5 Manufacturing Trends to Watch in 2016

Elizabeth Scolari
April 28, 2016

The world of manufacturing is set to experience some big shifts in 2016. Across a range of verticals, from outdoor & sporting goods to food & beverage, innovations in technology are driving significant changes. IDC Research, in their recent report, predicted that external IT expenditures would top $323 billion, whilst manufacturers that are able to utilize new sales platforms and channel data insights into truly customer-centric experiences are expected to gain an increase of up to 3% in market share. With this in mind, it’s likely that manufacturers will hire more software engineers in the coming years. The cliched perception of factories as dark and chaotic is becoming an industrial relic, and companies that fail to adapt face the strong possibility of losing out. h5 Manufacturing Trends to Watch in 2016

1. B2B eCommerce Adoption

The omnipresence of technology in all areas of modern life has resulted in tech-savvy buyers with new expectations about the buying process. Taking their cue from B2C eCommerce, manufacturers are offering improved functionality and ease-of purchasing through their own portals. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions have dramatically lowered barriers to entry in this regard. The new opportunities that come hand-in-hand with B2B eCommerce adoption are significant. To name just a few important examples, manufacturers are able to offer comprehensive, up-to-date catalogs across a range of devices, gather data about customer behavior and buying habits, and take advantage of a range of new marketing initiatives like customer-loyalty programs and, in some cases, direct-to-consumer sales.

2. Continuing Robotics Innovation

Robotics is one of the biggest disruptions that manufacturers will face, with 2016 set to mark significant adoption across a range of industries. Industrial manufacturing remains the biggest robot market by revenue, according to Tech Insider. Numerous innovations, specifically the lower cost of robots, have fuelled this surge. The development of affordable robots that are better able to perform niche tasks has also helped. Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is also set to continue to grow. Robotic automation will have direct effects on efficiency. Consider that machines can notify technicians of specific faults in real-time, accurately monitor waste levels and filter back accurate data to provide a comprehensive picture of the factory floor. Though the use of robots has traditionally been the domain of big players, SME manufacturers are under increasing pressure to modernize too.

3. The Use of Advanced Analytics

“Advanced analytics” and “big data” are two buzzwords on the lips of every industry commentator. The implementation of integrated software to manage entire swaths of company activity has meant that big-picture data insights have driven overarching improvements in many areas. One vital trend is the use of data to impact logistics. Transport tracking, for instance, can foster more visibility of previously-invisible parts of the supply chain, whilst real-time productivity monitoring on the factory floor can target specific points on the “assembly line” that are lagging. Information from these two areas - supply chain and in-house operations - will drive efficiency. Data analysts will be able to to pinpoint instances of company-wide standards not being implemented on certain sites, especially in the case of “distributive manufacturing” where activities aren’t focused in a single place. It’s also important to note that as manufacturers begin to store large amounts of data in the cloud, the need for strong security is taking center stage. Customers are demanding that manufacturers take the safety of their details into account. The ability to respond to issues such as cyber-attacks when they do arise is similarly important.

4. Ethically-Engaged B2B and B2C Customers

Retailers were once the only point of contact between the consumer and a largely-hidden supply chain. The availability of information, however, alongside changing cultural norms, has fostered a trend towards ethical consumption, especially amongst millennials. This means that manufacturers have to play an equal part in cultivating responsible and sustainable business practices. They will need to cater to both B2B customers, who will mirror their buyers’ demand for “ethical” products, but also take into account their own brand-specific considerations, which can have ramifications all the way down the supply chain.

5. The Drive for Customer-Centric Experiences

Manufacturers are finding that one of the easiest ways to add value is through improving their overall customer experience, both during and after the purchase period. B2B eCommerce technology is partly responsible for giving manufacturers the ability to offer after-sale support. One of the issues in the past with “customer-centricity” has been the absence of reliable data. This has been overcome by cross-departmental integration of software, as well as the ability of companies to to include feedback mechanisms at the point-of-sale. One illustrative trend in this regard is the prevalence of the “SMAC stack” as a concept that’s determining how companies go about designing flexible customer experiences that cater to genuine, as opposed to hypothesised, needs. SMAC refers to social media, mobile, analytics and cloud technology. And it’s taking over! As one Gartner Research VP says, "We see a lot companies focusing on one or more of these trends. But it's when they converge that it becomes really interesting," In a nutshell, a SMAC stack incorporates all of the above-mentioned technology into a single ecosystem that delivers actionable insights. The usual example that’s given is Netflix. They use both analytics and cloud technology to deliver tailored suggestions to their users whilst also allowing them to rate their experiences, and provide feedback through social media. Questions about any of the manufacturing trends we covered in this post? Let us know in the comments!