Manufacturing Technology Trends for 2020

At FABTECH 2019 I attended a panel about emerging tech trends in manufacturing. Panelists included Mike Walton, Jason T. Ray, and Chandra Brown. This is what they had to say.

For small manufacturers, the future is digital

In 2020 the speed of change will be the common denominator. You can’t be a fast follower in Industry 4.0. Start with these three steps to digitize your plant.

  1. Assess. What is your return on investment (ROI) on the digital thread?
  2. Pick one area to transform and do it well. Start with digitizing one assembly line or area in the plant like tooling or the warehouse. Analyze the current process and determine how to improve it using technology. It could be as simple as installing tablets to display work instructions instead of paper.
  3. Beware of Big Data. Sensors are cheap. It’s easy to go overboard installing sensors on every piece of equipment and get overwhelmed by data. Start small, based on what will give you the most ROI, and go from there.

2.4 million jobs are expected in manufacturing by 2025

Small to midsize manufacturers are concerned about their workforce. Three areas to overcome are:

  • The skills gap
  • Mind skills
  • Tribal knowledge

How do you come into a shop and get it up to speed quickly?

Overcome Tribal Knowledge

It’s difficult for plant workers to think of and document every piece of tribal knowledge they know. Some key workers may not be at the plant anymore to pass on their expertise.

Install sensors to find hidden knowledge. A $49 sensor can tell you if there’s too much torque, the operator is pushing too hard, and can send that feedback in real time.

Use Dashboards

Visualize the process with dashboards. Visually displayed data and feedback shows everyone opportunities for improvement.

The top data to visualize:

  • Takt Time
  • Quality Indicators
  • Build Schedules

Protect your intellectual Property (IP)

Sensors are cheap and effective but every sensor is a potential liability. Manufacturing is the most targeted sector. Protecting your data should be a priority so don’t skip out on security infrastructure.

  1. Determine what is the most valuable thing you want to protect (what product/information gives your business the most ROI).
  2. Hardware data point entries and firewall.
  3. Software
  4. Talk to your team. People are the highest liability. Phishing emails are harder to detect. Scammers research companies and employees so when they ask for information it sounds legit. Phishing emails may come from a corporate email address. They might ask for the WiFi password or name of a customer to get more information and hack internal systems.

Manufacturing creates jobs but what are they and who will fill them?

Manufacturing plants need to invest in trained cyber and digital employees. 73% of the jobs utilized in manufacturing don’t exist today. There is no title for what plant workers of the future will do.

Manufacturing is about 11% of GDP. Everyone one manufacturing job creates about six other jobs. When you send that offshore you can’t keep it safe and protect your IP.

Manufacturing is the defense backbone of the United States industrial complex.

Biggest challenges for small to medium manufacturers

  • Labor: turn to tech for agility and throughput to scale and grow.
  • Skills gap: software systems to bridge that gap.
  • Diversification across the workforce (young people).
  • Security: protect your unique assets.
  • Buy in from workers at the shop level: show the employees they will be able to do less work faster with a higher wage. Don’t forget health and safety benefits like sending drones into nuke facilities.

Shop owners are doing business differently in 2020

Shop owners have MBAs. They think, how do I sell what I’m making, what services I’m offering? How do I reach customers better?

They think, “I’m not just running a machine shop, I’m running a business for growth.”

But wait, there’s more! Check out what these panelists had to say about augmented and virtual reality in manufacturing.

Featured Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash


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