5 Digital Trends Shaping Manufacturing Operations

Ryan Hall Manager, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 11 Nov 2020

“A dynamic and volatile market environment is changing the face of manufacturing operations.”
 -Gartner, Hype Cycle for Manufacturing Operations Strategy, 2020

Spurred by the effects of COVID-19 and overall market volatility, manufacturing operations leaders are under significant pressure to meet constantly changing needs; like many industries, these factors are driving dramatic digital transformation efforts in the industry.  Not to mention, widespread changes in factory locations, staffing, and management are shaping the industry landscape too. As a result, manufacturing decision-makers are moving swiftly to build sustainable strategies designed to better the bottom line while also fostering growth.

Manufacturing was already facing the changes introduced by digital transformation. However, the onset of COVID-19 has brought on additional challenges and risks, particularly when it comes to resource management. Now, the industry must juggle multiple initiatives to remain competitive:

  • Operational Efficiency & Cost Optimization
  • Business Continuity & Resiliency
  • Meeting Customer Demand
  • Digital Transformation

Let’s highlight five of the impactful digital manufacturing trends sweeping the industry

“With technology changing rapidly, manufacturers must future-proof their Industry 4.0 transformation plans or risk falling behind their competitors.”
-McKinsey, “Future-Proofing a Digital Manufacturing Transformation,” 2019

Digitalization has brought a myriad of innovative technologies to the manufacturing industry. In fact, it’s predicted that 85% of industrial companies will implement Industry 4.0 technologies in all key business divisions over the next five years.

However, manufacturing has some catching up to do. Only 6% of manufacturing companies believe their organization has been fully digitized, which makes sense in an industry that’s been historically slow to embrace digital transformation. Though the industry is not without its challenges when in comes to innovation, market leaders have taken the reigns and created a path for the remainder of the industry to follow. Let’s look at the top 5 digital manufacturing trends sweeping the industry to better understand how organizations should be focusing their efforts.

1. Robotics

 Robots on the factory floor are becoming increasingly common as costs decline and innovative capabilities increase. In fact, record numbers of “cobots” (robots that cooperate and collaborate with humans on the manufacturing floor, rather than replacing them) are joining the manufacturing workforce in record numbers.

2. Extreme Operational Efficiency

 Downtime remains one of the costliest events that can happen in manufacturing. Today, machines have internal sensors that send messages to notify workers when maintenance is needed. There’s also been a marked uptick in circular manufacturing (lean manufacturing). Lean manufacturing focuses on recovering/repurposing materials and resources, increasing life of machines through predictive maintenance and leasing equipment.

3. New Technologies

 New technologies taking hold in manufacturing are part and parcel to the digitalization unfolding across the industry. Just a few of the most pervasive innovative technologies taking hold:

  • Employee Tech- manufacturing companies are relying on technology to improve internal communications between employees and facilitate the flow of information, ultimately optimizing the employee experience.
  • Wearable Tech – wearable technology like smart watches and headsets with heads-up displays that provide fast access to critical data are seen more frequently in manufacturing orgs.
  • VR and AR – hands-on training is being conducted in a VR environment, which creates a safer, lower-risk process. Also, AR experiences allow for maintenance technicians to execute procedures from remote locations, which closes the skills gap and improves efficiency. Overall, VR and AR tech bring greater control to manufacturing processes.
  • 3-D Printing – 3-D printing is one of the most disruptive of all Industry 4.0 technologies. Materials like concrete and metal have expanded potential for innovation. Consequently, engineers can build objects on a greater scale and boost prototyping productivity.

4. Digital Factories

91% of industrial companies are investing in digital factories. Manufacturers are steadily implementing solutions based on key technologies to fully digitalize operations. Factories are using analytics to link, store, and make sense of real time day-to-day activities, allowing companies to tailor their products to customers, manage operations, and increase profits.

5. All About the Customers

“By coupling years of experience and expertise with the latest digital technologies and automation, manufacturers can create a winning combination that makes them formidable and competitive forces in their markets.”
-Automation.com, 2020, Demystifying Digital Transformation in Manufacturing

The goal of manufacturing today is to improve how people get work done while streamlining and improving daily processes. Digital-first manufacturing companies are working to align technology with people’s strengths.

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