It is no secret that recently the manufacturing industry has been changing. The natural rise of technology and evolution of the economy has resulted in a shift in the manufacturing industry: foreign trade is at historically low levels and changing governments have caused concern to the future of the manufacturing industry.

With so many uncertainties, companies often discover that it is difficult to prepare for such disruptions. Despite these uncertainties and concerns, manufacturing output is actually on the rise. It is crucial for companies to anticipate shifts before their competitors do.

As the first quarter of 2017 ends, Vennli took a look at 4 manufacturing trends that will shape the industry in 2017.

1. Big Data

The Manufacturing 4.0 era begins with a focus on technology and big data. Big data refers to the large volume of information that is available for businesses to use in their day-to-day operations. It is inconceivable the amount of data that businesses receive, and many companies have difficulty identifying the most important information.

With an expected increase in the use of analytical software, manufacturing companies will have actionable metrics. The analysis of Big Data can result in 1) cost reductions 2) time reductions 3) new product development and optimized offerings, and 4) smart decision making. Real-time monitoring will help manufacturing companies operate more efficiently and effectively.

2. Digitization

Along with Big Data comes a digital makeover of the shop floor. Digital connectedness between machines, employees, and consumers will drastically alter the manufacturing landscape. As machines are able to communicate with each other digitally, we will see more flexible business models that allow for product customization.

In the consumer aspect, the internet has become integral to almost everyone’s daily life. Manufacturing companies must be able to meet demands as consumers’ expectations are changing. These demands include the need for an online presence beyond a simple company website. It is not only consumers that are buying more online. Businesses are buying more online, as well. So, whether your products are sold through retail, distributors, or directly to other businesses, e-commerce is here to stay.

Additionally, consumers are demanding customization. In 2017, we expect to see unique requests from customers not limited to the retail industry. Manufacturers that can provide customization efficiently will have an edge. In the end, it is all about delivering your product to your customers better than your competitors.

3. Automation (Artificial Intelligence)

As the internet and data begin to take over the shop floor, we also see technology playing a crucial role in manufacturing jobs. Artificial Intelligence in the form of robots has already displaced many manufacturing jobs. These robots can be taught (programmed) to perform jobs that previously required minimally skilled, human employees.

While the loss in these low-level jobs has caused concern for many workers, it also calls for a need of more skilled workers to operate these machines. While old jobs may now be covered by machines, there will be new jobs created. A new, diverse skillset will be in high demand in the manufacturing industry. Companies that can develop new strategies to attract and retain new talent will prosper.

4. Sustainable Manufacturing

The manufacturing industry is beginning to jump on board with the “green” movement. Despite recent changes in the government that appear to be a boon for the oil and gas industry, the sustainability trend shows no sign of slowing. Long term consumer trends indicate that betting against sustainability is not in a manufacturer’s best interest. In the long run, we forecast a continued movement away from fossil fuels to more renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and water. Sustainable manufacturing companies will see fewer overhead costs and gain favor with customers.

Why go green?

  • Reduce costs and waste will increase operational efficiency
  • Increase your competitive advantage
  • Broaden your customer reach
  • Build long-term business viability and success
  • Meet regulatory guidelines and identify opportunities

A new normal in manufacturing will take time to emerge, but the trends in Big Data, Digitization, Automation, and Sustainability will shape the future.

By anticipating changes and adapting to current manufacturing trends, companies will prosper while their competitors struggle to keep up.