Every December, industry pundits peer into their crystal balls and predict the megatrends that will shape the future of just about everything, including the $12 trillion manufacturing industry. While there may be a wide variety of opinions, there probably would be consensus that transformative digital technologies are poised to forever change how products are designed, made and delivered to customers around the world.
While it’s too soon to forecast just which breakthrough technologies and process improvements will yield the biggest impact in 2019, there’s strong probability that the following five drivers will play critical roles:
Increasingly, consumers are seeking retail experiences tailored to meet individual shopping preferences, which is why retailers are investing in technologies that facilitate more personalized interactions. Online retailers have long used algorithms to remember what shoppers bought previously while offering similar products and relevant content to spur additional purchases.
For brick-and-mortar stores, personalization is more challenging, but thanks to technologies like additive manufacturing, both online and physical stores can deliver highly tailored shopping experiences. With FitStation powered by HP, for instance, Superfeet is creating one-of-a-kind kinetic profiles to produce custom, 3D-printed insoles at select retailers. Meanwhile, Wiiv is gaining momentum with custom-fit, 3D-printed insoles and sandals, which can be ordered using a smartphone app that creates digital maps of customers’ feet.
The quickening pace of automation is transforming every industry segment while enabling businesses to create new and sustainable business models. In the grocery sector, autonomous robots now roam store aisles safely alongside shoppers, scanning thousands of items for mismarked, misplaced or missing inventory. Robots also are keeping stores safer by constantly being on the lookout for spills or potential hazards.
Automated delivery strategies, such as “click-and-collect” capabilities, further enhance shopping experiences by enabling customers to place orders online and then pick up purchases at designated locations. According to the Dimensional Research study, 46% of the retailers surveyed are introducing self-checkouts to create quicker, smoother experiences for consumers.
Smart packaging strategies also are making it easier and faster for consumers to order and replenish household staples, such as coffee, diapers and paper goods. Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service (DRS) is leading this effort by linking smart containers enabled with DRS capabilities to Amazon for automatic ordering of physical goods when product usage reaches a certain level. The development of DRS-enabled smart packaging will prove instrumental in elevating customer convenience, brand loyalty and share of wallet for CPG companies.
While it may seem as though connectivity is ubiquitous, there still are plentiful opportunities to improve communications and mobility, especially in the healthcare industry, which has lagged other sectors. While progress is being made, hurdles exist in meeting this segment’s demand to produce proven outcomes, overcome complications getting both doctors and patients to adopt new devices and clear complex regulatory hurdles.
Despite these barriers, the pace of connected healthcare is improving by leveraging IoT technology to enable remote management, collect and report data or send usage alerts. Survey participants saw the greatest potential in on-body solutions that would let patients monitor their own health. Other large opportunities identified were machine-to-machine communication and environmental monitoring.
Connectivity also is essential to autonomous vehicles as they depend upon fully integrated infrastructures and advancements of other technologies, such as Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communications. A bit farther out on the horizon is vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology, which will make it possible for autonomous cars to communicate with smart traffic signals and even conduct transactions at a gas pump.
The vending industry also is getting a much-needed connectivity boost, thanks to wireless communications and Artificial Intelligence capabilities that enable real-time inventory management and remote machine maintenance. Fully-integrated intelligent vending platforms can simplify the smart-upgrade process while improving customer experiences and creating greater value for vending machine owners and operators, as well as product distributors and property owners.
Every connected, automated and personalized experience is powered by data that provides real-time visibility and actionable insights. Across the board, data is the brains of the operation—whether it’s aligning store-level inventory and compliance data with centralized systems or sharing patients’ progress with healthcare providers.
A flood of smart products is being enabled by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), along with predictive and prescriptive data analytics. Intelligent vending, connected homes, autonomous vehicles, global supply chains and smart manufacturing plants all get their “smarts” from embedded sensors, cloud software, firmware and an entire ecosystem of technology and process innovations.
Likewise, investments in intelligent digital supply chains will continue to drive impactful transformations from the factory floor to the customer’s door. Analytics-driven breakthroughs, such as Automated Optical Inspection (AOI), are making headway in providing predictive models that facilitate innumerable operational efficiencies in manufacturing and quality control processes.
Real-time data also plays a pivotal part in supply chain planning, sourcing, procurement, logistics and transportation. In Jabil’s 2018 Supply Chain Technology Trends report, IIoT is named, along with big data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, robotics and manufacturing automation, as having the strongest investment potential.
These data-driven innovations set the stage for true supply-chain network optimization, which is essential for navigating current uncertainties and constraints across global supply chains. With network optimization, companies can perform a series of what-if scenarios to identify different supply chain models based on final product and raw material deadlines, final product definition and supply chain details.
The ability to produce and deliver products closer to end-customers is the holy grail of distributed manufacturing. In additive manufacturing circles, the mantra is “ship data, not parts.” By storing inventory in the form of raw materials and digital files, companies can consolidate Bills of Materials (BOMs) and supply chains, as well as final assembly considerations.
Maintaining digital product inventories closer to the point of consumption also will have a profound effect on how companies address spare parts and maintenance-repair-obsolescence (MRO) strategies. Instead of storing quantities of spares in multiple geographies, robust Additive Manufacturing Networks can be leveraged to produce spare parts closer to the locations where they are needed, as they are needed.
Having 3D-print farms closer to end-users is perhaps the most disruptive idea yet, as it completely changes how products traditionally are brought to market. In addition to slashing production time and costs, this distributed manufacturing model offers greater flexibility than traditional methods when producing and designing parts ideally suited for specific applications.
Advancements in retail automation, connected healthcare and autonomous vehicles will all benefit from emerging distributed manufacturing models. For some organizations, the biggest hurdles are determining how best to integrate any or all of these five drivers into their product strategies, development lifecycles and manufacturing methodologies.
A common challenge across all industry sectors is balancing the need for groundbreaking technology with the realities of what it takes to plan and implement properly. It’s certainly not trivial to venture into personalization, automate previously manual functions, add much-needed connectivity or decipher data in new and powerful ways.
Equally daunting is rethinking traditional manufacturing models to benefit from distributed, digital workflows. Look to develop unique partnerships across the manufacturing ecosystem to accelerate digital transformation and innovation without introducing undue risk or cost. Pragmatic partners then can lower barriers while leveraging cross-domain expertise and industry experience to clear any hurdles and maximize emerging business opportunities in the digital age.