2020 was a strange time in manufacturing (and everywhere);we had moments where it felt we were stuck in place, and others where changes were happening so quickly it felt impossible to keep up. But some significant trends that have been stewing for years on the sidelines clearly came to maturity. As we enter 2021, every manufacturer who wants to succeed in the long term needs to focus on these business and technology trends.
Three Business Trends You Must Embrace
Business Trend #1 – Swift Cultural Transformations
Swift changes are driving tectonic cultural transformations in our organizations. The most notable in 2021 are technological and generational While fancy pipe dreams in 2019, newer disruptive technologies are now actively being implemented by manufacturers realizing impressive productivity gains. The growing wave of baby boomers retiring is real and tribal knowledge is walking out the door. Generation Z is entering our workforce, while millennials are being promoted into leadership and decision-making positions. Skilled workforce shortages still exist. We must rethink our cultures by reskilling the people we have, reinvesting in automation, and restarting our talent pipeline initiatives like mentorships, apprenticeships, and coops.
Business Trend #2 – Manufacturing B2B eCommerce
Consumers are embracing online services in greater numbers than ever before, and these buying strategies are bleeding over into business-to-business activities. Millennial decision makers expect to do self-service research online, connect virtually, and have some service performed remotely. The buying process and service models have changed. If you are still faxing orders, making phone calls, and having all service visits in person, you are behind your competitors.
These manufacturers are using eCommerce and digital tools to bring higher levels of productivity into their buying process.
Business Trend #3 – Automation &Smart Manufacturing Technology
Multiple surveys have shown that executives struggle to fill key skilled positions in their organizations. While the rhetoric is “automation as a destroyer of jobs,” the reality is that automation and smart manufacturing technologies are making the employees we have even more productive than they were before. Automation is a workforce tool. Technology enables workers to do their job safer, faster, with higher quality, and more effectively than ever before.
In 2021, if you're not sure where to start, start with a small automation or technology pilot project, succeed with it and scale it up over time.
Three Technologies That Will Revolutionize Every Factory
Virtually every factory has pumps, motors, gearboxes, fans, and other equipment. These devices can be critical to production, and when failed can cause catastrophic downtime for a manufacturer. Condition monitoring of plant, machine, equipment, and/or component gives manufacturers unprecedented visibility into the health of their entire plant. From simple alarms to prescriptive maintenance activities derived from analytics, the abundant data delivered by condition monitoring sensors provides maintenance teams of all skill levels information to reduce downtime and maintenance costs dramatically.
Technology Trend #2 – Machine Vision
While machine vision technology is not new, in 2021,thevast possibilities at approachable price points allow for manufacturers to gain the benefits of machine vision in ways never seen before. With applications like robot guidance, inspection, gaging, and identification, machine vision technologies can provide poka-yokes, measurements, and feedback for both manual and automated production. With machine vision, manufacturers in food, automotive, medical, semiconductor, metalworking, and assembly are improving outcomes in quality and productivity. Combined with machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms, previously impossible tasks are now possible and more accessible than ever.
Technology Trend #3 – More Sensors than Ever
With manufacturers realizing the benefits of investing in big data, analytics, and smart factory technologies, the demand is higher than ever for data and visibility deep into the production process. Many manufacturers are finding this is the moment they will start to embrace automation technologies for the first time; however, it is the traditional sensing in the plant that provides the visibility into production that we need to move forward, reduce downtime, boost production, and improve product quality. Sensors make data, and we need data for our digitalization initiatives. More sensors, not fewer, will be needed to embrace IIoT fully.
This new year will be one framed by change. Change driven by swift and major transformations in generations and disruptive technology adoption. Embrace these trends and you will be firmly positioned for success in 2021 and beyond.