Six Manufacturing Tech Trends To Look For In 2021
The manufacturing industry was already poised for major digital transformation. Pandemic-influenced disruption expedited the use of new technology, as companies look for ways to get ahead of supply chain risks, make smarter decisions, and gain better insight into the industrial lifecycle of products. From Industrial Internet of Things to 3D printing, Forbes talks about six manufacturing trends that will be key in 2021.
In the early days of the pandemic, manufacturers were hit hard with forced shutdowns, production slowdowns and serious questions about whether companies could navigate the disruptions. Manufacturing indicators had shown early 2020 momentum, but US industrial production in March registered a month-over-month decline of 4.5%, followed by a deeper decline of 11.2% in April.
What did increase in 2020, however, was the speed of transformation. Companies made swift moves towards Industry 4.0, or the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices. There is no time to waste: manufacturers looking to stay competitive need to serve their customers in new ways; become more agile and flexible; and attract the right skills and talent.
I reached out to leaders and experts across the manufacturing industry spectrum and asked them what technology trends they thought would emerge this year in manufacturing recognition that speed is of the essence. Here’s are six trends they say will stand out in 2021:
Move to Glocalization
As Covid-19 continues to shut down international borders and dampen business travel, companies will focus on balancing localized and globalized business options in order to stay competitive. “They will be a renewed effort to discover the technology solutions that can improve the resiliency and efficiency of critical supply chains in localized regions,” says Adzmel Adznan, partner and operating manager of Piva Capital. “Optimizing and strengthening these supply chains will present viable opportunities for emerging countries to advance their economies and stay competitive.”
Shift To the Edge
Agility will be critical in 2021 and in the post-pandemic era. For example, cobots, or collaborative robots, require manufacturers to become better equipped to respond to changing situations, since cobots make real-time, complex decisions during the task they work on with humans. To get there, computing power and data processing must shift to the “edge,” or closer to where the data is being created, in order to reduce latency and boost processing. “Moving to the edge will protect the safety and security of the workforce,” says Flavio Bonomi, board advisor to Lynx Software Technologies. “At the same time, it helps manufacture goods in a more agile, efficient manner.”
Surge in 3D Printing
According to the Association of Supply Chain Management, Covid-19 gave the world “a glimpse into how 3D printing can be used temporarily to alleviate the strain on supply chains during demand surges and shortages, as it did with medical equipment.” Inventors are combining 3D printing with traditional processes creating unique combinations of parts that perform better with lower cost that can be manufactured closer to the customer, all while being more sustainable. “The supply chain disruptions of 2020 pushed many companies to radically rethink their design & manufacturing strategy,” says Brad Rothenberg, founder and CEO of 3D printing software company nTopology. “The application of advanced manufacturing technologies, including 3D printing and other digital processes, will enable the most advanced products to enter the market — design will, once again, become the differentiator for companies releasing better, more sustainable products.”
Supportive IT Infrastructure
Organizations need to prepare their IT infrastructure to support the sped-up digital transformation leading manufacturers to industry 4.0, particularly in the middle market, says Jason Alexander, principal and industrial products senior analyst at RSM. “That requires a comprehensive IT infrastructure platform that is scalable, flexible and adaptable to the relevant requirements of the organization,” he says. In traditional IT, the interface with production is restricted to the provision of services and data, engineering and the necessary enterprise resource planning and product data management systems. “New technologies such as IoT are revolutionizing machinery, which need to be able to communicate with each other cost-effectively,” he says.
In 2021, remote work will continue, social distancing requirements will remain, and supply chains will continue to face disruption. According to George Young, global managing director of Kalypso, this means companies must find new ways to operate effectively, from the product to the plant to the end user. Artificial intelligence will be the standard for addressing these challenges, but AI will fail if companies don’t consider how humans interact with and leverage these new autonomous systems. “In 2021, enterprises will take a human-centered approach to AI initiatives, understanding user needs and values, then adapting AI designs and models accordingly, which will in turn, improve adoption,” he says.
Increased Investment In IIoT
Integration is critical for answering the $77 billion need for the industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT, according to Keith Higgins, VP of digital transformation for Rockwell Automation. With the IIoT market expected to grow from $77.3 billion in 2020 to $110.6 billion by 2025, 73% of manufacturers plan to increase their investment in smart factory technology over the next year. “As IIoT sensors produce 1.44 billion data points per plant per day, IT/OT integration is critical to improving operational efficiency while accelerating success through digital transformation initiatives,” says Higgins. “It will directly impact whether enterprises remain or become more competitive in the global manufacturing landscape.”