Change in the manufacturing industry is required for growth and profit. Without a crystal ball, not all changes can be guaranteed, but certain changes appear to be gaining in strength. From an increase in green manufacturing to automated factories and reshoring, the manufacturing industry is evolving and several trends in this evolution are expected to continue through 2017.

Green Manufacturing

Green manufacturing will continue to rise as more technology becomes available and companies realize the environmental benefits and cost savings. Lean manufacturing practices and a reduction of waste are some of the steps being taken toward achieving a green production environment.(1)

The use of renewable energy sources provides a significant reduction in manufacturing costs. Manufacturing products with recyclable or renewable resources can also lead to lower material costs. Businesses that attempt to increase the use of green technology also gain favor in the eye of the consumer. This will lead to improving the business’s reputation and most likely increase sales.

Automatic Factories and Repairs

Robotics, or a plug and play factory, is one form of automation that is increasing in use in the manufacturing industry. Originally, the majority of robotic use was in the automotive industry. By 2012, automotive manufacturing amounted to only 50 percent of this automation.(2) With the addition of remote monitoring and vision systems, automated production techniques are finding increasing areas for use.

Nearshoring or newshoring takes the reshoring trend a step further.

Advances in technology are creating ways to constantly monitor the equipment in a production setting. With continual data monitoring, machinery malfunctions can be caught before an actual breakdown occurs. Alerts are provided when machinery requires maintenance or is functioning outside of a specified range. Machinery is capable of diagnosing itself and adjustments and repairs can be made from a remote location.

3D Printing

3D printing is revolutionizing the manufacturing industry. The use of this technology can only be expected to grow as the benefits expand and the costs continue to decrease. The technology allows for faster prototyping, improvements in design and small-batch production.

Research and development is greatly improved with the use of 3D printing technology. A single prototype can be produced and evaluated without the need for extensive and costly standard development.

While the ability to print food may excite consumers, the increase in materials available for use in 3D printing is exciting manufacturers. Graphene is considered the new super material, with incredible strength, flexibility and conductivity that makes its uses seem limitless.(4)

Social Solutions and Crowd Sourcing

Brainstorming for the creation of new products is not a new concept. The evolving trend is how the brainstorming is performed. Social media and crowd sourcing are providing companies with new ideas for meeting industry needs and new ways of solving problems.

Experts from a large number of companies can work together to share information of what works and what does not. Input from consumers is obtained through social media and feedback helps companies learn where improvements need to be made.

Service as a Product

Product manufacturers are realizing the power of offering after-market services as a portion of the goods produced. Bundling installation or maintenance adds to the overall product being offered to the market.

A company that produces audiovisual equipment should consider what would be involved in also supplying the installation services required for the product. Repairing and upgrading the product is another area where service can be bundled as part of production.

Auto manufacturers have long utilized service as part of the product manufactured, with authorized dealerships to handle the sales of the vehicle. Service, maintenance and parts expand on the product bundle to give the manufacturer a full range of value added options.

In The Spotlight

Reshoring, Newshoring and Nearshoring

Reshoring or the return of manufacturing to the U.S. has been increasing since 2011. Nearshoring or newshoring takes the reshoring trend a step further. Manufacturers are finding that having production centers close to the market base reduces lead times and improves the agility.

The newshoring trend involves manufacturers that are beginning new production in the U.S. Prototyping and small batch production is started close to home before any mass production is considered. What many U.S.-based businesses are finding is that the manufacturing expenses are not the only cost that must be considered when considering the location of their production.

Many industries find proprietary issues with overseas manufacturing. Ideas are stolen and less expensive versions are created. These lower quality products do not meet the consumer expectations and end up harming the industry overall.

Notes: 1., 2., 3., 4., 5.

Steve Erickson
About The Author Steve Erickson
Steve Erickson is Vice President of Sales and Engineering at First American Plastic, a molding enterprise located in South Beloit, IL that provides injection molding and 3D printing services to the manufacturing industry.

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