What’s in Store for Manufacturers in 2017

The new year is here and with it comes continued changes in the manufacturing industry. From slow increases towards the end of 2016 to improved technology processes across the supply chain towhich incentivized reshoring, the industry is poised to see significant gains over the course of the next 12 months. We’ve targeted five trending areas in particular that are poised to revolutionize the industry this year.

Trend #1: 3D Printing

3D printing creates increased opportunity, faster prototyping, and reduced disruption, which brings manufacturers increased opportunities for faster, less expensive production. As 3D printing becomes increasingly integrated into the manufacturing process, cost-cutting rapid prototyping will also become the norm. A word of caution about 3D printing, however: as it becomes more accessible to manufacturers, it is also becoming more accessible to consumers, giving them the potential to be more involved in the product design process than ever before. While this is mostly a positive, it can also lead to the consumer-driven creation of designs that are ultimately unattainable from a manufacturing standpoint. Therefore, as you increase your 3D printing usage, also take steps to increase customer awareness of what you are and are not capable of producing.

Trend #2: Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Crowdsourcing

AR and VR are quickly becoming vital in factories on a global level, as they are incredibly helpful in offering direction and easy troubleshooting to workers in real time. This utilization will continue to grow in 2017, as more companies become comfortable with the technology. Crowdsourcing is also set to see a surge this year due to its ability to offer real-time feedback and assist with swift direction changes. Crowdsourcing also opens up new avenues to companies through independent investors offering funding, feedback, and new product ideas.

Trend #3: Increased need for shorter product lifecycles

A recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that approximately 68% of adults in advanced economies own smartphones, while their usage is rapidly rising in emerging economies as well. The user-friendly technology that smartphones offer has created a vast demand for innovative technology, making the traditional slower manufacturing product lifecycle a hindrance to industry growth. The challenge to all manufacturers this year is to turn out quality items while still keeping up with the necessary changes to existing products in an effort to prevent the latter from becoming obsolete.

Trend #4: Green Initiatives and Sustainable Manufacturing

The Millennial generation is not only exerting greater purchasing power as a whole, they tend to be a very environmentally conscious demographic. This has created an increased demand for sustainable products and advances in alternative energy and technology, putting the onus on manufacturers for finding ways to reduce waste and pollution while also reducing manufacturing costs.

Trend #5: Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Like AR and VR, AI is changing the way factories work by decreasing production time. AI robots can identify products in real time, pull them, and order a replacement, which speeds efficiency and saves money by preventing defective products from being finished. This fast and efficient error correction saves millions of dollars, drastically reduces production time, and helps manufacturers keep their competitive edge.

While it is impossible to predict the future with 100% accuracy, multiple sources indicate that these trends are setting the tone for 2017. Implementation of these trends can increase rapid design and prototyping, reduce time to market drastically, and improve profits for manufacturers, making 2017 poised to be a year of substantial growth and opportunity for the entire industry.

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