Last week we opened the can of worms that is the future of manufacturing (specifically looking at progress over the next five years). If you missed part one of this article, check it out right here. So we covered a few opportunitie that lie ahead, but will the road be smooth, freshly paved and free of barriers? Probably not. Let's take a look now at some obstacles standing in the way of the factory of the future, circa 2021.
Infrastructure is, of course, essential to making manufacturing advancements viable in the future, but infrastructure goes well beyond physical factories. From spacious warehouses to efficient transportation systems, investment in infrastructure is key -- especially for emerging nations to be considered, according to a Deloitte report on the future of the industry. The report also stresses that, in addition to emerging nations focusing on infrastructure, developed nations must continue to invest and maintain existing infrastructure to remain competitive in the global landscape.
While rapid response and greater flexibility from manufacturers are opportunities, they are also real challenges to the factory of the future we hope to see come 2021. Consumers already expect products in the blink of an eye, and this expectation will only grow. To meet such demands, manufacturers must become more flexible and efficient than ever before. Those who fail to focus on flexibility, adaptability, scalability and sophisticated systems will be left in the dust.
As consumer demand shifts and expectations for more customized and personalized goods increase, contract manufacturers will be forced to adapt and expand their offerings. This includes shifting from large, uniform production lots to smaller, customizable batches. With the rise of 3D printers, we aren’t too far from a world where consumers print any product they want, whenever they want, without ever leaving their sofas! Manufacturers will be up against this convenience, so acting now to meet consumers’ needs faster and more efficiently is essential.
The gap is real, y'all. And it's going nowhere fast. There is simply a greater demand for experienced application engineers than the current supply can support. Talent shortage is not only a burgeoning issue in the US; its reach stretches even to China where, according to the United Nations, the working-age population will be an astounding 212 million people less in 2050 than in 2015.
It’s also vital to remember that there is a big difference between unskilled and skilled labor. A large working-class population does not equate to a highly skilled set of workers. The need for qualified management is another issue in itself. For example, our experience has been that it’s currently more challenging to find good native managers in Vietnam than in China.
Another factor impacting talent is automation and the inclusion of robot workers on shop floors. While automation is feared to take jobs away from workers, the situation is more complex than that. With the integration of collaborative robots into shop floor operations, workers may need new skill sets to properly interact with and train these bots. This means new or additional training procedures for human workers.
The Internet of Things and Big Data as useful business intelligence are revolutionizing the manufacturing and tech worlds and will be a ubiquitous element of manufacturing in 2021. But keeping that data safe is a major issue that still needs to be addressed. From the shop floor, to the warehouse, and all the way to consumers’ homes, data collected through this network is sensitive and vulnerable to hackers. Protecting itwill be crucial as we move closer and closer to a fully integrated network of people and products. Putting security measures in place ahead of time is your best bet.
As of today, most IoT devices and big data systems are not operating on a single network, which poses an issue for interoperability. For IoT to reach its full potential, devices need to be able to properly communicate with one another, as well as the network. Right now, some devices can connect to multiple devices, while some can connect only to manufacturer-approved devices, and others still can connect only to the Internet, not with any other devices. Designing products and systems within a specified architecture would result in two advantages: device compatibility and increased security controls.