The top of Fortune’s Global 500 is topped by the Wal-Mart empire and dominated by giants of oil and energy. Amid all the buyers and sellers of petrol and coal you’ll find the true kings of industry – the companies that make the machines that drink the oil, design the technologies that will define the future and turn innovative advancements into economic realities. Here’s a look at some of the most powerful forces in the manufacturing world.

Toyota Motor Corporation

What should come as no surprise is the fact that among the international manufacturing industry’s biggest global players, automakers are consistent leaders. Toyota’s production system is one of the most well respected – and widely imitated – in the world, and the company has extensive interests in everything from robotics and biotech to homebuilding and higher education.

Toyota is locked in an unrelenting battle with Volkswagen for the largest share of a vast and expanding auto industry. The company still has the edge in terms of market share, but despite the end of a recent freeze on expansion, it’s predicated that Volkswagen may take over at the top of the industry this year. As Toyota eyes locations for new plants, everyone will be waiting for the next move in this battle of the behemoths.


Volkswagen is the other champion of the massive automotive industry. The company’s automobiles are consistently competitive in nearly every segment of the market. In addition to its own passenger and commercial vehicles, Volkswagen owns such well-known brands as Audi, Porsche, Bentley and Lamborghini, as well as a variety of other passenger and commercial vehicle manufacturers.

While Toyota returns to expansion after the freeze, Volkswagen is emerging as the top automaker in China. Standing at the top of the world’s largest auto market primes the company for a surge past Toyota and a place at the top of the global automotive industry; however, as Volkswagen continues to struggle with profitability, it’s anyone’s game and everyone’s watching.

Caterpillar, Inc.

Caterpillar, Inc. is the world’s largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel engines, natural gas engines, diesel-electric locomotives and industrial gas turbines. A dominant force in the machinery manufacturing industry, Caterpillar also operates financial and insurance services. With over 500 locations throughout the world and a presence in more than 180 countries, their large yellow machines are universally recognizable.

Caterpillar takes the long view, and the company pays close attention to markets and trends to find out where its huge R&D dollars need to go. Right now, it’s a bet on mining. Caterpillar’s recently sized up in preparation for a global economic recovery fuelled by the increased energy and infrastructure needs in Asian and Latin American markets. With this company’s proven record of success, others would do well to pay attention.

General Electric

General Electric is a multinational conglomerate that operates in a wide range of industries and has a vast field of interests. Ranked as the fourth largest company in the world by the Forbes Global 2000, GE manufactures everything from weapons to wind turbines. While an organization this large might seem slow to move, GE is anything but.

Its focus on innovation helps to keep the company relevant in every area of its business.

GE’s Innovation Labs are making breakthroughs in 3D printing technologies that could completely change the production of everything from jet engines to healthcare components.

GE Ventures is investing in new companies working on inventive environmental energy solutions, software services for drones and myriad other emerging enterprises. These are just a few examples, and anyone not paying attention to General Electric could miss the boat on a revolution in their industry.

The Boeing Company

Best known for manufacturing some of the most well-known and widely used commercial aircraft in the sky, Boeing is also one of the world’s largest defense contractors. Be it business jets or bombers, satellites or spacecraft, Boeing has aerospace and defense firmly in hand. Its innovation isn’t only in the air – the company’s production systems are some of the very best in the world.

Boeing is constantly working to improve its manufacturing processes, designing and implementing new systems and advanced technologies that increase production speed, decrease labor costs, improve safety and ensure a consistent product quality. The company recently introduced a new automated system to produce wing panels for its 737, and it’s a sure bet that other manufacturers will be taking notes on the outcome.

The biggest players in the manufacturing world are the ones that the others strive to emulate. With the talent to make the right moves and the technologies to inject consistent innovation into their processes, they embody the systematic realization of success breeding success. These players aren’t just winning the game – they’re running the show.