Digital Strategy

10 Industry 4.0 Predictions for 2021

November 2, 2020

We sat down with leading manufacturers to discuss their 2021 Industry 4.0 predictions. From first-mile logistics to labor shortages, dive into them now. 

The future is already here. This year has accelerated digital transformation across manufacturing and other industries faster than ever anticipated. 

As we look to the new year, we wanted to ask the experts on how they predict the future of the fourth industrial revolution will transform organizations over the next year. Here are their thoughts.

Innovating the first mile

Most folks talk about last-mile innovation — with technologies like delivery drones and self-driving cars. 

But Tom Kieley, CEO of SourceDay, believes innovation needs to really happen in the first mile of sourcing materials. 

“While Industry 3.0 brought automation that allowed manufacturers to sell more, faster, Industry 4.0 will see a shift in focus to automating the first mile. Left largely up to people to manage, the responsibility of sourcing parts and managing supply chain disruptions is rife for improvement. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it's that now's the time to safeguard operations against disruption."

“All the revenue-driving automation in the world can't help if you don't have the parts you need, when you need them.”

Discrete manufacturing is the future

Discrete manufacturing is the process of manufacturing goods consisting of distinct items that can be counted, touched or seen. This is in opposition to process manufacturing of substances like oil or prescriptions. 

Mike Nager, an industry leader in the industrial internet of things (IIoT), says, “There are many enabling technologies that make Industry 4.0 possible now. Since Industry 4.0 is focused primarily on discrete manufacturing, the technologies that are transforming the plant floor are the most important. Discrete manufacturing refers to the manufacturing processes that primarily involved assembly operations of some sort."

“Think automotive manufacturing where a vehicle is assembled out of many parts and the end product is usually counted as an individual unit. Industry 4.0 has its main focus on discrete manufacturing operations because you can provide a very customized single product — say, an auto with a certain color interior, exterior, accessory package.” 

We know that consumers are demanding personalization. Discrete manufacturing enables companies to scale mass personalization. 

Micro 3D printing is here to stay

John Kawola, CEO of Boston Micro Fabrication, predicts a continuing trend in miniaturization. 

“Additive Manufacturing (AM), or 3D Printing, has been around now for over 30 years. For a long time, there were only a few technologies available and applications were generally limited to prototyping. In recent years however, a new wave of innovation and use has emerged, extending beyond engineering and design into short and medium scale production applications.” Kawola says that AM market is now estimated to be $10B per year with continued strong growth forecasted.

“Miniaturization is the trend to manufacture even smaller mechanical, optical and electronic products, medical devices, and other high-value parts,” Kawola added. “This trend continues to be strong, with year-over-year growth in many markets. This trend will continue as parts get smaller and smaller. From the electronic connectors in cellphones to the tiny valves in medical pumps, these devices aren’t just small in size; many have small features with significant complexity and are very expensive and challenging to create via traditional methods, such as micro CNC machining and micro molding." 

“Micro 3D printing will be an important method that bridges the gap between traditional manufacturing techniques and prototyping, resulting in 3D printing becoming a faster and cheaper alternative for short- and medium-scale production applications.” 

Labor shortages are a reality

"A lot say machines are replacing jobs … I say they are changing jobs, and elevating the skill level required on the shop floor.”

John Giordano, of Citrin Cooperman, weighed in on the reskilling of the workforce, and showcased survey data to highlight this reality.

“When I speak with manufacturers and distributors alike, one of their major concerns is a labor shortage,” he wrote. “For manufacturers, it is mostly shift supervisors and management. For distributors, drivers and night shift. In our recent survey, this was further confirmed by respondents who said technology requirements and labor shortages are two of the biggest hurdles for future growth. It is hard not to see that these two components of the manufacturing process are intertwined. As more and more technology gets introduced to the shop floor, the workforce needs to adapt as well.”

“They need to have an understanding of technology, in addition to manufacturing and engineering. As machines continue to replace manual tasks, shift supervisors and managers need to change the way they oversee operations. A lot say machines are replacing jobs….I say they are changing jobs, and elevating the skill level required on the shop floor.”

“For distributors, the future workforce remains a mystery. Will bots replace humans to pick and pack? Ask Amazon their thoughts; they are already operating smart warehouses. Will deliveries be conducted by driverless trucks, or drones? Again, these are things that were once far-fetched and only something to be considered in movies. Now, it seems very close, and with IoT many companies are striving to maximize efficiencies through technology, which will without a doubt continue to change the skills required by the workforce.” 

Bio-materials become more important

Materials are going to be incredibly important in the fourth industrial revolution, says Kylee Guenther, the CEO of Pivot Materials.  “As the CEO of a sustainable materials manufacturer, we are seeing the demand for smart, alternative materials [to metals and plastics] and we make them using plant waste. They are safer, strong, smarter and more sustainable.”

“Materials are a huge part of industry 4.0 because consumers are demanding better from the products they buy. We can take waste from one industry, say, coffee harvesting, and use that waste to make a material for the coffee mug you drink your coffee out of. It’s a slightly different spin on the circular economy, but one that works for everyone and the environment.” 

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) becomes open source

Companies need flexibility in order to be able to move quickly. Building on top of innovative, open sourced or highly adaptable platforms like Salesforce is key. The same goes for the Industrial Internet of Things, predicts Mike Milinkovich, Executive Director, The Eclipse Foundation, which provides their global community of individuals and organizations with a mature, scalable, and business-friendly environment for open source software collaboration and innovation.

“As the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) continues its proliferation throughout the global manufacturing industry, one trend that manufacturers have made abundantly clear is they expect many IIoT technologies and solutions to be open source,” says Milinkovich. 

This has been confirmed in the latest Eclipse IoT Commercial Adoption survey published in March 2020, which found out that 60 percent of respondents are factoring open source in their deployment plans. 

“This is a significant departure from single-vendor manufacturing solutions of days past,” Milinkovich explains. “But the days of expensive, hardware-intensive, proprietary solutions are fading fast as today's smart manufacturers turn towards less expensive, faster-to-innovate and permissionless technologies.” 

Manufacturers will adopt private 5G networks

Dr. Mehmet Yavuz, CTO and co-founder of Celona, an integrated solution that bridges the divide between private LTE/5G and enterprise networks, believes private 5G networks using CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) and other mid-band spectrum will supplant the use of Wi-Fi in manufacturing settings for many applications. 

“This new wireless option is ideal for applications that need to be up and running at all times, such as IIoT devices and systems that need ultra-reliable connectivity in order to perform their core functions,” says Yavuz.

“In addition to reliability, private 5G networks provide the type of latency that manufacturers need for both current systems and future applications, a critical requirement for any type of factory automation task and for many Industry 4.0 applications. Private mobile networks are an ideal extension of another new networking architecture that is quickly establishing itself in the manufacturing sector — edge computing. Analytics, information applications, business processes and other functions will likely still reside in the cloud or in an onsite data center, but private 5G networks can extend operational technologies to the factory floor for system automation, delivering predictable communications for guided vehicles, and guaranteeing reliable communications for floor staff.”

As 5G grows in usage, companies will need to ensure their technology is operating at full capacity. 

Companies switch to proximity manufacturing  

"Old-fashioned manufacturing will no longer satisfy the consumers of the future."

The decision to offshore, nearshore, or onshore is becoming increasingly complex. As customers demand products faster, international tensions increase, and natural disasters loom, companies are considering switching to proximity manufacturing more than ever. 

Jonathan Bass, CEO and owner of home decor manufacturer and PTM Images, believes this manufacturing trend will continue, and think that proximity manufacturing will be the key to success under the next industrial revolution. 

“Currently, companies cut labor costs by outsourcing manufacturing overseas, which leads to decreased quality of products that satisfy high consumption rates by providing a shorter product life. Customers today are highly demanding; they want products when they want them, how they want them, and where they want them. Old-fashioned manufacturing will no longer satisfy the consumers of the future.”

“As a result, manufacturing and supply will be forced to move back to North America. We are already seeing consumers willing to consume less and pay more for a higher quality product. This shift will be very beneficial to North American manufacturers."

“Recently, Tesla proved that digital manufacturing and robotics are not as efficient as a manual production line. The robotics plant that Tesla put in place was not able to expand and contract. The factory built in a parking lot with tents filled with traditional manual labor outperformed the robots. Overall, traditional manufacturing can respond more quickly to customers' changing needs. Proximity manufacturing will ultimately help reduce inventory levels, increase efficiencies, improve profitability, and provide a higher level of customization to meet the needs of the consumer of the future.”

Industry 5.0 removes humans from the factory floor

What will happen when humans aren’t needed on the factory floor?

“Automation will be the great disruptor of labor markets, rather than off-shoring or other geography based factors. Many say that the labor markets have always adapted and realigned with technology optimization in the past. While this is true, manufacturing 4.0 and definitely 5.0 are positioned to need no human labor at all,” states John Bair, CTO at Converge Ventures, an accelerator and incubator located outside of Columbus, Ohio that commercializes university R&D. 

The pandemic disruption will last 

Matt Meyer, VP of Digital Innovations at Kloeckner Metals believes that disruptions in supply chains and the labor markets caused by the pandemic have forced “a reevaluation of how critical autonomous systems are to the future sustainability of manufacturing systems and supply chains.”

“It is reasonable to expect that companies previously looking into new technology to drive automation and autonomous/robotic controls will redouble that effort to impact short-term results and long-term strategic goals,” says Meyer.

What are your manufacturing predictions for 2021?

The final quarter of the year always feels like a mad dash to the finish line. Don’t forget to take some time to reflect and think about how your organization is adopting Industry 4.0 technologies and the challenges you could face over the next year as the world continues to accelerate. 

Want to talk about your 2021 planning with an expert? Sit down virtually with our team to plan out your product lifecycle and quality management systems.

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Kathryn Kosmides


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