The year 2020 brought changes to the manufacturing industry that few if any, anticipated: a global pandemic, a trade war, the urgent need for employees to work from home. If you can’t predict the future, what can we assume about the changes 2021 will bring?
In this article, we look at ten ways the manufacturing industry will change or continue to change in 2021.
1.) Impact of remote work
Manufacturers have already had known problems with finding qualified workers for management and support functions. The emergence of a global pandemic in the first half of 2020 has only accelerated this trend as more and more workers have been encouraged to work from home.
The question that remains is to what extent the emphasis on telecommuting will affect the day-to-day operations of a manufacturing facility. Will management be able to adequately monitor plant workers without being physically present? How will the ongoing development of workplace automation impact the trend toward home-based work?
Manufacturing will continue to change and shift as these questions are resolved in 2021.
The growing awareness among manufacturing companies of the need to become more environmentally and socially conscious, combined with the declining cost of renewable energy, has led to remarkable growth in the electrification of various aspects of industrial production. Factories are changing from oil and gas machines to electricity.
Even traditionally fuel-dependent sectors such as transportation are rapidly moving towards an electrified model. These changes bring a number of important benefits, including greater independence from global fuel supply chains. In 2021, the electrification of the manufacturing industry will only continue to progress.
3.) Growth of the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the interconnectedness of many devices we use every day. Everything from our phones to our toasters is Wi-Fi enabled and networked; manufacturing is no different. More and more aspects of manufacturing equipment are being brought online, or at least have that potential.
The idea of the Internet of Things holds promise and peril for manufacturers. On one hand, the idea of remote machining seems like a holy grail for the industry; the ability to program and run advanced machine tools without ever setting foot in the factory. Taking advantage of the fact that many machine tools are equipped with the Internet, the idea of a “lights-out” factory seems quite possible.
On the other hand, the more aspects of the industrial process are brought online, the more potential for disruption from hackers or poor Internet security processes.
4.) Post-pandemic recovery
The year 2021 promises another, at least partial, recovery from the pandemic-induced economic downturn of 2020. As industries reopen, pent-up demand has led to a rapid recovery in some sectors.
Of course, this recovery is not guaranteed to be complete or all-inclusive; some sectors, such as hospitality and travel, will take years to recover. Manufacturing sectors built around these industries may take a correspondingly long time to recover. Other factors – such as the regional focus that will continue to shape manufacturing in 2021 – will lead to increased demand and drive the recovery.
5.) Regional focus
In part due to the pandemic, manufacturers are shifting their attention to local rather than global interests. The rise in tariffs, the ongoing trade wars, and of course the decline in trade due to the coronavirus have all contributed to shifting expectations for industry supply chains.
To give a specific example: Imports from China have declined as the trade wars and uncertainty have caused manufacturers to seek sources of supply. The ever-changing nature of the web of treaties and trade agreements that govern imports and exports have led some industries to prioritize regional markets.
In 2021, this “region-first” mentality will continue to see in-country supply chains increase; “made in the USA” in an attempt to better hedge against the fluctuations of changing import and export regulations. Other first-world countries will see similar trends as “reshoring” efforts make more and more financial sense.
6.) Need for Resilience
The surprise occurrence of a global pandemic in early 2020 and the accompanying economic crisis only underscore the importance of resilience for manufacturers. Resilience can be achieved in many ways, including diversifying supply changes and embracing digitization. But it relates primarily to financial management methods.
Limiting debt, strengthening cash positions, and diligently pursuing investments all contribute to improving a company’s resilience. The year 2021 will continue to demonstrate the importance for companies to consciously cultivate resilience to better manage change.
7.) Increasing digitalization
In addition to electrification and the Internet of Things, digitization promises to radically change manufacturing processes in 2021 and beyond. Manufacturers will need to adopt a digital strategy that covers everything from cloud-based data storage to digital marketing.
Internal digitalization will include aspects of the electrification and IoT trends mentioned above and will enable better monitoring of infrastructure and fleet energy consumption. External digitization will include the adoption of digital marketing concepts and new B2B2C (business to business to customer) models.
As with IoT and electrification, digitalization will only be driven by the global pandemic. Companies that embrace digitalization – including so-called “born digital” manufacturers that started in the digital age – will be much better positioned for 2021 and beyond.
8.) Need for new talent
Digitalization is one of several trends for 2021 that will require a new approach to the manufacturing workforce. All employees will need to able to work in a digital environment, and training will require to bring employees up to certain basic standards.
As CNC, advanced robotics, and other automation technologies continue to improve. The demand for highly skilled talent to manage and operate these machines will only increase. Manufacturers can no longer rely on stereotypes of “unskilled” factory workers. But must recruit talented individuals who work with cutting-edge technology.
CNC or Computer Numerical Control is a type of machine that uses computer technology to manufacture parts. CNC machining is a modern approach to manually manufactured machine parts. The design of the parts can done through the computer. Entering specific information into the computer software program provides the information needed to make the parts, and the computer controls the automation of making the parts to the specified dimensions. This allows for accurate identification of the parts. Even complicated parts or small parts can be manufacture to the exact same specifications every time. This type of machining allows for more consistent parts and faster output times. The computer can also dictate the best way to produce the parts, leaving the least amount of scrap material. Companies of all sizes can save time and money by using this type of machining.
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9.) Emerging Technology
In 2021, emerging technologies will continue to transform manufacturing. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. manufacturers have already adopted 3D printing technology on at least a limited basis. 3D printing, remote CNC, and other emerging manufacturing technologies offer tremendous growth potential, especially when combined. 3D printing, an additive manufacturing process, and CNC, a subtractive process. Can use in conjunction with each other to produce and machine components more efficiently.
Automated machinery also holds great promise; while electrification can improve fleet transportation, self-driving vehicles could change it entirely. And of course, the potential of AI for manufacturing is almost limitless.
10.) The faster product development cycle
Ever-faster product cycles, coupled with improved delivery options, have already left their mark on manufacturing. Product development cycles of 18-24 months have shrunk to 12 months. Industries that used to use a quarterly or seasonal cycle have added so many smaller trade shows and promotions. That the flow of new products is virtually constant.
While delivery systems continue to struggle to keep up with the pace of product development. Technologies already in use promise to even the odds. Drone delivery systems and automated transportation will ensure that the constant flow of new products reaches customers faster and more reliably.
From remote work to self-driving fleets, 2021 will see the continued growth of technologies that have the potential to reshape the manufacturing industry.
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