Exploring the future landscape: anticipated and emerging manufacturing trends in 2024 and beyond

Posted on 12 Dec 2023 by The Manufacturer

Here, Stephan Pottel, EMEA Practice Lead, Manufacturing, Transportation & Logistics at Zebra EMEA explores his 2024 manufacturing trend predictions.

Trend/prediction #1:

Digital transformation and IT/OT convergence will accelerate
IT/OT convergence is about leveraging new technologies and driving “combinatorial innovation,” which brings newer technologies together to drive more productivity gains.

On the IT side, there are now various AI tools and different applications like ChatGPT available. And on the OT, or operational side, there are newer applications like machine vision and articulated arm robotics. The combinatorial approach enables teams with more flexibility to mix and match the right solutions to provide manufacturing value.

New use cases that drive Quality 4.0 and next-order productivity gains using robotics will drive investments in the Internet of Things (IoT), intelligent edge and cloud technologies. Additionally, 5G will accelerate adoption of machine vision (MV), artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML). These digital technologies offer significant opportunities to improve and even transform operations with a high degree of manual processes by augmenting or replacing routine tasks.

The next wave of human-to-machine convergence will be key enablers that help manufacturers navigate complexity, price pressures and demand fluctuation. In fact, most industry decision-makers agree digital transformation is a strategic priority for them, and it’s essential for their organisations to have a data-driven culture.

Trend/prediction #2:

Automation will be adopted to help solve manufacturers’ number one challenge–worker attrition
Worker attrition from training existing workers, upskilling, training new employees, managing quit rates/turnover, etc. is the number one issue manufacturers will face in 2024. Seven in 10 surveyed manufacturers in the Manufacturers Outlook Survey said the inability to attract and retain workers is their primary business concern.

Quit rates for manufacturing were 40% in 2023 and a gap of 616,000 total manufacturing job openings still remain. The need to train and retain workers is a perpetual loop: new workers are trained, leave after a short time and training begins again with the next group of new hires, who may also leave quickly. The days of long-term manufacturing employees are long gone.

Expect manufacturers to focus on improving worker enablement in response to the labour challenge. They’ll look for tech partners that can provide advanced software solutions – even gamification – to create a competitive spirit among workers. They’ll also look to build a more engaging culture, applying some social media aspects to democratise decision-making on the shop floor. Empowering workers with the right kinds of tech tools and software, including smart handheld devices, will overcome these labour market trends.

Its critical manufactures transform to smart, digitised operations. They will take tangible steps to create intelligent factories – some with Industry 5.0 features – to empower connected front-line workers to drive decisions that enable operations to achieve sustainable just-in-time production and fulfillment. Rather than focusing on building a larger workforce, manufacturers will turn to technology and automation to augment human labour to improve processes and efficiency. Most automotive decision-makers, for example, plan to increase their spend in technology and the manufacturing infrastructure.

Trend/prediction #3:

AI/ML technologies will advance to the next level – edge intelligence
Expect manufacturers to operate more at the edge. There’s no need for data to be transferred from its origin point at the edge of a network to a central or cloud-based system, only to be sent back to the edge for use. Zebra’s optimal character resolution (OCR) solution is a good example of an out-of-the-box AI machine vision solution. It removes the need for data transfer and reduces the time wasted porting data back to a central location and then drawing insights from it.

Manufacturers will also want to receive and react to digital signals throughout the supply chain so they can optimise their operations and stay competitive. Seven in 10 decision-makers surveyed in Zebra’s Automotive Vision Study rate the digitisation of operations and the supply chain to increase manufacturing speed as their top operational challenge, and they’re struggling to keep up with the pace of tech innovation.

In the US alone, AI in the manufacturing market is valued at $2.3bn and is anticipated to be $16.3bn by 2027, a CAGR growth of nearly 50%. As many industries have already transformed with AI/ML, the time is ripe for manufacturers to embrace it and improve labour efficiency, equipment efficiency, and up-time.

Trend/prediction #4:

Manufacturers have entered a new bio-evolution phase requiring more transparency throughout both the supply and cold chains
There is zero tolerance for health and safety issues in manufacturing today, particularly in the food and pharma–segments. Manufacturers must leverage technologies that reduce risks to humans as well as maintain positive brand sentiment.

In food and beverage manufacturing, reducing food wastage throughout the cold chain will increasingly be the goal. During the journey from farms to forks via the cold chain, it’s not just traceability but ensuring food wastage is being minimised.

Demand planning will continue to play a significant role enabling efficiency here. It provides the visibility into what, where and when food and beverages need to be delivered, expiration dates, shelf availability and necessary actions needed to remedy any anomalies.

Trend/prediction #5:

Manufacturers will look to RFID, and machine vision solutions for locationing solutions
As they work to eliminate waste and address the location of vulnerabilities and points of failure along with equipment, inventory and people, manufacturers will turn to location and machine vision technologies. These expanded solution applications will make the business case and return on investment for location spending stronger.

However, manufacturers will need to pay attention to the latest technology advancements. New specialised tags are being created every day, and efforts are being made to increase readability in dense areas or otherwise difficult environments.

Expect RFID and machine vision to play a central role in automotive battery manufacturing. Machine vision is a key enabler from a quality assurance perspective and RFID from a traceability perspective. As there is a renewed interest for the industry to be extremely cost-efficient and reduce waste, RFID will be a cost-effective solution to provide traceability.

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