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Four Predictions For Manufacturing Technology In 2017

The year 2016 has brought us a hint of what’s to come, and if our forecasting is accurate, we’ll see more manufacturers of all sizes effectively adapting to these trends in order to remain competitive across the industry landscape.

The end of a calendar year brings a time of reflection for many, and, even more importantly, an opportunity to look ahead. As 2017 approaches, those in the manufacturing industry are pondering implications of recent trends and what they mean for the future — most notably Cloud technology migration, Big Data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and resolving a workforce labor gap.

With importance placed on the accessibility of more meaningful, actionable data, here are four of our predictions for the manufacturing industry in the New Year.

1. Increased rate of migration to the cloud. As more blue chip manufacturers move their operations to the cloud for greater efficiency, more companies of all sizes will have to follow suit to stay competitive.

Technology is further entrenching itself in the process of continually improving plant efficiencies, and cloud-based systems will become more standard.

Cloud technology allows manufacturers to connect systems from different machines and software operating platforms. Putting all information in the cloud, as opposed to on paper or in dedicated software systems, allows real-time access to anyone throughout the organization, from the plant’s executives and managers to quality assurance line workers and operators. Next year, we’ll see more factories with informed staff who can make more informed decisions and ultimately drive more improvement in operations.

For manufacturing IT departments, who can’t stop their day-to-day duties to solely focus on being the best software developers in the industry, they’ll find it far easier to move manufacturing systems to the cloud instead of creating their own.

Look for companies who follow this trend to reap the benefits of increased performance and longevity in the marketplace.

2. More meaningful data. In the past years, companies have been focused on acquiring more data — a Big Data and IoT trend — by documenting plant information or by connecting machines to databases. Now that many companies have accomplished the data gathering, those organizations are trying to figure out what to do with the information. While Big Data is the upside of the IoT, plants don’t need more data, but the right data. Just connecting up machines won’t do a lot for supervisors and analysts. Today, most IoT systems begin to fail when managers look at data, and for the overwhelming quantity, can’t interpret or do anything with it. So the answer to Big Data won’t be more data; it will be more actionable data.

Companies will be more focused in 2017 on getting the right data, presented in the right way.

Companies will fuse human intelligence — Information that can’t be collected from machines — with that sea of data to provide a new form of clarity. They will connect systems from both machines and people, with the resulting output being more meaningful than just a series of metrics. Methods of manually collecting data, summarizing it, and analyzing it will become antiquated.

3. Creating the Internet of People. Companies have been pushing to connect machines to data, but 2017 will see the connecting of people to data and vice versa, creating the Internet of People (IoP).

In 2017, companies will start integrating people into their systems, whether by tracking employees through mobile technology or through cloud technology. And, some companies will put RFID in the employee access cards so they can track employees and know what they are doing at all times in the plant. Production managers and staff will be able to check into the production line and know what people are working on and monitor the team’s output.

What’s more important is getting the data to all employees. Accessibility of all data — historical data, equipment documentation, procedures, operator training, and human-input data — to a broader group within your plant will allow people to view the information, analyze it, and better resolve issues.

Accessing the truth about machines and employees, with every person being able to see data on the floor — not just managers and supervisors — will enhance the team’s ability to identify and solve problems, which saves money, increases productions and provides competitive advantage.

And with the increase in mobile capabilities, managers who are on business trips or home on the weekends will have immediate access to the plant floor’s real-time information and be able to better leverage their time. Employees will be empowered to create solutions at the time when something goes wrong as opposed to talking about it at the next day’s review meeting.

4. Increase productivity with fewer people. Manufacturing plants will be able to do more with fewer people. And, based on a Manufacturing Institute projection that some 2 million manufacturing jobs in the U.S. will likely remain vacant for another decade, plants will be forced to do more with less.  This was a surprising statistic for many, but it wasn’t for us, based on concerns we’ve heard about the retiring workforce and efforts in attracting qualified applicants.

Through the use of cloud technology, identifying the most meaningful data and connecting people to data, many companies will accomplish more with fewer people. One company that is on the forefront of implementing this technology reports that they are able to analyze reports in 20 minutes that used to take a week.

The year 2016 has brought us a hint of what’s to come, and if our forecasting is accurate, we’ll see more manufacturers of all sizes effectively adapting to these trends in order to remain competitive across the industry landscape.

Happy New Year!

Keith Barr is the CEO of Leading2Lean.

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