Empowering manufacturing

Departments - Editor’s Letter

With 78.6% of respondents agreeing that next-generation manufacturing technology will be what separates leaders from followers, which will you be?


Does your company use manufacturing technology to improve operations?

If the answer is yes, it’s on the right path for success as an early adopter of advanced manufacturing technologies.

If the answer is no, then according to results from Plex Systems’ 4th Annual State of Manufacturing Technology report, it will be “extremely difficult for manufactures to thrive in the future without doing so to improve operations.”

The annual survey measures current and future technology plans, with this years’ results showing that automation, integration, and connectivity goals rank highest for priorities in the next five years, specifically:

  • 60% plan to use technology to enhance plant floor integration, automation
  • 48% intend to increase business process automation
  • 33% working to increase plant/enterprise integration, supply chain connectivity

Also indicating optimism for manufacturing’s future, when asked about projected company revenue growth for the next 12 months, respondents were:

  • 55% somewhat confident
  • 30% very confident

This confidence is echoed by others in the industry, Plex’s report notes, with 93% of manufacturers responding to the December 2018 National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) survey reporting a “positive outlook for their companies and the economy… a near-record level of optimism.”

But there is caution. Manufacturers also admit to what their companies are lacking that could hamper their ability to remain competitive – skilled workers, strategy, and technology. And topping both the list of growth challenges and what companies lack in response to competition was technology; under-pinning the critical role technology plays in how much companies grow and manage business challenges.

Those challenges – especially prevalent in small businesses with fewer than 500 employees – is scalability to respond to meet economic demand and balancing for natural upturns and downturns in industry, which is where automation, integration, and connectivity will help.

Much of this relies on the cloud as a foundation. On-premise technology use has dropped 21% in the past three years of the survey, with 87% of manufacturers using a cloud-based system, indicating confidence in future revenue growth. As manufacturers build their Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) foundation on a system that provides connectivity from databases, sensors, and equipment – and as the use of analytics grows – companies will expand into more data analysis, supplying deeper decision support for areas such as predictive maintenance, machine performance, and shop floor operations.

The report notes that as manufacturers connect all parts of the business – processes, systems, people, machine, suppliers, and customers – more are seeing IIoT as a pragmatic solution to solving connectivity challenges, not an aspirational tool with limited return on investment (ROI).

With 78.6% of respondents agreeing that next-generation manufacturing technology will be what separates leaders from followers, which will you be?

Elizabeth Engler Modic, Editor