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Continuous improvement is part of the game in manufacturing. Factories are finding new ways to change how products are made, reflecting an increased need for shorter product life cycles. Among the new trends in manufacturing improving the industry, additive manufacturing and cloud-based systems will push manufacturing forward in 2017. In fact, rapid design and lightning-fast prototyping, reports Mark Dohnalek of Manufacturing Business Technology magazine, will allow manufacturers to design and produce products in a few days, if not hours. Let’s take a closer look at final five trends in manufacturing to watch for in 2017.

Trends in Manufacturing: 5 Tangible Technologies are Shaping the Future of Manufacturing Now

1. Manufacturers Will Turn to Crowdsourcing For New Ideas.

Crowdsourcing is one of the new trends in manufacturing. As people have grown more comfortable with virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR), the demand for new inventors has increased. As a result, companies are using crowdsourcing to kick start new campaigns for better, faster and smarter technologies, reports Steve Erickson of the Mazella Report. More importantly, crowdsourcing gives manufacturing a chance to judge market value of new products before they are even created. In other words, a strong crowdsourcing response might indicate a product’s future successes before it even hits factory floor.

2. Enterprise Resource Planning Will Move to the Cloud.

Cloud-based systems are quickly replacing legacy enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems in manufacturing. The cloud enables automated updating without the pitfalls of downtime. In addition, cloud-based systems can manage whole-system solutions.

For example, a manufacturer’s financial, warehousing, shipping and auditing information can be kept safely in one platform. This is where Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies come into play. These holistic platforms offer increased versatility and flexibility to adapt to fluctuations within markets, and they can eliminate the overhead costs of running an in-house IT department.

Platform SaaS solutions also lead to better visibility across the entire supply chain, asserts Synchrono of Supply Chain 24/7. Essentially, manufacturers can seamlessly integrate existing solutions into cloud-based platforms through a series of increments, lessening the burden of transition. In fact, adoption of cloud-based platforms for manufacturing is expected to grow more than 20 percent between 2017 and 2018. Thus, more manufacturers will be able to reduce costs and eliminate redundancies wherever possible.

3. Additive Manufacturing Will Move to Retailer Locations.

There is a stereotype in manufacturing of keeping product creation away from consumers. But, emerging markets and stronger desire for customization have created a unique paradox for manufacturers. Consumers want more complex, customized, and unique products available immediately, and manufacturers are turning to additive manufacturing, such as 3D printing, to meet this demand, reports Industry Week. But, what is 3D printing really?

Technically, 3D printing could be applied to a machine using yarn to fashion a custom accessory in the store. It can use liquid polymers to sculpt home items. The concept of 3D printing really goes back to defining ink and the medium. Meanwhile, think about the basic component of many yarns, polyester. This is a polymer that has been put out in fine threads to create a thick yarn. As a result, tomorrow’s manufacturers might be sitting on store shelves, not based in factories.   

4. Manufacturers Will Use “New Tech” to Draw in Millennials.

Millennials want to work with computers, not oily machines. They want meaningful, innovative careers, and manufacturers have taken notice. 2017 will be the year that more manufacturers draw on technology to entice millennials to enter the industry. As mentioned previously, 3D printing is one of these technologies, but other technologies being deployed include greater use of robotics through automated assembly and ultrasonic quality-assurance systems. Ultimately, more technology and relatability between millennials and manufacturers will help to drive growth in the industry throughout the year.

5. Automation Will Reduce Bottlenecks and Improve Accountability.

Customers want more than ever before. They want the Holy Trinity of Manufacturing: getting anything they want, anytime they want it and at the right price. In response, manufacturers are looking to automation to improve customer service, hold the right people and processes accountable and eliminate bottlenecks in production.

For example, manufacturers can use automation to track sales, monitor inventory levels, monitor use of additive manufacturing, maintain control over financial information and manage logistics processes, reports Terri Hiskey of Manufacturing Business Technology magazine. Furthermore, automation will enable lean production, reducing overstocking or understocking issues, explains Ilene Wolff of Advanced Manufacturing Media. This will also help to reduce overhead costs and drive costs down for end-users. Ultimately, lower costs in the manufacturing process through automation will enable growth in response to market-based or political uncertainty.

The Big Picture.

At the end of 2017, manufacturing will still look similar to what it is today. However, the biggest changes in the industry will appear subtle, reflecting changing technology and management software applications. But, each of these trends in manufacturing will work in tandem to create demand-driven manufacturing, empowering the supply chain along the way. Your organization should consider exploring and implementing these technologies and trends before your competitors put you out of business. 

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