September 1, 2023

Three Manufacturing Trends to Look for in 2024

Slowly but surely, manufacturing businesses large and small are returning to their usual practices as the industry recovers from the effects that COVID-19 had across the board. As the year continues, we urge our manufacturers to stay on top of the latest industry trends to make sure they are not falling behind. Juggling a business is complex enough already, so we have highlighted a few trends for you to keep an eye on for this year and the next.

The Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence

Does this one seem familiar? The Internet of Things, or IoT, is defined as “a network of internet connected objects able to collect and exchange data.” In the last five years alone, this trend has picked up speed in a major way, leading Forbes to list it as one of their top trend predictions for the year. The prevalence of the IoT means that millions of informational resources are literally at our fingertips. It also means that information has become just as valuable as any other good or service. And you will find that the IoT will have a unique impact on the manufacturing industry moving forward.

This streamlines nicely into Artificial Intelligence, or AI, which has certainly made a name for itself in the last year. The key for manufacturers is not to look to AI to solve its problems or replace its workforce; rather, AI seems to be best utilized as more of a partner, so to speak, when it comes to the manufacturing industry. AI is a great choice to help you analyze data on project completion rates, spot technology-related problems, and even to nail down specific issues in the manual lathe your company just purchased. What AI cannot do, or at least not yet, is replace the specific expertise that many of your team members have, so be sure to use this technology in a way that complements your processes instead of replacing them.

Ongoing Supply Chain Disruption

Manufacturers worldwide still feel the pain of the supply chain disruption, perhaps more than any other industry (or at least tied for the top three). It’s a stressful and frustrating problem, because you have the equipment, technology, and team to do your part – you just lack the materials. Unfortunately, this problem will not disappear soon, but you can help your business work through it with some of these ideas below:

  • Take stock of your resources. What do you have? What do you need? When do you need it by? Reviewing these questions will give you a clear picture of the problem you’re facing.
  • How have other businesses in your industry handled this issue? It may seem counter-intuitive to consult your competition, but pooling your resources (whether that’s knowledge or actual supplies) could be the boost that your business needs to source its needed supplies.
  • Use AI to your advantage. We cautioned you against placing all your eggs in the AI basket, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it to help you solve some problems. Harnessing the power of AI and the IoT will give your business a chance to streamline their supply chain process and determine what supplies you will need and when you will need them.
  • Ask your team. As the owner of your business, you are no stranger to manufacturing. But odds are high that you are serving in more of an admin role as a business owner and employ some talented machinists, engineers, and technicians who are faced with managing each project in a hands-on manner every day. Ask them for ideas on ways you can manage supply chain disruptions or ways the team can use their supplies most efficiently.

You can’t make supply chain issues go away overnight, but you can work smart and find ways to keep the supply chain struggle from dragging your business down with it. In fact, you just might find that you are not only surviving, but thriving as a business once you take some steps to manage these issues.

Higher focus on skills-based training and development

In the last ten years alone, the landscape of manufacturing has changed dramatically. Technology is constantly changing, clients need products that didn’t even exist a few years ago, and COVID-19 affected how business was conducted across every industry. In the wake of these changes, many employers find it difficult to find qualified employees, and it may be even more difficult to keep your employee turnover rate low. While that problem is not unique to the manufacturing industry, manufacturing businesses do have unique ways to solve this problem.

Start by reviewing the jobs you need filled and the type of employee you want to fill them. Are you requiring specific types of education or levels of experience before even considering an applicant? Have you updated your job descriptions and expectations to reflect some industry changes? Many manufacturing business owners may find that their struggle to hire qualified employees could be partially due to unrealistic or outdated expectations. Instead of requiring an applicant to be a Level II Machinist, for example, look for an applicant who has shown a willingness and ability to learn new skills and who is eager to grow their knowledge, regardless of their machinist certification. You don’t want to hire someone who cannot safely operate your machinery or manage your projects, but you also don’t want to cut your applicant pool down to a small percentage just because they don’t hold a specific certification.

While you’re at it, review the training that you offer your new hires (and any team member on your staff). If an applicant seems like a good fit but lacks a few practical skills, can your business develop a training program to teach those skills and allow your team members to succeed from the start? Not only will you be able to train new hires in the way you want your business to run, you will be investing in your team in such a way that will let them know they are a valued member of your staff, which will entice them to stay on your team longer.

And don’t forget the “soft skills” – in manufacturing, you often look for people with practical, hands-on skills, which are important. But finding employees who can communicate well, have emotional intelligence, can create smart strategies, and can work as part of a team is just as critical as many other skills you are looking for. This is another opportunity for you to help your employees develop any areas they want to improve on – helping your team members improve their conflict resolution skills is just one example of a way to invest in your team that will benefit everyone, including you.

It’s not an easy time to be a business owner, let alone one in the manufacturing industry. But for business owners who want to truly invest in their company and employees, you can bring your manufacturing company through this rough patch. Stay ahead of the game by researching trends and implementing them into your business. Before you know it, your company will be the example others point to as a story of success.

September 1, 2023 Alex Warner