It’s no surprise that 2020 was a rollercoaster for the manufacturing industry. While the ISM Manufacturing Report has shown eight straight months of economic growth, manufacturers have had to a deal with a host of new problems and opportunities related to COVID-19, from new safety concerns to increased demand for services and everything in between. As the saying goes, though, the one constant has been change. Looking forward to the rest of 2021 and beyond, here are three technological focus areas that will drive the manufacturing industry forward.
“Remote service” and “contactless experiences” are but two of the many new phrases that entered the common lexicon in 2020. As manufacturers modified existing operations to accommodate customers in a COVID-safe manner, these and other measures have become standard practice. As customers become more comfortable with these measures, it would seem the focus going forward would be to integrate them into standard, long-term approaches. What started as safe alternatives will rapidly become the norm. Forward-looking manufacturers would be wise to assess how the temporary measures they implemented have impacted the customer—positively and negatively—and how this may affect them well into the future.
The past year has caused the entire manufacturing industry to take a hard look at their entire infrastructure and operations; driving efficiency has perhaps never been more important. Many have discovered gaps in technology that have encouraged them to embrace more sophisticated technologies—and at a more rapid pace—than they may have in the past. For example, the Internet of Things (IoT) and data technologies providing greater verification of sourcing provenance has become virtually ubiquitous. Some manufacturers are assessing how technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning can be used to support remote workforces. The goal would be to make them more agile and effective with automation and predictive services. If the trend continues, 2021 could mark the beginning of a technological revolution within the manufacturing industry.
Digital disruptors gained a leg up in 2020, forcing many successful manufacturers to think creatively about how to retain existing market share. It would seem that collaboration in consumer and enterprise markets has become increasingly important, and that is unlikely to change going forward. To stay competitive, manufacturers will need to shift focus from traditional linear contracts to collaborative partners focused heavily on servicing end-customer needs. This approach allows all involved partners to more effectively manage capital while better serving the customer. Having technology that aids rather than impedes this collaboration is critical.
As we look ahead to the future, there are many unknowns. For example, what if any impact will the vaccine rollout have on the manufacturing industry? Regardless of this and other issues, however, one thing is certain: technology that enhances the customer experience, improves operational efficiency, and promotes effective collaboration will be key to the future of the manufacturing industry.