Top manufacturing industry trends of 2017

There have been many changes to the manufacturing industry in 2017. Immigration and trade policy, workforce shortages, distribution techniques, and more have influenced the manufacturing trends of the past year.


Image courtesy: Ant Rozetsky/UnsplashTechnology keeps evolving, but new immigration and trade policies may hinder workforce.

The saying “nothing worth having comes easy” truly applies to the manufacturing industry this year. Manufacturers have windows of opportunities in 2017. But with every opportunity comes a hurdle to jump. For years, technology has been a profit booster (and challenge to implement), and will keep evolving. And with the Internet of Things (IoT) disrupting the industry, there may come a day where manufacturers must use connected machines just to survive in the market. Besides technology, experts cite distribution techniques, workforce shortage and the presidential administration as change drivers.

Since Manufacturing Day was on Oct. 6, 2017, we’ve compiled some industry trends expected for 2017. Nothing is for certain, but industry experts feel manufacturers should be aware of these trends when doing business.

1. Companies use automation software and autonomous capabilities to boost productivity and profit.

According to the Macola 2017 Business and Technology Trend Report, most manufacturers (72%) changed their business model this year due to new technology innovations. For example, 77% of respondents boosted their revenue by automating core functions. 34% of these companies earned 20-40% more revenue last year, while 67% earned under 20% more. Even better, automation reduced their costs. Automating the most repetitive tasks saves the most money and frees time to do important work, which is why most respondents automate data entry, plant and order management, and payroll. Some other commonly automated functions were marketing, sales, customer service and new employee onboarding.

Outside the office, many big companies are using driver-less trucks. For example, Rio Tinto uses 69 GPS-automated dump trucks manufactured by Komatsu. “Drivers” need not be inside automated trucks, which is safe and convenient. The truck’s sensors detect and report vehicle defects to a central board, with minimal delays and fuel use. Komatsu is also well known for manufacturing the world’s first semi-autonomous dozer (D61i-23). Featuring “intelligent machine control,” this model automates the rough dozing to finish grading process. Komatsu says that this dozer is user-friendly even for inexperienced operators, and helps increase productivity up to 13%.

2. Manufacturers find big value in big data.

Macola’s report found that most manufacturers feel that big data drives the most business value. The Industrial Internet of Things took second place. CSuite recently stated that companies endure high repair costs for every minute a machine slows down, but Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and the Internet of Things dramatically cut these costs. IoT empowered machines have a central network to monitor usage conditions 24/7. The sensors predict machine failure and automatically schedule preventative maintenance to prevent further damage. This network can also store employee skill sets to automatically help dispatch certain technicians for certain jobs.

Macola 2017 Manufacturing Report

Example: Decades ago, plant workers didn’t document their work processes, which makes it hard to train new employees to do the same jobs. As a result, many companies pay consultants to interview retirees about how they did their jobs, which is expensive and inaccurate. What someone does on site may differ from what he or she says in an interview. An alternate is asset management performance technology, which logs worker actions in real time. This provides a framework on how and when to do maintenance. A user-friendly dashboard makes data easy to understand without the need for data scientists. APM’s algorithms can also translate years of messy data entries into meaningful machine health data, which helps companies develop better maintenance strategies.

3. Companies and customers favor distributed manufacturing over traditional techniques.

Over the past few years, it has been getting old to mass produce parts in just one central facility. With distributed manufacturing, companies use technology that distributes materials to many small facilities. This way, customers across the globe receive their orders faster since there are shipping locations near them. 3D prototyping is one method likely to replace mass production for its ability to produce high quality parts. The Harvard Business Review recently stated that the biggest global brands use 3D prototyping these days, and 3D printers are becoming more affordable.

Example:3D printing for medical devices is becoming very common. Dr. Jason Chuen of Austin Health says that one day, there won’t be so many warehouses with pre-packaged medicines. Instead, he predicts that hospitals and pharmacies will use digital design files to print on demand with raw materials. The goal is that hospitals all over the world can access medicines, as long as they have the printing technology. However, Dr. Chuen says that one hurdle to this method is figuring out how to implement quality control procedures in facilities that manufacture devices rather than suppliers. But overall, he feels that medical workers will learn a lot from 3D printing on how to better serve patients.

4. Severe workforce shortage could slow productivity

Stricter immigration policies may eliminate quality candidates

President Trump discourages companies from opening locations in other countries, but many medium-sized, Mexico-based plants depend on the U.S. for parts and equipment. Trump also hopes to reduce U.S. immigration to give more Americans jobs. But this ideology may not work in the skilled trades. A Pew Charitable Trusts survey in 2016 showed that immigrants are more likely to hold manufacturing jobs than Americans. A 2017 Career Builder survey also found that immigrants make up 30% of manufacturing industry workers.

Baby boomer retirement calls for younger workers.

Baby boomers are retiring from the skilled trades, and up to two million manufacturing jobs can go unfilled unless more young people get involved. Unfortunately, Millennials may believe that the work environment is dirty or unsafe. However, the industry is much more sophisticated today than decades ago. According to Industry Week, many plants today use 3D printers, Computer Aided Design, robotics and other innovative technology, which many youth don’t know about. Many companies also implement Bring Your Own Device polices, which allows workers to use their own laptop, Smartphone or tablet on the job rather than what the company provides. Many Gen X-ers and Millennials use smartphones and tablets to store and retrieve data, and research suggests that more employees stay loyal to the company when they can use devices that they know and love.

Mrinal Gokhale is a content contributor for MSI Data. MSI Data is a CFE Media content partner. This article originally appeared on MSI Data's blog. 

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