Challenges and Technology Solutions for Manufacturing in 2023 & Beyond

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The manufacturing sector is in a precarious position after being impacted by a “Perfect Storm” of the pandemic, labor shortages, inflation, higher interest rates and supply chain disruptions.

Positive signs of recovery in 2022 have been seen. A recent Manufacturing Industry Outlook by Deloitte shows industrial production and capacity have both surpassed pre-pandemic levels as of midyear 2022. This apparent rebound is good news, but concerns remain for the manufacturing industry.

The supply chain had been healthy and efficient prior to the pandemic, but the supply chain is vulnerable today, and ongoing stop-starts are creating overall volatility. The workforce is another “wild card” and is behaving in entirely different ways with varying demands by workers related to expanded remote-work flexibility, and defined opportunities for professional development.

A look to the second half of 2022, and the years beyond indicates that the manufacturing industry is likely to experience even more turbulence. Manufacturers will be required to stay nimble, and adopt new strategies and technologies to stay competitive in the “New Abnormal.”

Five Key Manufacturing Industry Trends

Deloitte has indicated that there are five key trends that are impacting the current and near-future global outlook for manufacturing companies.

1.Workforce Shortages Continue

A record number of unfilled jobs has been reached in 2022. Manufacturers must immediately acknowledge and respond to this challenge by rethinking their employment offerings. This includes everything from rebranding their company through a more employee-friendly lens that can attract talent, to developing internal programs that support professional development and other opportunities for advancement among current employees.

Some degree of flexibility is being demanded by the workforce. Remote work in manufacturing may not be as feasible compared to more traditional “desk jobs” that permit a more flexible schedule. It is time to be creative to produce the “both-and” model rather than the “either-or” option.

2. Supply Chain Has Continued Volatility

Today, savvy manufacturers know they cannot rely on a single approach because of the almost constant disruptions to the supply chain. Demand continues to outpace supply; raw material costs are rising; low inventory levels are creating confusion in order fulfilment; and the current truck driver shortage is creating transportation and delivery challenges at every step of the supply chain. Adoption of technology that improves accuracy and transparency along the entire supply chain is required.

3. Smart Factories Are Growing

Smart factories are primarily composed of digital capabilities and artificial intelligence and their numbers are increasing. Predictive analytics to robots and other AI on the factory floor are deployed to offer a more reliable and connected manufacturing process from start to finish. Emerging technologies also can help operations of any size to scale to meet increasing demand. Manufacturers must upgrade capabilities across the full manufacturing process.

4. Cybersecurity Threats Are Surging

Cybercrime is surging today with no sign of slowing down. The vulnerability of attacks to internal and external networks extends from operational networks to marketing and CRM tools, and from accounting and payroll to general corporate IT. Manufacturing must renew emphasis and investment on anticipating, preventing and responding to various cyber threats. And employees must be trained to spot potential cybercrimes and to be equipped and empowered, from the top-down, to react to threats.

5. ESG Investments Are Growing

Manufacturing is experiencing a rise of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors and this will mean a material impact on everything from operational standards to hard manufacturing costs. More consumers are demanding carbon-neutral or other sustainable end products and more employees are seeking to work for companies that prioritize ESG goals and guiding principles. Manufacturers need to take proactive steps to meet new regulations and to adopt sustainable practices throughout their operations.

Technology Solutions Required To Meet The Challenges
The complexity of these five overlapping trends means there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach that manufacturers can deploy to completely safeguard their operations. However, adopting and properly implementing technology is essential to ensure long-term success amid ongoing volatility.

Increased Internal Communications
Creating and disseminating regular internal communications will produce benefits, including developing a regular cadence for communicating important information to a dispersed workforce and fostering a sense of corporate culture. This helps everyone stay “in the loop,” and reinforces the company’s brand to employees who may otherwise have only limited interactions with leadership, or those outside of their own teams.

Secure Digital Storage
Many technology solutions provide employees with a digital secure space, which enables them to store important work-related documents. Easy, on-the-go access to files, such as pay slips, training certificates and benefits information essentially provides everything an employee needs, at the touch of a button.

Stored and Maintained Safety Standards
The ability to store and maintain critical information like compliance and safety standards is critical. A company can use an app to easily keep these standards up to date and ensure that employees always have access to the most recent standards they need to know. And employees benefit from having one simple and streamlined place to look for workplace information, no matter the subject, and no matter the time or place they may need it.

Multilingual Support
The manufacturing workforce is increasingly diverse and technology can play a significant part in simplifying two-way communication across various languages. Leadership can distribute important information in a worker’s language and store the information digitally so employees can read and respond as needed, without anything being lost in translation.

Employee Recognition
The ability to foster a stronger, deeper culture by aligning core values with employee performance is another solution. Some apps enable managers to recognize their top-performing workers, and also empower workers to recognize each other. Enhanced employee engagement from casual “virtual high-fives” to recognizing someone who is performing above and beyond expectations are more important now than ever before.

Closing Thought
“With technology, we can achieve the unimaginable.” Anonymous

-Glenn Ebersole, Director of Business Development