Editorial: 5 trends for smart manufacturing in 2021…

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

02 December 2020

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Sensing, intelligence & connectivity – all powered by electronics – continue to drive innovation throughout consumer & industrial products, systems & infrastructure, ensuring Industry 4.0, the IoT & smart devices remain hot topics for our industry, so let’s review 5 key trends for smart manufacturing in 2021 – including how COVID-19-driven adaptations will bring emerging tech to the forefront…

A version of this editorial was originally featured as the intro to EPDT's IoT & Industry 4.0 supplement, included  in the December 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

In July 2020’s IoT & Industry 4.0 supplement, I talked about how COVID-19 is accelerating adoption of IoT & Industry 4.0 technologies – a theme I saw echoed as I reviewed smart manufacturing technology trends for 2021. Market research firm, Forrester notes: “In the wake of profound disruption, the future came into focus. Changes long in the making for some firms were implemented overnight. Agility, creativity and customer obsession showed the way forward. These principles will continue to guide companies as we enter the next normal.”

Indeed, it continues: “2021 will mark a turning point. The business landscape has fundamentally shifted. Success will depend on firms’ ability and willingness to harness disruption to drive meaningful change.” After a tough year for manufacturing in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, flexibility, resilience and innovation will dominate its 2021 recovery from COVID-19, Forrester says – and these are the five trends smart manufacturing companies should be prepared for in 2021:

1. COVID-19-driven adaptations will bring emerging tech to the forefront

Emerging technologies that came to the fore during the pandemic – including repurposing of design and manufacturing resources to support COVID-19 efforts, such as ventilator production, rapid 3D printing of PPE, and use of digital tech, such as augmented reality (AR), to enable remote learning, maintenance or healthcare – will simply become the new normal. “The need for a rapid response to the pandemic removed obstacles to adoption. In 2021, executives will try to make these quick fixes stick,” Forrester said.

2. Supply chains will become collaborative networks

Supply-chain concerns and interruptions during the early part of the pandemic make ensuring its future resiliency essential. “Manufacturing leaders must learn to federate data and distribute trust to collaborate with customers and suppliers in multi-enterprise supply networks,” Forrester said. This pooling of data, coupled with investment in logistics operation centres, the rise of industry marketplaces and proliferation of supplier trust networks will result in great resilience throughout the supply chain.

3. Sourcing provenance & data transparency will be necessary to protect brands

“Fair trade, labour conditions and sustainability across categories like food, pharmaceuticals and clothing have become vital elements of manufacturers’ brand value. In 2021, growing concerns around security and safety, the rise of localisation and nationalist sentiment will extend this trend to core manufacturing sectors,” Forrester predicts. Manufacturers will need to track the inputs of materials, components and data they use – as well as facing demand for the transparent sharing of it with customers. “Manufacturers must manage this flow of data and prevent its misuse, while ensuring customers get the ethical transparency they demand,” Forrester said.

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4. Organisations will invest heavily in knowledge workers

Automation and AI (artificial intelligence) will both continue to play key roles in the manufacturing world, Forrester said, meaning knowledge workers with tech skills will remain in high demand. Data and analytics will be fundamental for manufacturers looking to foster innovation and scale best practice, Forrester predicts. But there’s a global shortage of the skills needed to make these new technologies a reality for manufacturing companies...

5. Resiliency strategies will replace disaster recovery plans

After COVID-19 upended many short-term-focused disaster recovery plans in 2020, Forrester predicts that long-term resilience as a strategy will supplant disaster recovery. And as businesses replace disaster recovery with resilience strategies in 2021, a key element will be the ability to run and manage production floors remotely. This will require significant investments in new smart manufacturing equipment and networking technology, driving more long-term projects and investment. “Manufacturing leaders cannot do it all at once and should prioritise their efforts. Identify the workflows most important to long-term business resilience and equip those for remote operation,” Forrester said.

EPDT's latest IoT & Industry supplement, included in EPDT's December issue, also contains features on connected smart PPE wearables, a case study from Bayer on its IoT-enabled supply chain, and environmental protection for smart city sensor technologies. Read more on what's inside EPDT's December 2020 IoT & Industry supplement...

And for everything you need to know about how to get the best out of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), you should also check out our sister title, Connectivity, over at www.connectivity4ir.co.uk

Mark Gradwell

EPDT Editor


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