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The Biggest Manufacturing Industry Trends Heading Into 2024


The Biggest Manufacturing Industry Trends Heading Into 2024

It’s been nearly thirty years since two Northwestern University professors unveiled the first cobot – a groundbreaking industrial robot engineered to collaborate safely with humans in the same workspace.

At the time, many brushed it off as a mere novelty, perhaps a glimpse into a distant future. Yet, here we are, on the cusp of 2024, and cobots, along with other cutting-edge manufacturing innovations, are no longer just future concepts – they’re defining our present.

As we gear up for another year, the excitement around the trends shaping our industry is bubbling. Let’s dive into what’s hot and uncover ways you can harness these changes for a prosperous year ahead!

Embracing Sustainable Manufacturing

Our planet’s health is at a critical juncture. And the stats are jarring: industries account for nearly 28% of all greenhouse gas emissions. But there’s hope. Many companies are slashing their emissions by optimizing their energy use and turning to renewable sources.

Eco-Friendly Materials on the Rise

Gone are the days of single-use plastics reigning supreme. Biodegradable, recyclable, and sustainably sourced materials are all showing an uptick in interest. By 2029, the sustainable plastic packaging market is expected to hit $137 billion.

Recycling Isn’t Just an Afterthought

Recycling is becoming a core part of the manufacturing process. Innovations in recycling technology mean that waste isn’t just reduced but repurposed. In fact, some top manufacturing companies right now are producing more with recycled materials than with new ones.

Pro Tips for Manufacturers

  • Reevaluate your supply chain.
    Where can you source more sustainable materials?
  • Rethink packaging.
    Can it be reduced, reused, or recycled?
  • Invest in green tech.
    Consider upgrades that lower energy consumption or tap into renewable energy sources.

The shift toward sustainability is more than a feel-good move – it’s smart business. Companies that embrace these changes are future-proofing their operations and building trust with a new generation of consumers ready to reward their eco-efforts.

The Promise of Smart Manufacturing

Integrating tech like IoT, AI, and big data at the core of every manufacturing process completely revolutionized the ways we produce.

Machines That Think and Predict

With machine learning and AI, equipment can predict when it might fail or require maintenance.

The Internet of Things (IoT) sector has also stretched beyond smart home gadgets. It’s making manufacturing floors hum with synced devices, real-time data sharing, and seamless operations.

These innovations can be a game-changer when it comes to reducing downtime dips and increasing productivity.

Big Data, Bigger Insights

Think of data as the goldmine of the 21st century. With advanced analytics, manufacturers are uncovering patterns, predicting trends, and making informed decisions like never before.

Surprisingly, recent studies show that companies utilizing big data are 58% more likely to surpass their revenue targets.

It might sound odd, but look at the recent marketing trends around Vitamin C. The rise in its demand is a result of understanding consumer behavior, predicting interest, and tailoring production to match. That’s smart manufacturing in action.

Pro Tips for Manufacturers

  • Start small.
    Introduce one piece of tech at a time, understand it, and then scale.
  • Train your team.
    Ensure everyone’s on board and understands the benefits.
  • Stay updated.
    The tech landscape changes fast. Keep an ear to the ground and be ready to adapt.

Diving into smart manufacturing might feel like a giant leap, but it’s one that promises great returns. With the right approach, tools, and mindset, there’s no limit to what we can achieve. 

Personalization in Production

With today’s consumers hungry for unique, tailored products, manufacturers are constantly reimagining their processes to offer that touch of personalization.

The challenge is creating products that resonate and speak directly to a consumer’s needs and tastes rather than manufacturing at large.

Customization Pays Off

The numbers don’t lie. Recent surveys suggest that 62% of businesses recognize the advantages of personalization, with most highlighting its potential to help retain existing customers. That’s the result of listening to your audience.

Tech to the Rescue

Thanks to advancements in tech, personalization at scale is already a reality. 3D printing, for instance, allows for rapid prototyping and custom production runs. And the best part is that it’s becoming more affordable by the day.

Pro Tips for Manufacturers

  • Understand your audience.
    Use feedback loops, surveys, and social media to gauge what they truly want.
  • Invest in flexible tech.
    Equipment that can easily shift between tasks is invaluable in a personalized production environment.
  • Collaborate with marketing.
    They’ve got all of the valuable insights on consumer trends. Use it.

Shifting Supply Chain Strategies

With global trade tensions and unexpected disruptions (think pandemics, geopolitical issues, and inflation), there’s a new kid on the block: regional supply chains.

Businesses are now looking closer to home, ensuring quicker responses and reducing transportation emissions. They also believe that new tech and digital transformation are the future of stable supply chains.

On-shoring Gains Momentum

For many businesses, it’s not just about making it closer to home but about making it AT home. On-shoring, or bringing manufacturing back to a company’s home country, is on the rise. The benefits include boosting local employment, tighter quality control, and a significant reduction in shipping times.

Diversifying to Stay Alive

The mantra here is simple: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. By diversifying suppliers and not relying heavily on a single source, companies can better weather unexpected supply shocks. A study showed that having a diversified supply chain can significantly help to bounce back faster from disruptions.

Pro Tips for Manufacturers

  • Audit your current chain.
    Identify vulnerabilities and potential choke points.
  • Foster strong relationships.
    Build partnerships with suppliers, ensuring mutual growth and stability.
  • Embrace technology.
    Tools like AI can help predict supply chain disruptions and suggest alternative strategies in real time.

Navigating the complexities of modern supply chains might seem daunting, but with a proactive approach and a keen eye on the future, we can create systems that are efficient and resilient.

The Push Towards Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) Models

There’s a shift afoot in the manufacturing world. No longer happy to stay behind the scenes, many manufacturers are making a direct connection with the end consumer. This move towards D2C models is redefining how goods are produced, marketed, and sold.

By connecting directly with consumers, manufacturers can gather firsthand feedback, refine products, and tailor offerings more accurately. The direct link leads to increased brand loyalty and trust.

Ecommerce and Digital Platforms Lead the Way

With the rise of online shopping, manufacturers have a golden opportunity to set up digital storefronts. These platforms allow for instant feedback, dynamic pricing, and a chance to tell the brand story directly.

Streamlined Supply Chains

The D2C model cuts out middlemen, resulting in a more streamlined and efficient supply chain. This often translates to cost savings, faster delivery times, and fresher products for consumers.

Pro Tips for Manufacturers

  • Develop a strong online presence.
    This includes an easy-to-navigate ecommerce platform and active social media engagement.
  • Understand your consumer.
    Utilize analytics and data to tailor offerings and marketing strategies.
  • Prioritize customer service.
    Direct engagement means direct feedback, both good and bad. Be ready to address concerns and enhance the consumer experience.

By embracing this model, manufacturers can forge stronger ties with consumers, innovate faster, and stake their claim in the retail landscape.

Embracing Workforce Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity is the lifeline of modern businesses, manufacturing included. By welcoming a myriad of perspectives, experiences, and talents, companies enrich their work culture and sharpen their competitive edge.

Diverse teams have proven to be more innovative, adaptable, and resilient. It’s not just about optics; it’s about results. Companies with diverse leadership show a 19% higher revenue due to innovation compared to their less diverse counterparts.

Inclusion Goes Beyond Hiring

Sure, recruiting a diverse workforce is crucial. But that’s just the starting point. Creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued, heard, and empowered is the real goal.

Challenges in Manufacturing

While strides have been made, the manufacturing sector still grapples with representation issues, especially concerning women and minorities. But the tide is turning, with more companies championing diversity initiatives than ever before.

Pro Tips for Manufacturers

  • Revisit recruitment strategies.
    Consider blind hiring or partnerships with organizations that promote diversity.
  • Continuous education.
    Host workshops, training sessions, and discussions to build awareness and understanding.
  • Celebrate diversity.
    Recognize different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences within your team.

The path to true diversity and inclusion isn’t without its challenges. But with commitment, openness, and the right strategies, manufacturers can shape a work environment where everyone thrives.

Final Thoughts

As we usher in 2024, change is the only constant in the vibrant manufacturing landscape.

But amid these modern shifts, one thing remains certain: manufacturers who adapt, innovate, and directly engage with the evolving demands will not only survive but thrive.

So, let’s embrace these trends, foster a spirit of inclusivity, and redefine our industry’s future.


5 Innovations in Manufacturing Processes and Their Effect on the Bottom Line

Manufacturing is a rapidly evolving industry. With a broad spectrum of sectors depending on manufacturing, modern facilities are often quick to adopt new technology that improves on their existing processes.

The rise of automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and data have created a wave of digital transformation. As manufacturing grows and becomes increasingly competitive, capitalizing on Industry 4.0 innovations can determine whether or not a company will succeed.

Here’s a look at five of these innovations and how they affect the bottom line.

1. Cobots

Robots aren’t new in the manufacturing industry. But as automation has grown, new approaches and technologies have emerged that can take its benefits further. Collaborative robots, or cobots, are one of the most significant of these upgrades to factory automation.

In a 2021 study, 44.9% of surveyed businesses said that robots are an integral part of their operations. Of those companies, 34.9% had adopted cobots. Cobots have slowly become more popular as manufacturers have realized the limits of traditional automation. Other robotic solutions are expensive and inflexible, making it difficult to scale, but not cobots.

Since cobots work alongside humans instead of replacing them, they typically automate fewer processes at once. Consequently, they’re often more affordable than traditional automation and easier to implement. Manufacturers can then automate one process at a time, slowly scaling up to meet demand or new challenges.

This incremental approach to automation removes the high upfront costs and disruptions of traditional automation. As a result, cobots enable manufacturers, especially smaller businesses, to scale up and down with ease. These companies can then enjoy quicker, higher ROIs.

2. IoT Sensors

Another growing innovation in manufacturing is the implementation of internet of things (IoT) sensors. While these technologies aren’t a manufacturing-specific phenomenon, they hold considerable potential in this sector. Perhaps their most popular and impressive use case is predictive maintenance.

Predictive maintenance improves on traditional maintenance schedules by avoiding both breakdowns and unnecessary repairs. According to a Deloitte report, it reduces maintenance costs by 25% on average. That’s an impressive figure on its own, but it also reduces breakdowns by an average of 70%.

Considering that an hour of downtime costs more than $100,000 in 98% of organizations, that adds up to considerable savings. Predictive maintenance isn’t the only application of IoT sensors in manufacturing, either.

Manufacturers can also use these sensors to gather data points throughout their operations. This data can then reveal areas of potential improvement, enabling ongoing optimization. The longer manufacturers use these technologies, the more they can save through them.

3. Additive Manufacturing

One recent innovation that is specific to manufacturing is 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. While this technology is most well known as a tool for hobbyists, it originated as an industrial production technique. Recent advances have made it a more viable solution, leading to a comeback in industrial manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing lets manufacturers produce parts and products as a single piece instead of assembling multiple smaller components. Like mil-spec buffer tubes, which are made of a single piece of aluminum, this improves products’ strength and resiliency. As a result, they produce fewer defects, improving the company’s bottom line.

Since additive manufacturing adds material instead of cutting it away, it also reduces waste. Manufacturers can get more parts or products from the same amount of materials. 3D printers also typically work faster than traditional production techniques, leading to a quicker time to market.

Additive manufacturing is also more energy-efficient. Some products, like car batteries, require a lot of energy to handle the sensitive materials they need, leading to higher costs. By reducing energy consumption through additive manufacturing, facilities can increase their profit margins. Alternatively, they could reduce end prices, selling more with consistent profit margins.

4. 5G Connectivity

Like the IoT, 5G isn’t strictly a manufacturing technology, but it has impressive potential for the sector. 5G networks aren’t widespread enough yet to bring substantial improvements to the consumer sector, but they’re ideal for manufacturing facilities. Their higher bandwidth, increased speeds and lower latency let smart manufacturing reach its full height.

5G networks can theoretically support up to one million devices per square kilometer, ten times 4G’s limits. That will allow manufacturers to expand their IoT infrastructure to virtually every machine in the facility. Lower latencies will allow these interconnected systems to communicate more efficiently and reliably, unlocking Industry 4.0’s potential.

With all of these machines connected to one another, manufacturers could create cohesive autonomous environments. If a disruption occurs in one process, machines down the line could know and adapt to it, minimizing its impact. As a result, manufacturers could maintain higher productivity levels, minimizing their losses from lost time.

5G lets manufacturers use technologies like the IoT and automation to their full extent. This leads to higher ROIs for these significant investments.

5. Machine Vision Error Detection

AI has many use cases in manufacturing, but one of its most enticing is machine vision. Machine vision systems let manufacturers automate quality control processes at both the front and back end of production lines. This automation, in turn, improves the efficiency and accuracy of their error detection.

When Heineken installed a machine vision quality control system in its Marseille, France bottling plant, it highlighted this technology’s benefits. The facility’s bottling machine operates at 22 bottles per second, far too fast for human workers to spot any bottle defects without stopping it. The machine vision system, on the other hand, can analyze bottles at speed with a 0% error rate.

Machine vision error detection lets manufacturers increase production while maintaining the same level of quality. Since these systems deliver a level of consistency impossible for a human, they’re also more accurate. As a result, facilities will also produce fewer defects.

Fewer defects translate into less waste, and faster checking enables increased output. These factors combined result in an improved bottom line.

New Technologies Make Manufacturing More Profitable

These five technologies aren’t the only ones pushing manufacturing forward, but they are among the most notable. As more facilities embrace these innovations, manufacturing is becoming a more profitable industry.

Technologies like these improve efficiency, minimize errors, optimize operations and more. Manufacturers that can capitalize on them early will ensure their future success, and those that don’t may quickly fall behind.


Future in Maintenance: Will Machines And AI Replace Maintenance Workers?

A widespread narrative on work in the future is that machines will take care of everything. Robotics, artificial intelligence, and modern algorithms powered by new energy sources will replace the way this world works. People will be out of jobs as they will not be able to compete with machines powered by AI. Leading to widespread unemployment and dispossession of the masses. The state of affairs is, allegedly, no different for maintenance activities in the future and looks bleak for maintenance employees. 

Now, is this the bleak future we face, or is it ‘immanentizing the eschaton’ as Willian F. Buckley puts it? For that, we have to take a look at the current state of maintenance automation, the potential evolution of the same, and historical precedents for such radical changes.

Maintenance automation: A Swiss army knife?

Maintenance activities have become a lot simpler with the help of technology. Managing maintenance schedules to predictive maintenance can be accomplished with the aid of modern technology. Everything with some level of computerized decision-making is broadly termed automation. But there are varying degrees of automation depending upon the entity making the decisions in various processes.

All processes in an industrial environment are formed by one or more of the following functions.

1. Monitor function

2. Advice function

3. Decide function

4. Implement function

The control of each of these functions can be handled by a computer or a human. Based on this, there are ten levels of automation starting from complete manual control to full automation. In full automation, all the functions in the process are controlled by a computer. The different levels of automation and who controls different functions in each of those levels are illustrated in the table given below.

The aim of all automation advancements is to reach the level of full automation. Today in most automation instances, computers control only one or two of the functions that form the process. The common narrative is that technological improvements snowball and compound to an exponential degree to deliver fully automated systems in the not-so-distant future. This will lead to the take over of all maintenance activities by machines and AI replacing all maintenance workers.

But what the narrative misses out on is the law of diminishing returns. According to the definition from Investopedia, “The law of diminishing marginal returns is a theory in economics that predicts that after some optimal level of capacity is reached, adding an additional factor of production will actually result in smaller increases in output.”

Applying the law in maintenance automation, after a period of compounding a ceiling is reached from where incremental improvement requires a disproportionately high amount of time, resources, and effort. This follows the trajectory of an S-curve as shown above. The progress in automation will follow a snail’s pace after a critical limit is reached. 

The real-world impact of the S-curve can be seen everywhere in technological advancement. The capacity of semiconductor chips was supposed to grow exponentially to infinity. “Faster and faster processors every year” was the narrative pushed during the initial phases of semiconductor development. Today, semiconductor manufacturing is fast approaching the physical limitation and the cost of improving the tech is orders of magnitude higher than earlier.

A similar ceiling for innovation will also hit the march to full automation of maintenance activities in manufacturing facilities. The cost of implementing incremental automation will rise exponentially after reaching a critical limit. Till the critical point automation technology will rise exponentially at a minimal cost. The problem is that no one really knows what is the critical point for maintenance automation or for any other technological evolution.

In the future, there will be an exponential rise in the technology driving maintenance automation. But it will not completely eliminate the need for human workers in maintenance activities. Maintenance automation brings about improvement in processes, efficiency, and in turn bottom line. But after a critical limit, an incremental increase in efficiency comes at a huge cost.

Horse buggies were replaced by cars and taxis. A lot of coachmen lost their jobs due to the transition. In addition to that, horse merchants, workers taking care of horses, carriage makers, all lost their jobs. But plenty of new jobs were created in the process of transitioning into automobile-based transportation. Cars and taxis were unheard of before the existence of automobiles. Plenty of new jobs such as cab drivers, car salesmen, car dealers, mechanics, etc came into being. This is the sort of creative disruption that always happens in free-market capitalism and maintenance automation would be no different.

Creative disruption

The most plausible scenario, for maintenance automation, is where human workers work in conjunction with machines and artificial intelligence. Software and algorithmic tools will be used extensively for process automation intelligence. Robotic arms and other robotic devices that can be programmed to perform regular tasks would be created. But since there is a lot of variability in a lot of maintenance tasks creating custom programmed robots for each instance would be cumbersome. 

The tasks that require flexibility and dexterity will be exclusively carried out by human maintenance technicians. They will have assistance from cobots. ‘Cobot’ is an abbreviated form of ‘collaborative robot’. It is specially designed robots that assist human workers in accomplishing their tasks. This form of creative cooperation will be commonplace for maintenance activities of the future.

The bottom line is that machines and AI will take over a lot of mundane and repetitive tasks. This frees up human capital to deal with more creative and complex tasks. While on the one hand, a lot of traditional maintenance jobs will no longer exist. But on the other hand, plenty of never seen before jobs will be created. Machines and AI would be a net positive for all maintenance activities and jobs in a plant, in the long term.


Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.