2019 Industry Trends for Manufacturing in America

The winds of change are blowing harder than ever before in manufacturing. Not only are supply chains under the strain of the trade dispute between the U.S. and China but the adoption of industrial automation is accelerating. 

The combination of these factors means that supply chains are primed for massive disruption in the coming years. This holds as true for plastic extrusion suppliers as it does for metalworking companies. With that in mind here are some of the industry trends which are transforming manufacturing in America and beyond.

  1. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

The realities of this technology are starting to take hold in 2019. This is due to the implementation of millions of devices which are connected to the internet as they are helping manufacturers to identify issues in real-time, improve safety, and ultimately reduce costs.  More than 60 percent of manufacturers are currently using IIoT devices to help reduce costs.

There are three drivers behind the mass adoption of this technology. First is the advent of the ubiquitous internet. Think about it, you are connected almost everywhere you go these days, and this allows manufacturers to more easily track the status of works in progress. 

The second reason is that sensors are not only getting smaller, but their costs are also coming down as well. As such, it has become more cost-effective for companies to deploy brigades of sensors throughout their supply chains. 

Finally, the continued development of cloud computing and advanced analytics has made it easier to make sense of the terabytes of information generated by these sensors. Think about it, just a few years ago you would have needed to employ a team of data scientists to analyze the information coming from the factory floor. 

However, algorithms have advanced to a point where much of the data being produced can be reviewed with little-or-no human involvement. This frees up resources which can either be deployed in other parts of the business or which can be banked as savings. 

  1. Next Generation PM

In this case, the “PM” does not stand for planned maintenance. In the 21st century “PM” means predictive maintenance. This is made possible when machines can report their operating condition as it allows production planners and maintenance teams to make informed decisions on the optimal timing for repairs and upgrades.

Based on a recent report, the cost of downtime can range from $10,000 or more per hour. Granted the exact amount might be less for small manufacturers but the impact is no less important as an hour of downtime may result in missed deliveries, poor quality, and eventually lost business. Multiple line stoppages could spell the death of a small manufacturer – especially as they are trying to compete in a global economy.

Beyond this, McKinsey & Company reported that predictive maintenance can also be used to dramatically extend machine life. This can be a difference-maker for manufacturers large and small as the capital investment required to upgrade their production lines due to neglect is often prohibitive.

  1. Shifting Focus of Supply Chains

Surprise, this is not due to the trade war. Instead, an increasing number of manufacturers have reported that the traditional B2B (Business-to-Business) model is shifting to a B2B2C (Business-to-Business-to-Consumer) model. What is the difference? In the latter, the end consumer is an integrated part of the supply chain.

For manufacturers, this represents a sea change as it offers an opportunity for increased leverage in price negotiations, faster time-to-market, and better customer data. Some see the latter as the most important change as the historic weakness of most ERP data has been the inability to properly capture demand from the perspective of the end-user. This weakness has created distortions in production planning which lead to non-value activities such as excess inventory and unnecessary line changes.

  1. 3D Printing Comes of Age

Long seen as the dream of futurists, 3D printing is coming of age as efficiency improves and the capabilities of the infrastructure expand. The result is that prototyping has become easier than ever before. Also, high-speed printers are being deployed in manufacturing, creating the ability to truly produce items on demand rather than batching and storing items.  

Some manufacturers have implemented cells of 3D printing machines directly adjacent to their main assembly lines to reduce inventories but also transit times between production cells.

As you can see, technology is transforming manufacturing in ways which were considered science fiction only a decade ago. In the process, these trends are helping to make American manufacturing more resilient than ever before; ensuring the nation’s place as one of the greatest manufacturing economies in the world.

Adam Hansen

Adam is a part time journalist, entrepreneur, investor and father.