Tech trends in manufacturing

Technology is transforming every facet of modern life, and nowhere is the impact more dramatic than in manufacturing. The pace of change is so rapid, and the technologies so complex, that it is easy for manufacturers to become overwhelmed.

One way to achieve a sharper focus as we head toward Industry 4.0 is to first understand the big picture and the major tech trends before trying to assess individual technologies within them. Here are three technology trends to consider when transforming your manufacturing operations.

Blockchain

Forbes magazine recently proclaimed that “Blockchain’s greatest potential to deliver business value is in manufacturing,” reporting on research predicting that, by 2023, 30% of manufacturing companies with $5 billion or more in revenue will be using blockchain, and that by 2030, it will be yielding $3.1 trillion in value-add.

Not bad for something that most business people still can’t explain. So what is blockchain? Think of it as a nearly infinitely distributed database of anything, from financial value to ingredients for food processing. Blockchain creates a record across innumerable computers, the data is for all practical purposes unchangeable and incorruptible, making it a powerful tool for applications that require trust, transparency and security.

Blockchain will be invaluable when it comes to improving and protecting the supply chains of highly regulated industries. For instance, its strengths in tracking and traceability will help ensure that food processing supply chains are able to deliver perishable ingredients in a timely fashion, or certify that sensitive ingredients, such as allergens, have been excluded from processing. This will help prevent food recalls, which average $8-10 million per instance in direct costs alone.

Cybersecurity

Leveraging the global power of the Internet and the flexibility of wireless opens manufacturers to a world of opportunity – and security threats. Cybercriminals can shut down systems for ransom. Competitors can steal intellectual property. Hackers can cut off power.

Nonetheless, manufacturing has been slow to protect itself adequately. Cybersecurity efforts such as maintaining the latest in firewall protection, and creating (and enforcing) stringent password protocols, should be standard. Effective protection requires manufacturers to invest in experts, and provide digital safety training for employees.

Industry 4.0 vs Labor Force 2.0

As factories get smarter, workers must, too. The Manufacturing Institute sees this as such a critical issue that it runs an annual “skills gap” survey. The latest edition forecasts a shortage of two and a half million factory workers between the years of 2018 and 2028, resulting in a loss of financial opportunity equal to two and a half trillion dollars.

For the long-term good of our economy, manufacturers need to actively participate in the retooling of our educational system, so that we can produce more of the workers we need. In the near term, manufacturers must take it upon themselves to develop creative solutions for recruiting non-traditional talent, and providing continual training once workers are hired.

These trends are not far-off concerns – they are the challenges of our very demanding present. How quickly we respond to these trends will largely determine what manufacturers survive, and thrive in the future.


Sources
Manufacturing: Six Transformative Technologies Impacting Manufacturing, Parts One & Two
Machine Design: How IoT Will impact different industries
Forbes: How Blockchain Can Improve Manufacturing in 2019
Forbes: 10 Ways Machine Learning is Revolutionizing Manufacturing in 2018
Instrumentation & Control: What is the future of Blockchain in Manufacturing?
Deloitte/Manufacturing Institute: 2018 Skills Gap Study