building traction as an emerging leader in the field of digital transformation; and trailblazers — like Deloitte — are taking notice that Wichita State’s research and expertise give them a competitive edge,” said Dr. Rick Muma, president of Wichita State University. “And our students benefit from the applied learning opportunities that they’ll gain at The Smart Factory @ Wichita. As Deloitte professionals educate the workforce of tomorrow, Shocker students train side-by-side with experts in the fields of smart manufacturing, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, and robotics.”

For more information, visit The Smart Factory @ Wichita website. And to learn about SAP solutions for smart manufacturing, industry 4.0, or supply chain, visit sap.com/scm.


Top image © 2022 Deloitte Development LLC.