by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers

The future of the manufacturing industry will be shaped by a number of ever-evolving trends and technologies. While there’s no telling exactly how things will play out in the long term, it seems safe to suggest a few will have a profound impact on manufacturers this year. As a result, it’s critically important for those within the industry to develop a keen sense of what they are, how they will change over time and, most importantly, how they will impact organizations in 2019 and beyond.

Here are five manufacturing trends to watch in the near term.

1Intelligent Manufacturing. The concept of intelligent manufacturing always is changing. But, in the simplest sense, it can be defined as a large-scale integration of cutting-edge artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing technology and processes. Ultimately, intelligent manufacturing serves to help companies optimize organizational systems, improve product quality, increase the efficient allocation of resources and positively impact customer service.

Advancements in digital technology are driving the rise of intelligent manufacturing 1. It’s now possible for integrated systems to enable communication and collaboration between equipment and people, allowing for the creation of customized products to be accomplished with the efficiency of mass production. In doing so, manufacturers can increase customer engagement and positively impact relationships with equipment end users.

In fostering the development of a connected ecosystem of people and equipment communicating in real time, manufacturers are poised to better meet the needs of the industries they serve while simultaneously reducing cost and inefficiencies.

2Data Utilization. Being able to simply manage the mounds of data generated by manufacturing processes is not enough anymore. Companies need to go beyond efficiently storing information and consider how best to go about using it to gain insights into their businesses and make actionable and informed decisions about their future.

In the most traditional sense, data management consists of harvesting company data, constructing an ecosystem to support it and then acquiring business intelligence hardware to aid in organizational assessment and analysis. The problem is there’s often too much data to manage, so companies fail to consistently make observations or find useful takeaways from the information. In short, they’re not utilizing the data, and they’re not really even managing it, either.

According to a recent article in IndustryWeek 2, organizations must be willing to ask (and answer) some key questions about how they use data. In doing so, they can begin to identify areas of improvement and ways in which the information can be leveraged to ultimately benefit their bottom lines. Questions include the following:

  • How do we visualize the information that drives our business?
  • How do we make the right decisions required to grow our business?
  • What are the current sources of data we use to measure, analyze and sustain a true business reality?
  • Utilizing current sources of data, what areas of rapid improvement will quickly affect changes in our business?
  • What kind of data are available to an individual who understands how to read it?

Organizational data can be overwhelming to manage. But, leading companies today are establishing processes and investing in tools to help increase both profits and productivity. And, as technology continues to develop and evolve, opportunities related to data utilization will become more and more prevalent with time.

3The Internet of Things (IoT). The marriage of networked sensors and intelligent devices with connected equipment on the manufacturing plant floor has been one of the most impactful and transformative trends the industry has seen in quite some time. The ever-developing Internet of Things has not only turned traditional supply chains into interconnected and dynamic systems, it also has:

  • fundamentally changed the way in which products are made,
  • increased organizational efficiency,
  • improved organizational safety, and
  • reduced organizational costs and complexity.

However, according to an article in Wired 3, where the Internet of Things is poised to make a mark in the not-too-distant future is enterprise business models. More specifically, it could lead to more high-value equipment being leased, as opposed to being sold outright. The machinery of the future could be outfitted with built-in sensors and marketed as both a product and as service. Equipment owners then would be able to monitor it remotely and provide maintenance, repairs and necessary upgrades automatically. This would allow end users to focus on the work at hand instead of worrying about the condition of the equipment, leading to increased productivity and satisfaction.

The Internet of Things already has had a profound effect on the manufacturing industry, but it offers the potential to do so much more in the coming years. IoT technology is not only capable of helping manufacturers improve productivity and efficiency, but now can be leveraged to positively affect customer service and end-user relationships.

4Workforce Training. There’s no overstating the seriousness of the manufacturing industry’s skilled worker shortage in 2019. Manufacturing employs roughly 9% of the US workforce, yet it is increasingly unable to fill necessary positions with qualified people. As it stands, there are three times as many open skilled labor positions than are being filled. The skills gap is a significant problem right now, and there’s no reason to suggest anything will improve in the short term.

Thankfully, efforts are underway to find creative ways to address the skilled worker shortage. According to an article from Foley & Lardner LLP 4, states such as Michigan and North Carolina are attempting to lead the pack in terms of innovative solutions to the skills gap crisis.

A recently adopted plan in Michigan calls for the investment of $100 million in initiatives that award competency-based certifications, offer aid to schools in changing their curriculum and equipment to help close the skills gap, as well as provide support for career development and school instruction. All of this is being done in an effort to prepare young people to enter the work world prepared for a career in the skilled trades. In addition, North Carolina currently is considering enacting similar legislation to address the skills gap in the state.

By investing in training and education, key stakeholders inside and outside the manufacturing industry can begin to connect with the workforce of tomorrow, inspire them to strongly consider a career as skilled workers and – perhaps most importantly – develop them into qualified employees.

5Artificial Intelligence. Artificial intelligence is everywhere, so it comes as no surprise that it’s beginning to be incorporated into manufacturing. In the near future, manufacturing facilities will evolve into connected networks of people and machines with supply chain assets, design teams, production and quality control, all integrated into a highly intelligent engine that monitors everything and provides actionable data and insights.

Artificial intelligence can come in many forms, and the industry can expect it to make its presence known in manufacturing facilities as:

  • virtual reality,
  • automation,
  • Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure and
  • robotics.

While there are concerns about artificial intelligence eventually replacing human workers in a variety of industries, what seems clear – at least in the short term – is the technology will drive increased efficiency and productivity. By incorporating the technology to help manage operational assets, companies are free to focus their time, effort and resources on product innovation and other key strategic priorities.


  2. IndustryWeek, Three Problems in Manufacturing that Impact Productivity and Profitability, Michael Mantzke and Robert Jonas, July 05, 2017
  3. Wired, Industrial IoT: How Connected Things Are Changing Manufacturing, Robert Schmid, Deloitte Digital, July 2018
  4. The Skills Gap in the Manufacturing Industry and What We Can Do About It, Foley and Lardner LLP, September 13, 2018

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers is a United States-based trade association for companies that manufacture equipment for industries such as agriculture, construction, mining and utility. AEM is based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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