Today’s manufacturing industry faces challenges ranging from supply chain volatility to a post-pandemic socially distanced world. But where there is uncertainty, there’s also opportunity. For manufacturing companies, it’s imperative to capitalize on any competitive opportunity. If your organization is proactive, you can adapt faster than your competitors in the areas where it matters most.

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That’s why it’s important to be aware of industry forecasts.

Forecast #1: Pandemic Response Becomes Post-Pandemic Strategy

Every industry has felt the impact of COVID-19 over the last few years. Many businesses had no plans for withstanding a pandemic. Most were forced to adapt on the fly. Every day was a firefight—and as soon as one blaze was extinguished, the next wave or variant of the virus would create its own crisis.

We can glean valuable insights from these experiences.

  • First, the pandemic’s impact is here for the foreseeable future.
  • Second, some pandemic adaptations should be made permanent, more robust, and operationally sound.
  • Third, it's time to reevaluate business operations: How flexible are they? Are they robust? And can they support other future events that may have unprecedented impact on the business?

Now, businesses are moving from reactive firefighting to sustained operational change and restructuring—in the form of a post-pandemic strategy anchored by real-time access to production-level data in digital form.

A robust, advanced quality platform like Enact® by InfinityQS offers manufacturers practical advantages they need to fight the shifting sands of the post-pandemic world:

  • A big-picture view of operations that is unattainable with siloed data
  • Actionable, intelligent insights that enable consistent operations improvements
  • Strategic risk mitigation to minimize impacts on performance and ensure compliance

Forecast #2: Cloud Computing & SaaS Are the New Normal

If you plotted the rise of the adoption of cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) on a graph, it would look like a hockey stick. The pandemic accelerated the move to a cloud-first strategy for manufacturers. Organizations are turning to a "cloud-first" strategy for several reasons:

  • Growth and maturation in core technologies
  • Advancements in high-performance internet connectivity
  • Development in robust security capabilities in modern cloud solutions
  • Anytime/anywhere access to critical business processes and information

Replacing legacy systems is low-hanging fruit for companies seeking the benefits of digital data. Employing a cloud-first strategy will become the default position for most legacy system replacements—and the major technology consideration in a post-pandemic strategy.

Forecast #3: Tribal Knowledge Will Be Captured

“Our people are our business.” “Our company is only as good as our people.” “Your people are your most important asset.” Without belittling the sentiment behind these familiar words, it's important to consider their potential pitfalls.

In manufacturing operations, people build up significant skills, knowledge, and experience in their roles. But most of that tacit knowledge is stored individually and rarely documented or codified.

For example, an operator may hone a certain skillset over many years in a particular process area using a specific piece of machinery. She knows without thinking how to perform tasks correctly and get the best out of the equipment. But what happens when she is no longer available to perform those tasks? How are new people expected to suddenly acquire those years of acquired knowledge? How much does undocumented knowledge restrict agility and flexibility on the part of the manufacturer?

To mitigate the significant risks associated with over-reliance on tacit, or tribal knowledge, organizations are moving to capture critical process and procedural information. Solutions like the Enact manufacturing quality platform make it easy to enable ready access to documentation, SOPs, and even corrective actions through built-in workflow processes management.

Forecast #4: Sustainability Accelerates Digital Momentum

Over the last few years, digitizing data from the heart of production operations has become a strategic priority for most manufacturers; there's an urgent requirement to update legacy systems and processes.

Before the pandemic, digital initiatives focused on business performance outcomes—improvements in efficiency and productivity, for example—and the impact those have on the bottom line.

During the pandemic, the driving force swiftly changed to mitigating risk—either from an operational or a strategic perspective. Can the organization withstand significant disruption across the supply chain? Can it cope with volatility in demand or logistics? Can it operate with significant employee absences or remote work yet still maximize output?

While both operational and strategic drivers remain valid cases for digitizing data, another driver has emerged: sustainability. Across industries, organizations recognize their accountability to become more environmentally responsible in their business activities.

For solutions to waste, resource use, carbon emissions, and recycling, businesses will increasingly turn to digital solutions to optimize efficiency and productivity.

Forecast #5: Industrial Automation Leads to Information Automation

Automation has delivered positive outcomes for manufacturing for many decades. Organizations continually look for new ways to automate repetitive or dangerous physical tasks; but the same cannot be said of cognitive activities—that is, the activities related to the collection, analysis, and extraction of value from information.

Imagine an automated manufacturing plant: The physical production process—from the input of raw materials to the packaging and storage of finished packaged goods—is entirely automated. Digital control solutions keep the production process within defined parameters, regulating temperatures, pressures, line speed, and flow control. High-speed visual and sensor monitoring systems work in concert with robotic systems. Their accord influences everything from removing anomalies to selecting and sorting products.

Even in high-end automated environments like this, you will see operators manually capture and record information. Quality personnel pull product off the line at regular intervals to perform manual inspections, record quality characteristics, and make a pass/fail determination. Operators capture measures such as production rates, units produced/rejected, or line up/down time. But that manual method of data collection rarely yields value, so it’s perceived as an overhead, or a cost of doing business.

Information is key to optimizing manufacturing efficiency and productivity. Today’s quality platforms enable us to effortlessly capture and analyze data in real time using sophisticated algorithms. Quality solutions like Enact then present the results of that analysis in highly visual, easy-to-understand dashboards. Plant floor and operations teams can easily ensure industrial processes are running optimally—and better predict when and where problems are most likely to occur.

As industrial automation delivers ever-diminishing returns, information and cognitive automation become much more prevalent within industrial environments.

Getting Ahead of the Curve

Some of these forecasts have been slowly gaining momentum over recent years and may accelerate in the coming months. Others may take longer to move forward. But all of them are crucial for your organization to understand and act on to remain at the forefront of industry progress.

While much of the future remains uncertain, we know digital data is essential to manufacturing innovation. Employ a cloud-based quality platform that delivers benefits at the heart of your manufacturing processes.

The cloud-native Enact quality platform enables manufacturers to efficiently reduce costs, remain compliant, and increase profitability. And best of all, there’s no risk to get started. Visit InfinityQS to learn about starting an Enact subscription.