Key Manufacturing Trends for 2014

Trends 2014

What will 2014 bring for manufacturing? And, how will manufacturing and those who serve manufacturing companies respond?

Paying attention to trends and figuring out how to leverage them is a critical annual activity for companies that want to decrease costs and increase profit. After all, it’s difficult to ride a wave if you don’t fully understand that wave and, especially, how it might impact your business.

Even though it’s impossible to make specific assertions or recommendations for an individual company based on general trends without knowing the unique nature and circumstances of that company, examining what industry leaders are saying and why they’re saying it is important for staying current – even if it’s only to play devil’s advocate, countering with our own perspectives on what will happen in the coming year.

So, here are the key trends we’ve identified as being the most relevant and valuable for manufacturers to examine in 2014 – whether you’re an owner, plant manager, project manager, engineer, supervisor or technician:

Trend #1: Mobile will matter even more.

Across multiple categories, businesses are seeing an increased focus on mobile for commerce and decision making. According to a recent Industry Week article, this broader trend will also have “major implications for manufacturers.” The general recommendations that stem from this trend (per Industry Week’s source Howard Tiersky, CEO of Moving Interactive), are as follows:

  • Make all digital touchpoints mobile friendly. In fact, “becoming fully mobile-friendly will be an urgent priority in 2014, and those that do not comply, will lose sales.”
  • Get prepared right now for near field communication (NFC) going mainstream. Manufacturers will need to accommodate consumers who are making decisions with the help of mobile devices at the point of purchase by allowing them to link to interactive content through QR codes and the like.
  • Add value by building “smart” components into your offerings. Tiersky’s example is Phillips’ LED light bulb – a product that can be controlled via an app. His recommendation is simple, “Consider how this type of thinking can apply to your product.”

The same Industry Week article, presented our next trend:

Trend #2: 3D printing will help fill the skills gap.

According to another of Industry Week’s sources, Mark Zawacki, founder of 650 Labs, 3D printing will be a major driver in creating a young workforce that’s armed with state of the art additive manufacturing skills. Thanks to the decreasing cost of the technology, there is “now a movement toward [introducing hands learning on using 3D printers] at much younger ages” with the intention of improving science and math proficiency. Zawacki says, “Imagine a 6th grader who will have very regular access to 3D printing for the next decade, through high school and through college.”

Trend #3: Intelligent manufacturing will fully arrive.

The factory of the future is already here – if not completely just yet, at least the seeds of it. Advancement such as Ford’s virtual plan mapping technology, the ability to access real-time intelligence and the realization of flexible factories with reconfigurable components, mean that operations have never been so interesting. Of course, the U.S. is also investing in programs that encourage innovation of all kinds, including product innovation, but it’s the internal advances that are getting engineers excited.

Here are five related trends paraphrased from an infographic created by Infosys:

  • Machines will take care of other machines: Big data technologies will catch signs of machine wear and tear well before breakdowns
  • Mobile will increase productivity in the plant: Workflows, defect alerts and solutions for fixes will be delivered directly to workers and supervisors on the go.
  • Innovation will come from crowdsourcing: Manufacturers will use social platforms to connect their own experts and practice silo busting in support of generating new ideas.
  • Service will become a product: Manufacturers will increase after-market services for their products, adding new revenue streams and beefing up the bottom line.
  • Customization will become a real possibility: Nearshoring will enable manufacturers to offer customized solutions faster. (Also: see our article, Manufacturing & America’s Future: Reflections from Ro Khanna’s book, Entrepreneurial Nation for more on nearshoring, the call for customization and more)

The World Economic Forum’s report on the top 10 trends for 2014, triggered our next item:

Trend #4: Cyber threats will intensify – and manufacturers should take note, too.

While not manufacturing specific, the increasing threat of cyber breaches can become an issue for manufacturers as they adopt digital technologies and create the factories of the future. Clearly, data can be comprised and processes can be interrupted or shut down quite easily and manufacturers would be wise to think about this trend and the potential impact of a cyber attack on their business and consider measures to ensure systems are secure.

Trend #5: The economy will strengthen – slowly, yes, but enough to ensure the continuance of the Manufacturing Renaissance.

According to Dr. Chad Moutray, Chief Economist at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), “… although growth has been slower … the recovery has been remarkably resilient, weathering a number of external shocks that many thought could derail the economic recovery.” In the report, The State of Manufacturing A Positive Economic Outlook for 2014 and Beyond, Dr. Mautray outlines four economic and political trends industry leaders are tracking, as well as nine business-related issues for manufacturers to consider as they plan for 2014. The link takes you to an online pdf of the report.

What trends are most relevant to you in 2014?

What trends did we miss?

What are you doing to leverage or respond to those trends that will most impact your business?

Share your thoughts with us in a comment to this blog post – and let’s continue the conversation.

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