Manufacturers must adapt to a changing industry that will look very different in the future

Firms that want compete and thrive in the future must adopt strategies to address the new technologies and customer demands that are transforming the manufacturing landscape, according to a new survey from Grant Thornton.

The report, titled “The Future of Growth and the Manufacturing Industry,” asserts that the borders between the manufacturing and technology industries are blurring as connectivity is turning “dumb” products into smart ones. Additionally, robotics and digital technologies are disrupting the economics of production.

Customers are demanding custom products, and they want them quickly, which means that manufacturers must be agile enough to increase customer engagement and compress time to market. That requires making supply chains more efficient.

In a separate survey conducted recently by Grant Thornton for the National Association of Manufacturers, close to half of the respondents (48%) said that customer demand is driving their supply chain strategy. That survey also found that speedy delivery and enhanced customer service are key issues for manufacturers.

Robotics, automation systems, integrated sensors and other advanced manufacturing technologies have created sophisticated factory environments with highly efficient processes, and leading manufacturers are making bold investment bets to keep up with the rapid pace of this change.

What’s next?
According to the report, one vision is of a factory staffed by robots and sensors, which creates opportunities for manufacturers to exploit the true potential of artificial intelligence (AI) or “machine learning.” Advanced manufacturing technologies with AI will act more like the human brain being able to work through situations where bits of information are missing and discern patterns in data even when there is ambiguity.

The research also unearthed a group of leading manufacturers that are taking bold decisions to invest in these new technologies. By exploiting innovative technologies, mastering advanced data analytics, and taking a more strategic view of risk they are reinventing themselves for the future. Companies are also evaluating the impact of political and regulatory change in the near-term that may impact long-term focus. This is creating a gap between these leading firms and other manufacturers that will only grow as technology widens the performance gap and makes it more difficult to catch up.

If a company does not want to be stranded on the wrong side of that chasm, it must initiate far-sighted, strategic and profound change. This conclusion mirrors the findings of the “2017 MHI Annual Industry Report: Next-Generation Supply Chains: Digital, On-Demand and Always-On” which can be downloaded here.

To learn more, download the full Grant Thornton report here.