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Manufacturing Trends: Five 2021 Predictions


My 2021 Predictions: Acceleration of Digital Investment in Manufacturing

Looking back over the past 12 months, who could have had any idea what was in store for us in the first quarter! Yet despite all the challenges and hardships we faced in 2020, much has been learned about resilience, the value of operational agility, and where weakness exists in each of our value chains. Implicit assumptions of “business as usual” has taken a back seat to a more pragmatic approach of cautiously observing what the future reveals – and responding accordingly. In that light, here are five 2021 predictions – let’s see how they hold up next year!

Over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, those working in the manufacturing and other industries faced extreme challenges and disruption not seen in quite some time. During the chaos, what emerged was the importance of embracing resilience and innovation to best manage each of these severe disruptions. What we all witnessed was a collective effort to make it through together. As a participant in the complex discrete manufacturing industry, we are all committed to working through each of these challenges and together will ride through this storm with new solutions. 

With the announcement of vaccines now being administered, an end of this pandemic is starting to become more of a reality, like a light at the end of a dark tunnel. I suspect many of the changes that have been implemented will likely last to post-pandemic times. Based on this expectation, in a bold move, here is a list of my 2021 predictions on how the manufacturing industry will look like next year!

  1. Digital is Here to Stay – Some manufacturers learned some hard lessons during the coronavirus in 2020 – this knowledge will leave a lasting impression will not be quickly forgotten. A “Digital First” strategy is here to stay. A push to invest in this strategy including greater reliance upon the Model Based Enterprise will triple digital investment over the next three years.
  2. Remote Access is a Must-Have – Look to see continued investment to monitor, review, and approve production processes on web-enabled devices, tablets, and smartphones. The removal of paper-based processes, disparate legacy applications, and manual data entry process will continue at an accelerated rate of change.  The stigma of working remotely is now gone. 
  3. Renewed Focus on Digital Ecosystems – The value of digital ecosystems will continue to grow in recognition of the need for real-time visibility of operational data for intelligent, data-driven decision support. This need extends up to the C-suite, so will require a myriad of integrations across the digital enterprise. As a by-product, the benefits and desirability of a “single solution provider” strategy will continue to wane.
  4. Manufacturers will double down on the Cloud – While past predictions of Cloud adoption have yet to go mainstream, the acute pressure manufacturers have experienced in 2020 has finally changed this perspective. What is now happening is a renewed dialog on how to start such a migration vs. if it can be justified. Cloud-hosted applications can be more readily part of a digital ecosystem while supporting remote working. 
  5. Greater Focus on Innovation – 2021 will see a new wave of investment from midsize enterprises to “bridge the digital divide” that has been growing over the past few years – accentuated in 2020. Look for new investment by manufacturers seeking better operational agility to outmaneuver the competition. Better alignment and collaboration across the supply chain can build greater resilience to be prepared for the next market disruption.

As these 2021 predictions reveal what our next normal will be, one thing is certain. There will continue to be new surprises and disruption. New opportunities will be revealed. The need for operational resilience and a team with a willingness to do what it takes to make it happen will continue to be the foundation of what tomorrow’s successful organizations look like – and where I hope your future can be too!

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