Top 10 Smart Manufacturing Trends for 2021
After an eventful 2020, smart manufacturing technology remains at the forefront of manufacturing industry trends for 2021 as facilities continue to explore innovative ways to improve processes and efficiencies. Following the upheaval and recovery of 2020, 2021 brings a host of new smart manufacturing trends and technology applications that you will want to understand.
Here, we will examine those trends and how they can help optimize your operations and contribute to the health and resiliency of your business.
Smart Manufacturing Trends for 2021
Smart factory trends for 2021 are focused on recovery and preparedness, to be sure, but they are also building on developments and advances in technology that have long been in the works — independent of the COVID pandemic and response. These trends include:
- More opportunities for remote and off-site operational work: Safety, flexibility, convenience — the reasons for this trend are numerous and ever-increasing. Even as the world returns to normal in the shadow of COVID, facilities are retaining remote work options and continuing to investigate ways to build even greater remote access into their operations.
From sensor monitoring to virtual maintenance and troubleshooting via Industrial Internet of Things and digital twin technology, the industrial world has proven that effective operations are possible even when personnel are not in person at the facility. This trend will only continue to grow as communication technology improves.
- An increased focus on the partnership between manufacturer and customer: Trust and confidence are two major themes of manufacturing in 2021, as the uncertainty of 2020 created a need for communication and relationship-building beyond merely transactional, commodified business — regardless of the product. Manufacturers are increasingly expected to act as a true service-providing partner, not simply a means of production.
- Machine health and condition monitoring with sensors: Sensor technology has been on the rise in manufacturing for years. 2021 is poised for a critical mass breakthrough, with sensors achieving more widespread adoption at an ever-more accessible price point.
The ROI for sensors will become more pronounced as more facilities use them to enable constant, real-time machine health and condition monitoring — yielding more effective maintenance, longer equipment life span and higher-quality output.
- Safeguarding profit margins through increased proactivity and efficiency: Sensors also enable tactics such as predictive maintenance, where machine performance data is analyzed to detect minor fluctuations in areas such as vibration, which can indicate the beginnings of more significant problems down the line — allowing the facility to address these problems at a convenient time. This proactive approach reduces or eliminates unplanned downtime, allowing facilities to reap maximum productivity through equipment operation.
- A more predictive approach — beyond the maintenance function: In light of a global catastrophe, a predictive approach to operations will be widely sought after at the macro level. Manufacturing businesses are understandably keen to get ahead of the next global disruption, whenever and whatever it may be. Technology such as AI and big data mining will be increasingly drawn upon to run global scenarios that may help predict and prepare for these events.
- AI exploration and adoption: AI is poised for a breakthrough on the shop floor as well, ready to make good on the promise of years of incremental adoption, along with related technology such as machine learning. In the race for a return to profits, AI technology can be used for more accurate forecasting and planning of maintenance, production capacity, inventory, sales, and more.
- Changing personnel functions — and opportunities to learn: The growth in AI technology will require capable people to implement, manage and make sense of it — a far cry from the fear that AI will replace humans. The impending AI boom represents a great opportunity for manufacturing employees to learn and advance their careers.
Manufacturing personnel operations may also change as organizations increasingly turn to resources such as technical workforce partners to maximize the value and effectiveness of those functions.
- Cobots on the rise: Similarly, human workers remain a critical part of hands-on manufacturing tasks themselves, although the technology to make those tasks easier is increasingly prevalent. Cobots (collaborative robots) are one such example — automation machines with smart technology and safety features that enable them to work nearly side by side with human workers.
- Technology-driven supply chain transparency and accountability: Smart technology will impact the supply chain as well, as interest in reliability, transparency and flexibility is at an all-time high following 2020’s disruptions.
Technology such as AI, vendor management software and blockchain will all play a role in the face of the supply chain — no longer an intractable monolithic function, but one that allows for more accountability and freedom of choice.
- A new take on scenario planning: With smart technology such as AI and big data providing more insight into potential future disruptions to manufacturing, it is still incumbent upon managers and personnel to plan responses to these scenarios.
Typically, these scenarios would be limited to short-term disaster response, etc.; however, COVID has shown that more long-term problems must also be addressed. Thus, these planning exercises will go beyond immediate response planning to factor in agility, flexibility, resiliency, employee relations and long-term recovery.
Of course, no one can reliably predict the future, as 2020 made abundantly clear. Though by looking at short-term as well as long-term trends and focusing on big-picture themes (such as flexibility, reliability, remote access, maintenance partnerships, equipment monitoring and data-driven functions) manufacturing businesses can use these trend forecasts to remain well-positioned and advantageous in the competitive landscape.
To discuss your options, contact ATS today.