14 key manufacturing trends in 2021

Alibaba.com JUNE 02, 202110 MIN READ
14 key manufacturing trends in 2021

There’s no time for manufacturers to catch a nap on the emerging trends in the manufacturing industry. A little bit of rest, and your competitors may be doing something to increase their edge over you.

Already, industry 4.0 has revolutionized the manufacturing business – and is still changing the whole industry. There are now newer ways for you to increase operational efficiency, speed up production time, reduce production costs, and connect better with your customers.

As Industry 4.0 evolves from the use of technology to maximize the means of production to so-called Industry 5.0 which concerns connecting man and machine, there’s much still to consider.

As a manufacturer, you have to explore the latest technology, system, or way of doing business in order to stay ahead of competitors and gain market share in an evolving industry. Here are a couple of key manufacturing trends changing the global nature of the manufacturing industry.

1. Planning the COVID-19 recovery strategy

Manufacturing and production companies remained one of the most affected industries during the pandemic. For a number of periods, consumers began to stockpile necessaries and stores across the world ran out of high-demand products. The sad reality of it is that many manufacturing companies may never recover from the loss suffered during the pandemic.

For manufacturing companies still standing, the recovery process is still very much necessary. The recovery phase will involve resuming business activities, rehiring working hands, reviewing the budget for lean manufacturing, and re-strategizing plant operations.

Also, manufacturers may have to take inventory and review their products. One of the effects of the pandemic is that the dynamics of the demand and supply of various products have changed. Some products that used to be more in-demand have lost their sensation – ditto the other way round.

2. B2B to B2C

B2B is the traditional way of doing business. This involves a relationship between one business and another – for instance, the manufacturer to the wholesaler, and from the wholesaler to the retailer. This model is however easing into a business-to-consumer (B2C) model whereas the manufacturer sells directly to the consumers and end-users of the product.

This new model offers a lot of benefits to the manufacturing industry. Some of these include:

    • Price control and increased profit margin: With B2B, even your own manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) may be jettisoned for a price that provides more profit for the wholesaler or retailer.

In Business to Consumer (B2C) mode, however, you have more control over the price of your products. As a result, manufacturers can sell at a higher profit since they have eliminated selling at a reduced ‘wholesale’ price.

  • Faster time to market: The time it takes to first get your products to the wholesaler (and the wholesaler getting it to the retailer) has been eliminated. This means your consumers can have access to the product immediately after production.
  • Controlling your own brand: Marketing is all about your own brand. With B2C, your consumers will be directly influenced by your own brand. This will prevent situations whereby a wholesaler or retailer will sell your products together with that of your competitors. In situations like that, it is easy to have your brand misrepresented or even whitewashed by 3rd parties.
  • Accessible consumer data: B2B abolishes the relationship that should exist between the manufacturer and the end-users. In B2C, this relationship will be promoted. A key effect of this is that manufacturers will have better access to customer feedback and data. The end result of this is better products and stronger business relationships.

To get the most out of the B2C (or even a stress-free B2b) method, however, you need to have an effective platform that facilitates the transactions. Alibaba.com is the largest B2C platform where you can find instant global buyers for your products.

3. New ways to the Internet of Things (IoT)

In simple terms, the Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the network of physical objects that have now become embedded with sensors, software, and other modern technology. These are then used to collect and share data with other connected devices over the internet.

In the manufacturing industry, the IoT refers to the use of networked sensors and intelligent devices in factories. As a manufacturer, the IoT will give you the tools to make informed and strategic decisions using real-time data.

The IoT remains one of the top trends in the manufacturing industry. By 2027, there’ll be more than 41 billion IoT devices1. In fact, more than 80% of industrial manufacturing industries are either already using or planning to use IoT devices in their industry.

Before IoT, industries generally make use of machine-to-machine (M2M) communication to accomplish wireless automation and control. With Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), manufacturers can make use of cloud technologies for the instrumentation and control of sensors and devices.

Some of the benefits of the IoT in manufacturing industries include:

  • Smart manufacturing
  • Connected assets and preventive or predictive maintenance
  • Smart power grids
  • Connected logistics
  • Smart digital supply chains.

4. Accessible Automation

The use of automation is growing at a faster rate. Though this has been in use in the manufacturing industry for a long time, more and more manufacturing processes are now being automated. New inventions and technologies now make automation equipment more accessible to manufacturers.

Automation like easy-to-use robotics solutions, user-friendly manufacturing process management (MPM) systems, and human-robot collaboration now make it possible to reduce cost, increase production, and/or optimize workflows.

5. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)

It is projected that by 2035, AI-powered technologies will be widely adopted in the manufacturing industry such that it could increase labour productivity by 40% and add about 3.8 trillion dollars to the gross value added (GVA)2. Machine learning, for instance, can easily predict the impact of several variables in very complex situations.

Adapting Artificial intelligence and Machine Learning is another way you can improve your overall equipment efficiency (OEE) and boost production results.

AI and machine learning can help improve several aspects of the manufacturing process, such as:

  • Quality control and checks
  • Prediction of failure modes
  • Inventory management
  • Generative design
  • Supply chain visibility
  • Product and asset tracking
  • Warehousing and transportation cost reduction.

6. A New Approach to ERP

When you need to plan the day-to-day business activities, enterprise resource planning (ERP) is the solution. ERP refers to software that helps your business with accounting, project and risk management, procurement, and compliance. ERP systems are now used to manage millions of businesses across industries.

Modern usage now allows the application of ERP systems in all spheres of production. ERP links business processes across all departments – like engineering, finance, human resources (HR), and marketing – with the workforce. In the manufacturing industry, you can use ERP to track the procurement of raw materials for easy analysis.

An ERP cloud solution SaaS model is the newest trend manufacturers are currently jumping on. The up-to-date ERP Software from Oracle3, for instance, grants you access to the newer features and functions that can help scale your business.

7. Mobile Robotics and Collaborative Robots (Cobots)

The initial belief that robots will have a negative impact on the human workforce is steadily losing ground. Across all industries, robots now provide safe and versatile services to support human efforts. In the manufacturing industry, robots work alongside the human workforce in factories and warehouses to make sure that the work is done more efficiently – and in a shorter time.

Perhaps it is even in manufacturing industries that cobots are mostly required. Who else will do the necessary dull, dangerous, and dirty work in a precise manner? From carrying heavy equipment, to machining, to welding, polishing, spray-painting, etc., cobots are fast becoming essential to the modern manufacturer. While the cobots or automated mobile robots (AMRs) do the non-value-added work, the human workforce can focus on skilled labor.

The cause of the upsurge in the use of cobots is not a secret. As the prices of the cobots get cheaper by the day, more manufacturing companies of all sizes can now be able to afford them.

8. Putting the safety of Employees front and center

This should have been our number one key manufacturing trend for 2021, but still, here it goes. One of the lessons derived from the COVID-19 pandemic is that above all else, the health of the workforce is paramount. Putting in place standard safety precautions is now the bare minimum expected of manufacturing companies. There has to be more, and factories have to go over the board to ensure the safety of their employees.

Enforcing social distancing measures even on the production floor is a good way to start. Additionally, industries must now monitor persons coming and going in the workplace.

Infection control and occupational safety and health plans are now made applicable to everyone working or entering the manufacturing plant. Part of the safety measures also include having a qualified workplace coordinator responsible for COVID-19 assessment and control planning.

9. Predictive Maintenance

The Predictive Maintenance (PM) global market is growing so much that it is expected it’ll hit about $6.3 billion by 20224. Currently, more than 83% of manufacturers are already using or planning to use the PM tool.

Predictive maintenance solves a lot of problems before they become problems. This is made possible by a wide range of tools including IoT, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and so on. This will enable you to monitor the performance of your manufacturing equipment to automate the data collection process. The report from this will then give you an insight on how to save time and cut down costs.

In other words, the great benefit of predictive maintenance is that it helps manufacturing companies avoid downtime and save exorbitant maintenance costs by detecting equipment or service problems before they occur. A PwC report5 shows some statistics on the benefits of predictive maintenance:

  • Reduces cost by 12%
  • Increases uptime by 9%
  • Cuts down safety, health, environment, and quality risks by 14%
  • Prolongs the life of aging equipment by 20%.

More manufacturers are now beginning to see the need for a predictive maintenance tool in their business. This need has formed one of the trends in 2021 and is even predicted to be of more adaptability.

10. Additive Manufacturing (AM)

Commonly known as 3D printing, additive manufacturing is a transformative approach that makes use of computer-aided-design (CAD) software to build parts and products. Additive manufacturing is a new wave especially ideal for creating models, prototypes, molds, lost-wax castings, or components of products. It is especially useful to manufacturers in the metal fabrication industry.

As a highly cost-saving tool, the various usefulness of additive manufacturing can be used in:

  • Powder bed fusion (PBF): PBF involves using additive manufacturing for processes including direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), selective laser sintering (SLS), selective heat sintering (SHS), electron beam melting (EBM), direct metal laser melting (DMLM), and so on. With AM, you can melt layers of material in a three-dimensional space.
  • Material jetting: In this process, a print head moves back and forth to create 3D objects. These layers then harden as they cool off or are flashed with ultraviolet light.
  • Binder jetting: Similar to material jetting, this process involves laying down alternate layers of powdered material and a liquid binder.

Other processes where additive manufacturing is applicable are in direct energy deposition, material extrusion, sheet laminations, and vat polymerization. These processes surely offer manufacturers a more affordable way to not just test and make prototypes, but to also be able to produce items in less time.

11. Supply Chain Technology

The world is recovering from the effects of the pandemic. Amidst this, manufacturers still have to deliver the products to their consumers. Now more than ever, manufacturers must seek options to even deliver the products with increased ease, speed, and efficiency.

Supply chains are now becoming more virtual and flexible. There are now applications beyond using AI and Machine Learning to build or support supply chain mechanisms. These include the use of blockchain technology and the IoT to facilitate even more personalized shipments at a lesser cost to the consumer.

Other common features of the current trend in supply chain mechanism involve:

  • Going green and becoming more environmentally conscious
  • Leaning towards circular supply chains, rather than linear supply mechanisms
  • More integrated partnership with third-party logistic providers (3PLs) and third-party based logistic technologies
  • Outsourcing the supply chain for convenience.

12. Industrial wearables and gadgets

Industrial wearables are electronic devices usually worn as accessories. These are becoming more commonplace in the manufacturing industry. Wearables are anything – from rings to watches, or even bandages – worn or attached to the body.

Some of these wearables are equipped with sensors that can report temperature or identify high traffic spots in the plant. Some other wearables are smart watches used to take electrocardiograms (ECG), or smart bandages that help relieve a worker’s pain.

These gadgets help to increase productivity and efficiency of workers. They include:

  • Tech that prevents truckers from falling asleep
  • Noise cancelling or amplifying devices
  • Face Masks that filter air
  • Belts that prevent falling
  • Smart rings for various purposes like unlocking doors, receiving notifications, or even sending panic alerts.

13. Localized production and near-sourcing

It is now even more necessary for manufacturers to source for their raw materials or move their products closer to the location of the end-users. In 2021, more manufacturing companies are now beginning to see the sense in localizing production or material-sourcing. This is achieved by the installation of smaller and more flexible plants in close proximity to the consumers.

This solves a lot of problems in logistics and getting the end product to the end-users. It also particularly reduces the cost associated with operating a larger plant.

14. Workforce investment and training

With the introduction of technology in manufacturing, the requirement for skilled and qualified workers becomes even more necessary. Newer ways of doing business in the manufacturing industry necessitates the training or retraining of existing and new employees.

For the skilled personnel available, their high demand means that they will command a high and respectable fee. In addition, the workplace environment has to be made enticing to the required employees. This has formed a trend in the manufacturing industry where every employer has to ensure they put everything in place to not only attract the best skills, but to also retain them.

Start selling on Alibaba Seller today

The key manufacturing trends for 2021 have given you an insight into what you should be doing as a manufacturer. Once all the boxes are ticked, you still have to get your products to consumers all across the globe.

How else can you do this than on Alibaba – an international platform that offers you access to millions of international buyers? Alibaba provides you with the largest b2b platform where you can sell to millions consumers and retailers all over the world.

1. https://www.businessinsider.com/internet-of-things-report?IR=T
2. https://www.accenture.com/t20170620T055506_w_/us-en/_acnmedia/Accenture/next-gen-5/insight-ai-industry
3. https://www.oracle.com/erp/
4. http://www.marketresearchfuture.com/reports/predictive-maintenance-market-2377
5. http://www.pwc.be/en/documents/20180926-pdm40-beyond-the-hype-report.pdf