2019 trends to watch in manufacturing: growth in R&D, lean and CX

In 2019, the manufacturing trends to watch include a growing need for higher skillsets among manufacturing professionals, increased pressure to embrace new set lean practices driven by Industry 4.0, and new expectations in customer experience. By Gordon Styles, president and CEO of Star Rapid.

Advancements in sensor technology, equipment and automation, among many others, continue to have a ripple effect throughout the manufacturing industry. These advancements have led to several emerging trends that will peak in 2019, including the need for higher skillsets among manufacturing professionals, increased pressure to embrace a new set of lean practices driven by Industry 4.0 and new expectations in customer experience.

Industry and University Collaborations

The University of Strathclyde is a strategic partner in a new £56m UK innovation centre - Strathclyde University.
The University of Strathclyde is a strategic partner in a new £56m UK innovation centre – Strathclyde University.

Manufacturing and manufacturing methods are changing with exponential speed. Technology is driving changes in the way that we live and work and the skills required to implement “Smart Manufacturing” techniques are very different to the traditional skills and resources required even 10 years ago. Manufacturers today need to understand advanced computer software, stay abreast of cutting-edge manufacturing processes like 3D printing, utilizing IoT, sensors, AR, AI and real time data. The space is much more high-tech than is commonly perceived. This has created a huge skills gap in the manufacturing field and it needs to be filled – which starts with schools and universities.

Many schools in the US and UK are already starting to get more involved with manufacturing companies through co-ops and R&D projects that teach students the skills necessary to succeed. For example, GKN Aerospace partnered with The University of Sheffield to develop a new innovation center that will provide collaboration between the two entities for research and development projects. Additionally, recognizing the changing workforce and required skills for manufacturing in the UK, Siemens opened the Advanced Manufacturing Building at Nottingham University in December of 2018. This collaboration is designed to expand many related manufacturing sciences, improve the technical ability and expertise of students while enhancing support for industry. We will continue to see further collaborations like these between universities and private organizations in 2019.

Need to Get “Smart” Lean

Lean manufacturing techniques have been around for many years and adopted by many organizations. In 2019, those organizations who are prepared for, embrace and implement the next level of lean, driven by Industry 4.0, will create significant competitive advantage. Automation is available and utilized widely already but connecting equipment and systems to enable proactive improvements will be one of the key challenges and objectives for many companies.

The increased use of AR and AI for example will drive improvements in operational efficiencies, elimination of defects, reduced lead times and increased cost advantages. Amongst the biggest challenges will be how to select the most meaningful data and understand how to use that data to drive meaningful improvements. In turn, refining training practices, organizational development and culture will need, in many cases, a complete rethink.

Customer Experience Matters

Shorter product life cycles, increased speed to market, faster product development times and the agility to respond to immediate fluctuations in demand remain a challenge for most manufacturing organizations. Using technology to reduce order processing time, along with the utilization of blockchain to add transparency throughout the value chain will all be front and center through 2019.

Manufacturers are already tracking internally where a customer’s job is on the shop floor and this year will be the turning point in which manufacturers start to make this transparent to customers. It will eventually become common practice for customers to be able to easily log-in to an online portal and check how far along their product is in the production line. This alleviates some of the back-and-forth between the manufacturer and customers, which saves time and improves efficiency by allowing the manufacturer to focus on creating the product.

It is an exciting time for manufacturing and these are just a few of the trends that will grow in 2019. Each trend will ultimately enable customers to create more advanced products, in less time, at lower costs and with more transparency into the overall process. Those companies that can take advantage of these trends will carve out a strong advantage over competition.