As a prior abas manufacturing trends blog post makes clear, there are several technological trends impacting U.S. manufacturing in 2018, from IoT to Augmented Reality to 3D printing and more. But the trends shaping U.S. manufacturing aren’t just about technology.
Here are 4 non-tech trends that will also be transforming U.S. manufacturing in 2018 and beyond:
1. Growing Demand for Specialized Skills (and a Shortage of Supply)
The manufacturing employee of 2018 is just as likely wearing a casual dress shirt and working with a digital device as they are to be wearing overalls and wielding a wrench. In our era of digital transformation, “smart” manufacturing employees are increasingly highly specialized knowledge workers.
Many of the manufacturing jobs of the past have been replaced by automation or other forms of emerging technology. Despite that, whole new categories of manufacturing jobs are being created, especially in data analytics, machine learning, IoT, and other technologies. These emerging jobs tend to be higher paying (and also much harder for manufacturers to fill) than traditional blue collar jobs. In a world of “smart” manufacturing, where data is collected, shared, and analyzed constantly, the skills needed most by U.S. manufacturers involve the human capacity to analyze, interpret, and make decisions based upon all that data.
Especially for mid-sized manufacturers, finding, hiring, training, and retaining the talent you’ll need to thrive can be difficult and expensive
But this opportunity is also a challenge. All U.S. (and global) manufacturing companies are fervently competing to hire and retain top talent with specialized skills in Big Data, IoT, and other hot tech fields.
While the demand for specialized skills is booming, the supply is not -- hence an ongoing war for talent and a push to train existing workers in new skills. Especially for small and mid-sized manufacturers, finding, hiring, training, and retaining the specialized talent you’ll need to thrive can be difficult and expensive.
Moving into 2018 and beyond, every U.S. manufacturer will need a well-developed staffing and training strategy to fully engage the specialized talent they’ll need to grow, leverage technology, and gain competitive advantage.
2. Sustainability in Manufacturing (Going Green is Getting Easier)
For Manufacturers, going green is now as much about energy efficiency, cost savings, and innovation as it is about saving the planet. In a growing number of operational areas across multiple sectors, sustainable practices that cut down on waste, energy consumption, and cost are getting easier for U.S. manufacturers to implement.
With an increasing supply of alternate energy sources, especially wind and solar, many U.S. manufacturers are looking to move away from fossil fuels. The use of renewable, sustainable energy sources has gained widespread favor with the public and consumers, not to mention regulators. The sustainability push in U.S. manufacturing will likely continue in 2018 as the available supply of alternative energy sources goes up and prices come down.
Going green can support product innovation
Going green can also support product innovation. For instance, many designers have developed new material combinations by turning to nature for inspiration: water repellant plants have inspired materials with hydrophobic behavior. Bio-inspired approaches have led to such innovations as self-cleaning fabrics, anti-fog windows, anti-corrosive coatings, and more efficient water transportation. Plant-based plastics (based on corn or ricin), for example, have grown in popularity and are increasingly used by U.S. manufacturers. We’ll likely see more U.S. manufacturers going green in ‘18.
3. Certainty of Regulatory and Trade Uncertainty
The political climate, both in the U.S. and abroad, is driving uncertainty among U.S. manufacturers, especially as they seek to access global markets and global talent pools. Will you be able to sell your products in China if the U.S. gets into a governmental-level trade dispute with that Asian giant? Will you be able to get an H1-B Work Visa for an overseas employee looking to transfer to your US plant? These and many more questions will be strategic and complicated to address for U.S. manufacturers in 2018 and beyond.
While regulatory and trade uncertainty have long been part of life for U.S. manufacturers, that uncertainty will likely accelerate and intensify in 2018, becoming tougher to navigate. What’s the state of global trade for U.S. manufacturers in the wake of recently renegotiated or ended international trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership or Brexit (it could impact your supply chain)? What about the potential for tax reforms or tariffs for domestic manufacturers with operations outside the United States? What will happen with federal healthcare mandates and the minimum wage? So many big, strategic questions that lack clear answers, and even more questions might arise in 2018.
4. More Strategic Partnerships
In a manufacturing horizon of increasing complexity, whether technical or non-technical, you’ll need help navigating your U.S. manufacturing firm through uncertain waters. For example, you may need multiple partnerships to work smarter and expand your sourcing or distribution. While your ERP partner will serve you well in that capacity, helping you gain the organizational agility to keep pace with global change, you’ll likely need other great partners too, from your supply chain to your R&D efforts and beyond.
Your ERP partner will help you gain the organizational agility to keep pace with global change
Leaders of U.S. manufacturing firms need to balance close collaboration with strategic partners against the ongoing imperative to remain flexible/agile in contracting and partner selection. Opportunities to collaborate present risks too, and having the right tools and platform (such as abas ERP) to help you manage these partnership opportunities and risks will be paramount.
As we’ve seen from the 4 non-technological manufacturing trends described above, 2018 promises to be a year of rapid change and “certain uncertainty” at home and abroad. As with any and all trends, in any and all years, you’ll need to create an adaptable, agile organization in order to navigate what’s coming next.
Want to know why abas ERP is a great choice for your ERP implementation? Check out abas USA's Basil Shah in this video, What makes abas ERP a great choice for your ERP implementation or download our whitepaper, ERP in the Cloud