The 4 Biggest Tech Trends in 2018 for Manufacturers

So what are the most exciting tech trends of 2018 for U.S. manufacturers? This is an exciting time to be in the U.S. manufacturing industry. Evolving technologies and globalization have been transforming U.S. manufacturing for years, as we’ve described in prior abas blog posts.

While there’s long been a popular myth that “technology will steal all our jobs,” that fear is unfounded in U.S. manufacturing. In fact, technology is creating entire new categories of manufacturing jobs, even as it changes some jobs and (yes) eliminates others. These technological changes will create new opportunities for those skilled in an array of specialized tech skills, from analytics to IoT to machine learning and much more.

An estimated 15 million new jobs will be created in the U.S. over the next decade as a direct consequence of emerging technologies, many of those jobs in manufacturing, according to Forrester Research. The most successful U.S. manufacturing companies of 2018 and beyond will proactively engage with new technologies, leveraging them to drive innovation and growth. The watchword for 2018 is “agility,” meaning you have the organizational capacity to know where you stand in real-time (through visibility into your data) and can take fast, data-driven decisions to keep up with the accelerating pace of market change.

So what are the most exciting tech trends of 2018 for U.S. manufacturers? Here’s our list:

1. IoT and Smart Manufacturing Tech Trends

You can add a sensor to almost any machine today, making it a “smart” machine that can both send and receive data on the fly, while enabling you to make fast adjustments. The benefit of IoT and smart manufacturing is that you can collect and share more data than you could ever imagine, but it also presents a massive filtering challenge: how to separate the signal (what you want to identify) from the noise (data you should ignore)?

What data should be your highest priority to collect, share, analyze, and base your decisions upon?

Smart manufacturing requires some deep thinking by leaders. What data is most important for your operations? What data should be your highest priority to collect, share, analyze, and base your decisions upon? Having the right technology in place to support smart manufacturing will be essential, and abas ERP is a great partner here as you integrate IoT and ERP, but you’ll also need smart people to analyze data and take action based upon it. The ongoing shift to smart manufacturing -- blending smart technology and smart people -- will translate into more efficiency, agility, and greater profitability for U.S. manufacturers in 2018 and beyond.

2. Analytics Are Getting More Predictive

Being able to use analytics to better predict future trends is directly related to our first trend, IoT and Smart Manufacturing. As U.S. manufacturers collect more data, they’ll increasing turn to algorithms and machine learning to analyze patterns the data reveals, thus helping manufacturers make smarter, more predictive decisions about the future. Increasingly, predictive analytics will allow U.S. manufacturers to be prepared for change, whether that change is a machine that may break down next month (so service it today), changing inventory/supply needs (we need more components this month, but less the month after), or changes in market or consumer demand for the next quarter (allowing you to make more products that are trending).

Many U.S. manufacturers will expand their analytical expertise from a largely diagnostic, backward-looking function to an increasingly predictive one, enabling them to operate in a more agile, future-oriented way. Building predictive capability, which combines technologies like abas ERP with smart people, will determine which U.S. manufacturers innovate, create new competitive advantages, and reshape their markets in a landscape of constant change.

3. Virtual and Augmented Reality/VR & AR

Augmented reality exploded onto the popular imagination back in July, 2016 with the launch of Pokemon Go. As TechRadar explains the difference between AR and VR: “virtual reality (VR) completely immerses you in a computer-generated world, [while] augmented reality (AR) overlays computer-generated images on the real world.”

AR tools facilitate problem solving at low cost and low risk, vastly decreasing the time (and cost) to manufacturing

VR and AR are enabling great simulations where U.S. manufacturers can develop and test multiple scenarios related to product design, production, assembly, and more, long before physical products are actually developed. These VR and AR tools facilitate problem solving at low cost and low risk, vastly decreasing the time (and cost) to manufacturing and increasing the quality of the products being developed. AR can also be used to facilitate complex assembly, as explains.

Beyond these uses, VR and AR are also being leveraged for employee training, allowing trainees to be immersed in virtual scenarios that feel so real that the employee's brain responds to them exactly as if they were real. If that doesn’t beat learning from a dull book or a boring classroom lecture, then nothing does!

4. 3D Printing Matures for Mass Production

Although we’ve been hearing about the tech trend of 3D printing in manufacturing for a while, the technology is now growing beyond its infancy stage (as a tool for one-off or specialized production) to emerge as a mature mass market production technology. For instance, GE (a manufacturing bellwether) has invested $1.5 billion on developing 3D printing to make jet engine parts.

New techniques and technologies are allowing 3D printers to work with different metals/materials and make objects at faster rates and in higher volumes. Adidas, for instance, has begun using a new technique of 3D printing to produce the soles of sneakers. The technique will be leveraged in highly automated manufacturing centers in the U.S. and Germany to produce 1 million pairs of sneakers per year, notes The Economist. What’s clear is that 3D printing technology will continue to improve and be increasingly applied in innovative, exciting ways by U.S. manufacturers.

What’s the takeaway here? That 2018 promises to be another exciting year for tech trends in U.S. manufacturing. Which of the 4 technology trends described above (or others, perhaps) will your company be investing in? No matter the “hot” trend, abas ERP for manufacturing can help you get where you want to be, and go there with agility.

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