A 2017 Projection on the Manufacturing Industry
What was the biggest trend in the manufacturing industry in 2016? One of the biggest trends in the manufacturing industry is the focus on connecting to digital. Two of the largest industrial companies, GE and Caterpillar, have made digital a key initiative within their overall strategy. GE has discussed its transformation into the largest digital industrial company and its plans to continue to lead the digitization of the industry. Likewise, Caterpillar has made significant investments in the digital space in recent years and announced the formation of a new Digital and Analytics Hub office located in Chicago. Whether it is a CNC lathe in a U.S. precision machining factory, a 400 ton off-highway truck at a copper mine in Chile, or a train locomotive in India all are linked to an information platform to drive efficiency and productivity. What trend(s) should manufacturing companies be on the lookout for in 2017? Employee safety, operational efficiency and quality improvement will always be primary drivers within manufacturing companies but as in 2016 there will be a continued focus on digital in 2017 and beyond. There are many non-traditional competitors that industrial companies are now competing against and thus many companies will continue to invest heavily in the digital space to maintain a competitive edge. Another trend in the industry will be the focus on flexible manufacturing and shorter product development cycles. Due to the uncertainty in the world in recent years, relatively predictable business cycles have become much shorter and volatile. As a result, companies, particularly in the capital intensive industrial sector, will be looking to implement strategies that maximize manufacturing flexibility, minimize capital investment and drastically speed up product development. The internet of things seems to have made a large impact in the manufacturing industry. What does this trend mean for 2017? The Internet of Things has had significant impact both within the factory and with products in the field. Connecting machine tools within a factory with real-time monitoring has improved productivity, quality and reduced cost. In the field, products now send back immense amounts of data to information platforms. By using analytics and leveraging this data, companies can improve reliability, reduce downtime and improve productivity. Autonomous vehicles, drones, self-diagnostic components and a variety of other innovations are starting to be used which can significantly improve safety, productivity and efficiency at customer sites. Although some of these products are still relatively early acceptance, the potential benefits ensure continued investment in 2017. How are manufacturing companies innovating? In order to fully leverage and benefit from the internet of things, companies continue to invest in developing “smart” components. These components are developed with IoT in mind and incorporate technology to optimize performance and reliability, while also providing valuable input for future product development. Additive manufacturing also has the potential to transform manufacturing industry. As it becomes more cost effective, additive manufacturing will change the way engineers design products as they are no longer constrained with traditional manufacturing methods.