The Future of the manufacturing industry: Technology trends for 2019 & Beyond

2018 was characterized by steady industrial growth for many manufacturers. According to a report by Forbes, the US manufacturing industry has rejuvenated since the Great Recession and gained more than 1.1 million jobs in the manufacturing sector in the last eight years. This number is expected to rise in 2019. The industry is expected to grow faster than the general economy with production forecast to grow by 3.9 percent by 2021. Middle-sized companies are investing in inventive technologies and are envisioning to set up operations overseas for them to stay thriving and competitive.

There are several evolving technologies and trends expected to shape the manufacturing industry this year and beyond. For example, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine advances are increasing efficiency and enhancing output. In return, this is leveling the productivity field for small and medium-sized manufacturers. Therefore, those in the industry must have a keen interest in what they are, how to adapt over time. The following are the manufacturing trends to watch in 2019 and beyond.

Automation and Internet of Things (IoT)

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics are reshaping automation, enabling companies to maximize value, improve on quality, provide new services, and cut down costs. Justifying automation for lesser and lower-margin projects is now becoming easier as automation costs decrease, and robots are becoming more able and flexible to execute tasks.

IoT and automation somewhat overlap. Complete digitization of the manufacturing process is only possible with the connectivity of all devices involved in the process. Connectivity will play a big role through the use of IoT connected devices. By using IoT, smart sensors can track discrete processes, inventory levels, and equipment performance and relay the data to an enterprise resource planning platform for integration.

When the connected devices capture real-time data, organizations’ decision makers can track and improve everything from efficiency and output to supply chains and inventory levels. It is estimated that IoT will reach the inflection of 18-20 percent in 2019, after which the adoption point will begin to accelerate. The good thing about the adoption of IoT is manufacturers of any capacity can adopt in their process as long as they have a strong ERP system to manage the rendered data.

Automated Manufacturing Execution Systems (AMES) can automate data collection into the existing ERP structures. An EMS can track and document the transitioning of raw materials to the final product and give information that can help improve the firm’s condition to enhance the output.

A lot of companies use ERP systems that show the status of all molding machines, including cavity, downtime, and uptime. Data collection and sensors will continue to grow in many areas of firms and facilitate better decision making based on real-time data. This will give a clear picture of manufacturing process, production, planning effectiveness and employee efficiency.

The Internet of Things can also help in maintaining quality. Sensors in a manufacturing plant can monitor ambient temperatures, water, humidity, and other elements that could affect the quality of parts. While Automation and IoT will assist companies to collect information, manufacturers need to ensure they only gather accurate, relevant, and usable data and not collecting information for the sake of it.

Virtual reality and Augmented Reality

VR has several applications in the manufacturing sector. For instance, through VR, technicians can learn how to troubleshoot and repair manufacturing equipment. Engineering teams can also leverage VR to design blueprints and prototypes then do testing on the new parts without spending much on materials.

Many manufacturers are expected to adopt VR in 2019 to enhance processes, introduce new manufacturing perspectives, improve safety, and aid in product design. Developing the skills of the ever-evolving manufacturing industry can be improved by the use of Augmented Reality (AR) and VR technologies. The adoption of these two technologies has proved to deliver value by bridging the skills gap and improving the training and evaluation of engineers. Gartner predicts that in 2019, 20% of large manufacturing businesses will incorporate AR and VR in their processes.

Many organizations have started to explore the use of AR headsets that overlay augmented reality onto real objects. The AR headset device offers the wearer access to vast information, enabling them to complete a task efficiently and quickly. For example, ThyssenKrupp field service engineers are using Microsoft Hololens to enhance operations and safety. The devices enable them to walk through upcoming jobs interacting with 3D augmented reality models. While on the job, they can use the devices to access elevator maintenance history, get safety alerts, and even start a remote video call to an expert who can consult on the job. All these tasks can be done while their hands are free, making the job safer and more efficient.

Augmented reality has similar applications when it comes to quality assurance in the manufacturing industry. For example, Porsche tested a program in its Leipzig branch, where technicians used AR to enhance the Quality Assurance process. With the use of AR, technicians compared the pictures of vehicle parts under inspection with those provided by the supplier. The Augmented Reality tool showed the features which did not meet the specifications, enabling engineers to identify the issues easily. This advancement in technology has prompted Porsche to integrate cameras on the production floor with the technology, allowing for real-time analysis of assembly parts.

Manufacturers have no option but to match with the advancements with technology. In the coming months, businesses are expected to spend more on innovation and invest in technology that brings solutions so the staff can concentrate on adding value to the business. Investing in technology should reflect the businesses’ competitive strategy.

Small tasks can also benefit from the advantages of AR. GE is making use of facial recognition technology to sign employees automatically into IT systems and resume jobs after work. Before the implementation of this technology, employees at GE HealthCare spent close to 100,000 hours in a year logging into the IT system. In the same environment, workers getting picklist orders via AR did it 46% faster than when using the normal process. Therefore, using AR technology saves companies both money and time.

Additive manufacturing (AM)

Also referred to as 3D printing, Additive manufacturing is one of the most transformational technologies introduced in the manufacturing industry. Advancements in AM  allow parts and tools to be made out of refined metal alloys or high-performance plastics Additive manufacturing allows for cavities, angles, and cuts to be made quickly, a task that would be difficult using traditional tools.

AM processes can help small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) boost production, limit waste, and reduce energy costs. AM will provide the following benefits in the manufacturing industry.

  • Customized products: Implants, surgical tools, and other 3D components will make the work of healthcare professional easier while improving patients lives. For example, spinal surgeons may need specialized tools based on a specific surgical technique. Previously, developing such a tool would be costly besides being time-consuming. Technicians at the North America Technology Innovation Center can use 3D printing to make custom stainless -steel surgical equipment easily and quickly.
  • Reducing marketing time: rapid and enhanced prototyping will make it easier to design, test concepts, and affect their usability.
  • Reduction in cost: as the one-size-to-fit-all approach disappears, the cost of production is expected to reduce proportionally.
  • Better designs: 3D printing will enable the design and development of components that were previously hard to develop.

3D printing is a life-changing technology where biological materials are printed and grown into bioreactors to make artificial organs and tissues. AM can also be used in the pharmaceutical sector to make customized pills for specific patients.

Autonomous devices

Autonomous devices are improving workflow across the supply chain from enhancing shop floor operations to facilitating intelligent distribution management.  Although robots have been in the manufacturing industry for some time, artificial intelligence is introducing a new breed of autonomous devices, that can function with little or no human intervention. Advanced devices can learn from their surroundings and make decisions independently, therefore, increasing their usefulness.

Previously, robots were used to execute discrete and repetitive processes. However, that is expected to change going forward as robots are expected to have more participation in manufacturing, especially in complex, or dangerous roles and in instances where it is cost-prohibitive to engage human labor. In 2019, the total number of industrial robots is expected to hit the 2.6 million mark amounting to an additional 1 million from 2015.

In Europe, for example, KUKA, a robotic-device company, has a full line of industrial robots made for different reasons. It has heat and dirt resistant robots designed for extreme conditions excellent for forging and foundry industry.

Human-robots collaboration is set to revolutionize the manufacturing industry. The improvements in sensors, trainability, skill, and AI has not only made the autonomous devices safer but also more effective. Therefore, they can work with humans with a reduction in the risk of malfunction or injury.

Intelligent robots will not take over the job of human laborers, but they will take over dangerous or monotonous jobs allowing humans to execute safer and higher value jobs. It is anticipated that manufacturing companies will set up factories in countries with the knowledge and infrastructure to enable autonomous technology.

Adapting to an evolving workforce

Manufacturers are faced with an increasing skills gap prompting them to fill critical the vital roles in the back office and the front line. There has been a dramatic change in the manufacturing industry skills set, and employees entering the sector will be required to be tech-savvy. It will be vital to train the existing staff in the industry to be digitally equipped to ensure they are ready to excel in the new technological environment. Organization directors must develop the skills of their workers to educate, envision, and execute the digital transformation in their businesses.

The importance of having skilled workers in the manufacturing industry in 2019 and beyond cannot be overstated. The sector employs more than 9 percent of the US workforce, yet it is becoming hard to fill the necessary positions with qualified staff. Currently, there are three times as many open positions for skilled staff than they are being filled. Through investing in training and educating the stakeholders in the industry can start to connect with the future workforce.

Apart from the need to train staff to be productive in the digital environment, manufacturers are also concerned about the aging workforce. People above the age of 55 are now the fastest growing section of the American workforce. Directors in the manufacturing industry know the impact of the waging staff on their businesses. Research by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) showed that HR professionals associated with the retirement of aging professionals with potential problems in their organizations.

In a Global CEOs survey, talent was recognized as a major driver of market competitiveness. While aging employees go for retirement, manufacturers are faced with both the challenge of filing an increasing number of open positions and the loss of talented workers with experience in the manufacturing industry. To curb this emerging challenge, several firms are investing in training and cross-training, increasing the recruitment efforts, developing succession plans and capturing institutional knowledge to ensure the incoming workforce is capable of delivering when their predecessors retire.


According to Manufacturing Global Magazine, Blockchain technology will directly influence the security, speed, and cost-effectiveness of financial transactions and operations in the manufacturing industry in 2019. In one distributed ledger system, blockchain technology can affect different management areas, tracking, and transaction reporting in the supply chain. This will bring more transparency and manufacturers will see each part of the supply chain in real time and identify any problems before they spread out

Complete digitization

The future of manufacturing lies in complete digitization where every process is integrated into one platform. Full digitization will enable manufacturers to get insights about their schedules, operations, maintenance, equipment, inventory, and more. An integrated system will also allow easy monitoring and management of every production aspect with great precision.

This year, many manufacturers have already advanced in the digitization of manufacturing equipment. According to IDC, we expect more than half of the manufacturing companies to be digitally determined by 2020. The digitization will help in streamlining how companies organize, integrate, and analyze their data.

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