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2021 predictions: Manufacturing

2 Feb 2021

Trends, technologies, key topics, and issues around manufacturing that we predict for 2021

Julian Relph
     Julian Relph

The overarching theme for 2021 and the set of conversations that we are having with almost all organisations at the moment is around speed and cost to market, particularly in the next generation of product. There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impact on the industry with many organisations running on a reduced headcount, meaning their ability to provide resource at the challenges faced is limited. As a result, we are supporting them to realise new technologies and new ways of thinking that enable them to achieve what is required to survive.

Rob Pears
     Rob Pears

The approach that we are taking to address this is to harness the true power and potential of Intelligent Industry – the evolution of Industry 4.0. With the rapid development of key technologies like 5G, Edge computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT) it means that every type of company can start to do business in a new way. By taking this approach, businesses will be able to unleash waves of innovation across every dimension of what they do.

I met with Julian Relph and Rob Pears, our manufacturing experts to see what trends they predict for 2021 to achieve this ambition – this is what I learnt:

A more resilient supply chain

The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be the stress test that caught most organisations by surprise, and which offered very little time to prepare. Organisations have had to contend with sharp spikes and declines in consumer demand, production downtime, and supply and transport delays. According to the latest report from the Capgemini Research Institute – Fast forward: Rethinking supply chain resilience for a post-pandemic world, more than 80% of organisations were negatively impacted by the situation and a vast majority have struggled with significant challenges across all aspects of their operations. With the events of 2020, there is now a growing awareness that supply chains need to be more flexible and agile so they can react and adapt quickly to potential disruption. The obstacles presented by the pandemic have provided an opportunity for organisations to build a more resilient, flexible, and agile supply chain that is ready to withstand future disruption and global crisis. In the aftermath of COVID-19, we predict that organisations will shift all efforts to make the supply chain more resilient ensuring they can plan for unprecedented situations.

Digital transformation of the factory floor

The single most important challenge and priority for manufacturers in 2021 will be to re-engineer their systems, architectures, and operating models to ensure they are better prepared to respond to future risk. We are seeing the pace of digital transformation projects increase dramatically and many commentators have speculated that 5-10 years’ worth of digital transformation progress will be achieved in the next 12-18 months. What was once seen as the exclusive domain of enterprise-wide strategic goals will see digital transformation becoming a tactical priority throughout 2021, where manufacturers attempt to solve very specific challenges and areas of weaknesses on a case-by-case basis using digital transformation approaches.

One of the major components is that of Digital Twins where manufacturers create 3D renderings of computer-aided design (CAD) models, for asset management and prototyping. The increasing availability and affordability of technologies such as IoT enabled devices, data interpretation software and bandwidth mean that more manufacturers can use digital twins to improve their processes. Digital twins are virtual versions of a real object, which could be a building or network of buildings, a product or system or even a city. IoT sensors instantly transmit data from an object to the digital twin, giving manufacturers an accurate representation of the asset that will adapt depending on what happens on the factory floor. Gartner predicts that half of large industrial companies will be using digital twins to improve productivity by 2021 and our experts also believe this will become a trend in the year ahead. We also predict digital twins will help organisations with their sustainability goals in 2021 due to the holistic view of operations they enable.

 Data will be king

2021 will be the year that data becomes more widely accepted as the single most critical feature of the journey to the ‘new normal’. But data alone is not enough, how that data is captured, stored, accessed, analysed and utilised to ensure manufacturers remain as agile, efficient, productive and cost effective as possible will be one of the biggest asks from manufacturing firms in 2021. Data will form the backbone, and help bring greater value to the business, more so now than ever before due to times of uncertainty and the impact that the pandemic has had on many organisations. A resilient flow of data won’t just help in Operational Technology; i.e. enabling a digital twin to get a holistic view of operations, but it will also be incredibly valuable in making the supply chain more resilient.

 …the security of this data will matter more than ever

With the manufacturing industry rapidly entering the 4th industrial revolution where the old, complex and formerly closed environments, solutions and systems meet new, connected and more open ones, security is at the forefront of digital transformation thinking for these organisations. With use cases like digital twin, the increased adoption of 5G and Edge, and connection of IT and OT-, securing data is critical as the flow of data within the organisation would increase. As a result, organisations are looking for a secure way of ensuring end to end data flow, allowing for operations to run smoothly and prepare for any uncertainty. For this, solutions around data management planning and scheduling would have to come together very quickly using existing systems within the organisation and ultimately breaking down siloes.

 New ways of working

2021 will see a much more coherent integration between IT, manufacturing and engineering in any organisation as many businesses have had to reduce their workforce or are having to adjust the volume of production. Consequently, we need to see a closer link between IT and operations with IT capabilities being more integrated into the way the business functions and how teams collaborate. We are seeing techniques such as MBSE (model based systems engineering) being adopted as a different way of working, enabling a much faster and more coherent way of communicating between IT and operations across businesses. With faster outcomes always desired, MBSE is more prevalent and necessary in the industry today due to less resources being available to execute tasks. We are already witnessing this pressure on IT as a trend, and this will continue to gain momentum as the business adapts to the ‘new normal’

 Increased investment in the workforce

Given the events of 2020 and the advancements in technology becoming more conventional on factory floors, we will see manufacturers working hard to fill the skill gaps. It is likely that businesses will create more digital cohorts, empowering workers through rotation and access to STEM education and vocations. This will be a significant shift in the industry, especially as companies are now focusing on economic recovery with fewer resources.

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