5 Manufacturing Trends You Need to Know

Chris Nahil
By Chris Nahil on April 10, 2024

Manufacturing is huge, complex, and changing quickly. Manufacturer success lies in staying on top of ever-evolving trends and continuing to innovate. Explore the role of competitive pressure, changing demand, and timing in manufacturing, plus five manufacturing trends you need to know.

The Role of Competitive Pressure in Manufacturing

Just like other industries, competition is driving innovation in manufacturing. This pressure has spurred the development and adoption of advanced technologies to streamline processes, including automation, robotics, and AI, to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and improve product quality.

Competitive pressure is a positive factor for manufacturers. Real-time tracking, predictive analytics, and just-in-time inventory management are crucial supply chain management innovations that businesses must adopt to stay competitive.

An example of competitive pressure influencing innovation comes from Johnson & Johnson. High-quality products are no longer enough to stand out; consumers seek unique experiences. Product quality, delivery, and packaging innovation can help companies improve customer experience.

The Impact of Changing Demand on Manufacturing

Sometimes, a shift in priorities drives change, such as growing interest in electric vehicles, renewable energy, and sustainability practices. Other times, a shift in processes or technology drives change.

Today’s consumers expect:

  • Customization and personalization – products tailored to their unique preferences
  • Accessible ecommerce and direct-to-consumer (DTC) options
  • Sustainability efforts and more eco-friendly products and processes
  • Efficiency and rapid innovation
  • Supply chain reliability and product availability
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Ethical and social responsibility

This forces companies to adapt their processes and technologies to adopt lean and agile manufacturing methodologies, enabling a quicker response to market changes and customer demands. Manufacturers face pressures to reduce their carbon footprint, minimize waste, and adopt sustainable materials and practices.

General Motors, for example, is amid this market pressure to innovate based on sustainability and changing consumer preferences. Rather than just producing electric cars, they have adopted sustainability principles as a core value.

The Importance of Timing in Manufacturing

One of the biggest challenges for manufacturers is time to market. It takes time to develop products, and staying on pace is vital in an era of rapidly changing consumer demands and expectations.

Modern manufacturing requires shorter product life cycles or the ability to iterate faster to satisfy current demand and preferences.

But manufacturers must also be more agile, efficient, and automated.

Many manufacturers are reevaluating their supply chains to enhance flexibility and resilience, incorporating digital tools for real-time tracking and predictive analytics to mitigate risks and ensure continuity.

Top Five Manufacturing Observations by Josh Weiss

Josh Weiss, President of Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division, offers five manufacturing observations and insights on how manufacturers should respond.

Manufacturing is Huge, Complex, and Evolving Quickly

Competitive pressures, rapidly changing demand, customer expectations, and timing are all critical concerns for manufacturing companies.

But there’s also the impact of COVID-19, supply chain disruptions, inflation, labor availability, and the ever-growing ESG requirements. To be successful in manufacturing, you must master all these elements all the time.

Making (Manufacturing) is a Global Enterprise

The landscape of “making” is a truly global enterprise, whether we like it or not. And the modern challenges of manufacturing are virtually the same across the world.

The key to success is embracing the global nature of the industry, partnering and collaborating with manufacturers in other parts of the world, and innovating to elevate all parts of the supply chain.

Great Ideas Fuel Innovation

Despite all these challenges and complexities for manufacturers, at the end of the day, great ideas fuel innovation. Creativity drives the industry forward.

This discovery and advancement takes many forms, whether it’s a new product, a new way of manufacturing, or a new way of interacting with our customers.

Digital Adoption is Paying Off

One example of innovation that is paying off is digital adoption. We’re seeing increased labor productivity. Robotic automation, digital tools, smart manufacturing, and process optimization initiatives create this efficiency.

Digital adoption has revolutionized the industry and will continue to do so.

Makers Are Optimists

Lastly, the people who create and make things — the makers — are optimistic. People who work in manufacturing enjoy the challenges, thrive in problem-solving and pressure, and have a proven track record of innovation and success.

Makers in the U.S. make up around 8% of the workforce and 11% of GDP. However, they’re responsible for over 35% of productivity growth, 55% of patents, 60% of exports, and 70% of R&D spending.

Simply put, the U.S., like many other countries, does not function without the makers. And it’s a great time to be in the maker space.

Insights on How Manufacturers Should Respond

Manufacturers have the opportunity to innovate and succeed. Hardware can augment our physical capabilities, while software can extend our vision into digital realities. Technology and humans working side-by-side can expand the potential of both.

Here are a few strategies for staying ahead of the curve:

  1. Empower your teams to innovate continually: Adding technology is great, but your staff must feel supported as they develop new processes and bring forth new ideas. And it’s not just a one-time thing; innovation must be at the heart of your company.
  2. Target research and development to create innovative products and processes: This includes developing new materials, exploring novel production methods, and seeking technological breakthroughs for your production floor and beyond.
  3. Emphasize flexibility and adaptability in your manufacturing processes: Remove manual and labor-intensive roadblocks and find ways to bring efficiency and automation to every part of the production process.
  4. Arm staff with tools and technology to meet demands: It’s possible to be faster, better, and more cost-effective, but they need the right solutions to make it sustainable and successful.
  5. Invest in digital transformation technology: Many manufacturers innovate their products but forget to take that up and downstream to all business areas. For example, modern supply chain technology helps with lifecycle management, staffing, materials handling, and more to ensure your entire process is efficient and cost-effective. These tools also enable new feedback loops across the entire manufacturing workflow.

Navigating Manufacturing Trends with Vision and Agility

Exploring new ideas without constraint is how you can unlock real progress. But it’s important to recognize and adapt to these manufacturing trends: changing demand, competition, and timing.

Today’s manufacturers must be proactive and informed to ensure success in the evolving market. We’re at the perfect intersection of capabilities, vision, and purpose. We have the freedom to be creative, agile, and innovative in both the digital and real worlds. We have the creativity to imagine a better world and the skills to achieve this.