MILWAUKEE, WI — Sixty-five percent of manufacturers experienced revenue growth in 2013 but nearly half still consider the economy the biggest challenge, according to results of the ASQ 2014 Manufacturing Outlook Survey.

While 64 percent of respondents worldwide expect increased revenue in 2014, that percentage is down from years past, albeit slightly. In last year’s Manufacturing Outlook Survey, 65 percent anticipated growth in 2013, and 66 percent of respondents to the 2012 outlook survey anticipated growth in 2013.

In both 2012 and 2013, 70 percent of manufacturers said they experienced revenue growth compared to just 65 percent in this year’s Manufacturing Outlook Survey.

Despite the percentage of manufacturers expecting increased revenues in 2014, 46 percent of the respondents say the economy continues to be the biggest hurdle to operations, while 18 percent said the shortage of skilled workers is the biggest challenge they foresee in 2014.

Other hurdles identified include global competition, lack of new products, government sequestration and lack of leadership.

ASQ, one of the leading authority on quality in all fields, organizations and industries, conducts the Manufacturing Outlook Survey annually to gauge manufacturing professionals’ view on the year ahead. ASQ members worldwide and members of the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition were among those who responded to this year's survey.

Respondents to the ASQ 2014 Manufacturing Outlook Survey represent the aerospace, automotive, food, medical device, pharmaceutical and utility industries, among others. The ASQ 2014 Manufacturing Outlook survey was fielded in a digital survey Nov. 21-Dec. 5, 2013. More than 700 manufacturing professionals around the world responded to the survey.

“While many indicators point to an improved economy, it’s clear that it’s a topic that continues to be a concern of manufacturers,” said ASQ Chair John Timmerman. “Quality tools that increase customer satisfaction, increase efficiencies and reduce errors can help quell the anxiety of manufacturers and stabilize their businesses by boosting market share and revenues.”

ASQ offers training, certification, knowledge and more to help organizations drive efficiencies and enhance their bottom lines.

Smart manufacturing drives efficiencies

In addition to questions about manufacturers’ financial outlook for 2014, the survey asked about manufacturers’ use of smart manufacturing — which the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition defines as the integration of network-based data and information that provides real-time understanding, reasoning, planning, management and related decision making of all aspects of a manufacturing and supply chain enterprise.

According to the results, only 13 percent of those surveyed said they use smart manufacturing within their organization. Of those organizations that claim to have implemented smart manufacturing, 82 percent say they have experienced increased efficiency, 49 percent experienced fewer product defects and 45 percent experienced increased customer satisfaction.

Of the organizations that reported using smart manufacturing, cost was the primary challenge, followed by access to necessary infrastructure, and overcoming resistance from employees.

Thirty-three percent have applied smart manufacturing at the plant levels, and 29 percent have integrated smart manufacturing across all levels of the organization.

Of the manufacturers that have not implemented smart manufacturing, interest, cost and resistance from management continue to stifle deployment, according to the survey.

The results show that 37 percent of those surveyed have no interest in smart manufacturing, while 29 percent say cost is the biggest challenge. In addition, 14 percent said resistance from management is the biggest hurdle when considering a smart manufacturing system.

Salary increases, added staff anticipated

According to the results of the ASQ 2014 Manufacturing Outlook Survey, 15 percent of respondents expect their organizations to decrease staff, while 36 percent expect their organization to hire additional staff. Thirty-five percent expect staff to maintain current levels.

Furthermore, 49 percent expect salary or merit increases in 2014, while only 4 percent expect salary reductions.