Now that we’re a quarter of the way into the year, we want to make our official predictions for the future of manufacturing.
We have identified 14 manufacturing trends which we believe will arise this year, as influenced by growing demand, advances in technology and the triumphs and failures of previous years. Although these trends may not immediately apply to you and your business, we believe that they are worth being aware of, both because they are interesting, and because it never hurts to be prepared:
- Industrial Revolution 4.0
- Reducing The Digital Divide
- Prioritising Sustainability
- Employee Welfare
- Consumer Expectations
- Enterprise Resource Planning
- Artificial Intelligence
- Additive Manufacturing
- Empowering The Workforce
- Business Continuity Planning
- Internet Of Things (IoT)
- Unmanned Systems
- Predictive Maintenance
Industrial Revolution 4.0
The fourth industrial revolution is ongoing, and has been for some time. In the loosest, most conceptual sense, it is about the merging of the physical, digital and biological through technology-driven change. Coronavirus halted many possible developments and advancements last year, and it is our prediction that great leaps will be made in 2021 as we return to a sense of normalcy, in order to make up for lost time.
Reducing The Digital Divide
While the global pandemic caused widespread damage across all industries, it had the unanticipated benefit of making the digital world increasingly accessible. Already, individuals are working from home and businesses are providing access to computers and online learning, and introducing digital processes. It is highly likely that 2021 will see further digital investments and integrations, both personally and professionally, reducing the digital divide, and providing everyone with access to the same kind of technology and advancements, is the first step towards the future.
With the effects of climate change becoming increasingly prevalent, 2021 will bring new and innovative methods for businesses to protect the environment, which includes moving towards being carbon neutral. Many of the other trends listed in this blog post will indirectly contribute to such an effort, such as widespread introduction of artificial intelligence and increased integration of digital technologies. The importance of sustainability is predicted to be paramount across all industries, from manufacturing to fashion, as we re-evaluate waste, diversify business models and adapt relationships with the consumer.
A Focus on Employee Wellbeing
While this was an obvious trend last year, it will remain at the forefront of manufacturing in 2021. This is, in part, due to the procedures which have already been implemented, such as social distancing in the workplace and working from home when possible. We predict that businesses will create and implement new health and safety plans, and prioritise the wellbeing of employees above other factors. In this instance, wellbeing refers to both physical and mental health, as it has been proven that addressing your overall wellbeing at work can improve productivity and work satisfaction by as much as 12%.
Local and Reshored Sourcing
Outsourcing various manufacturing practices is a hugely popular practice, and for very good reasons. It can be a useful tactic to save money, generate a greater return on investment and focus on the main priorities of your business. However, choosing to outsource, especially abroad, is expected to sharply decline, with a renewed focus on local production and supporting the local economy. This is predominantly due to coronavirus and Brexit, especially with the growing desire to support local businesses and engender a ‘farm to table’ approach.
The expectations of consumers and customers are expected to skyrocket. A greater demand for products and services means that manufacturers will be required to produce goods more quickly and efficiently, of a greater quality and at a lower cost. They will also expect greater customer service, available in multiple formats and with a new emphasis on personalisation and loyalty. The ability of manufacturers and businesses to do so resides in the other factors mentioned within this post – how quick they are to implement new technologies, acclimate to a digital environment or embed new, developing systems. Meeting new customer expectations will be crucial to prolonged success.
Enterprise Resource Planning
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is a software which allows users to undertake multiple areas of operation and manage them within a single, comprehensive system. The most optimal version of the system organises day-to-day activities (such as accounting, procurement and project management) alongside enterprise performance management (planning, budget and reporting on financial results). Utilising ERP will grant businesses of all sizes, and across all industries, unique insight to their own operations, and make it simple to make improvements and adjustments to processes and procedures as required. It is being offered on different scales by an increasing number of platforms, such as Microsoft Dynamics, NetSuite and Syspro.
Irvine Springs – a leading spring manufacturer and supplier in the UK – uses Emax, a flexible and user friendly software that has transformed the management of day to day operations. It was designed by engineers for engineers, and has provided us with a systematic approach to everything from purchasing to quality control to planning.
Artificial intelligence is perhaps the most long-awaited manufacturing trend, with their integration to the workforce being predicted on a yearly basis, in-part due to oversaturation in television and film. However, the use of artificial intelligence is very likely to soar in 2021. This is due to rapid developments that have been made in the area, especially with products such as ElliQ, a device designed to improve the quality of life of elderly people. AI technology has a huge potential for application in the manufacturing industry, from product development to inventory management, and will have additional benefits such as 24/7 production, increased safety, long-term cost reduction and rapid decision making.
Otherwise known as 3D printing, additive manufacturing is a Computer Aided Design (CAD) software which builds items one layer at a time. It can be used to create complete products, components and prototypes, amongst other things. They are predicted to be the future of the manufacturing industry, as they minimise human intervention and offer more market options and applications. At Irvine Springs, we use 3D printing for concept modelling. It is an effective, innovative means of communicating and demonstrating new ideas to colleagues and clients.
Empowering The Workforce
Most businesses are already empowering the workforce, however we predict that an upcoming trend in manufacturing will see businesses investing into their workforce on an even larger, more proactive scale. This means that employers will actively seek and recruit new employees, and offer them training and progression opportunities to aid employee retention and satisfaction. Empowering your workers, and ensuring that they feel valued and that the work they do is both interesting and meaningful, is a hugely successful long-term strategy for having the most skilled, qualified workforce capable of producing the best possible work.
Business Continuity Planning
Many future manufacturing trends are influenced by failures and flaws experienced in recent years, especially last year. Coronavirus caught everyone off-guard, and businesses across the globe discovered that they didn’t have effective systems in place to operate in a time of crisis. In 2021, the most important upcoming manufacturing trend resides in the implementation of plans and processes that future-proof the industry to minimise the impact of future moments of crisis, using what we learned last year to shape our future.
Internet Of Things (IoT)
This is a broad term, referring to everything that is connected to the internet. Within the manufacturing industry, businesses will have insight to data that will allow them to optimise every element of their existing processes, advancing the industry into previously unseen territories. This includes a gradual transition from employees to technology with the same capabilities, through the introduction of autonomous, remote operating systems. An already prevalent example of this is SMS warning systems on machinery. Your device will receive an alert when there is an error, allowing remote monitoring of the machine. Advanced models will allow you to send further commands and commence remote operations.
The future of air, land and sea systems is closer than ever before, and we think that 2021 will be the year that unmanned systems are fully integrated into the workplace. Last year, huge steps were taken when Flirtey introduced a drone delivery service, partnering with healthcare services and commercial industries to deliver goods via drone. Amazon already uses warehouse robots and drone deliveries, which they revealed at a technology conference back in 2019. This year, we think that similar systems will be used throughout the manufacturing industry, and transform the way that we collect data and transport goods.
Some of the latest trends in manufacturing are the ones that are likely here to stay, and predictive maintenance is no exception. This style of maintenance is a preventative strategy that will reduce unplanned downtime and extend the life of machinery, while also being cost-effective, as tasks are only performed when necessary. It is based on predictive analytics, which will grant closer insight to how systems work and what can impact their performance.
It is clear that there are a lot of hugely exciting upcoming trends in the manufacturing industry. From artificial intelligence to unmanned systems, it seems that there will be a real emphasis on advancements in technology, production and delivery. Almost all of the trends that we predict for 2021 have the overarching aim of improving the customer and colleague experience, which suggests that everyone is going to benefit from the successes of this year.
While we don’t know for certain that these trends will come to fruition in 2021, it seems highly likely that they will have been seamlessly integrated and accepted as part of everyday manufacturing over the next few years. And one thing we do know, is that Irvine Springs will endeavour to remain at the forefront of the spring manufacturing industry, as we continue to advance and thrive.