As 2018 comes to a close, the manufacturing sector appears poised for continued change. Driven by the promise of greater profitability and competitiveness, manufacturers will continue to progress toward digital transformation, including connected environments that provide greater control and visibility, and forgoing antiquated processes in favor of automation and efficiency.
Here are some predictions for what 2019 may look like for the manufacturing industry.
Increased Implementation of Android With the Impending Windows End of Life
While Windows was previously the de facto standard for mobile devices in the manufacturing and warehousing space, Microsoft’s decision to end support for legacy platforms like Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5, Windows Embedded Compact 7 and Embedded 8 has opened the door to even greater adoption of the Android operating system. Microsoft will stop supporting those Windows platforms after 2020, so we expect that more companies will begin the platform transition over the next 12 months.
According to VDC research, Android has already captured more than 25 percent of the rugged mobile market) and will likely increase that share as legacy Windows devices are retired. All the major rugged device manufacturers have already introduced Android-based handhelds and rugged or semi-rugged smartphones, providing their users with access to a more flexible OS and a broad base of applications and developers.
Widespread Adoption of Device Management Tools
Manufacturers are increasingly adopting a wider variety of mobile devices (tablets, handhelds, vehicle-mount terminals, etc.), and in some cases are supporting multiple operating systems as they transition away from legacy Windows to either Android or Windows Mobile. As a result, these companies are increasingly dependent on a variety of mobile device management tools.
These software tools make it easier to deploy and provision devices, update hardware, spot security problems, and troubleshoot or remotely repair devices on the shop floor or in the field.
Our customers are leveraging a variety of these tools to improve the management and operation of their device fleets. Some are using operational visibility tools that allow users to gain more insight into asset and operational performance by providing real-time insight into the status of mobile devices and peripherals. Some of these solutions not only offer mobile device management features, but also provide a portal to integrate existing MDM solutions.
Additionally, asset visibility tools provide mobile device location and health information so that companies can optimize their deployments and avoid unexpected downtime.
As IT departments are pressed to do more with fewer resources, these types of centralized management tools will help manufacturers reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) of their mobile computer and printer investments.
Continued Progress Toward Automation
Companies that have been holding off on new investments in automation are beginning to upgrade or move toward new cloud-based ERP solutions that can progress their digital transformation.
According to a recent report, the North American digital transformation in manufacturing market will experience a CAGR of 17.2 percent, reaching $25.7 billion by 2025. Manufacturers aren’t just automating physical tasks within the plant, but also automating activities like forecasting, troubleshooting, and even supporting artificial intelligence, IoT, and other technology to quickly collect and analyze data and then make better business decisions.
Automation can also help manufacturers face an increasingly challenging staffing shortage. According to Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, as many as 2.4 million manufacturing jobs may go unfilled through 2028, putting as much as $454 billion manufacturing GDP at risk. While manufacturers are addressing this shortage of skilled workers in a number of ways (including new training programs, knowledge management technology, etc.), many are embracing technology to automate more of the entry-level work or production-focused positions. According to Deloitte’s research, 26 percent of manufacturers are investing in productivity-enhancing technologies, and nearly 60 percent plan to rely on more automation over the next three years.
Increased Visibility Through Technology Investments
Ongoing upgrades to ERP systems have triggered additional investments in new mobile terminals, barcode scanners, warehouse signage and other purchases to support new software features. According to VDC Research, the global handheld barcode scanner market will reach more than $1.48 billion through 2022. That growth is also being driven by wider adoption of 2D imagers, which can increase business workflow efficiency, and growth in e-commerce which requires companies to meet the demand for faster delivery speeds and omnichannel functionality.
The future may also see increased use of RFID and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions that automate data collection and can provide new insights into production, assets, and how end-users engage with products. This increased visibility can give manufacturers the ability to adjust operations for greater productivity and even fuel R&D.
Improved Customer Service
Finally, customer service will take a higher priority for manufacturers. No matter how many new bells and whistles are added to manufacturing technology solutions, the relationship built with the customer is what makes or breaks a business.
This is clear as more manufacturers cite the improvement of the entire customer experience as a high priority for every part of their business – from sales to delivery to service. Increasingly manufacturers are also transitioning from companies that “sell products” to companies that “deliver a service or experience”
Investments in AI, connected product technology, sensors, and other solutions are helping to make this transition a reality. Particularly in commodity markets, manufacturers must differentiate themselves in order to continue growing, and that means selling reliability, uptime, or outcomes along with physical products. According to a survey from Worldwide Business Research (WBR), 34 percent of manufacturers have already created a service strategy based on maximized product uptime. More than 60 percent plan to do so over the next two years.
The common thread running through our predictions for 2019 is an increased reliance on real-time, accurate data to optimize manufacturing operations, gain clearer business insights, and deliver higher levels of customer service.
Technology investments in cloud-based ERP solutions, Android-based mobile devices, advanced automated data collection systems, the IoT, and AI will increasingly be necessary for manufacturers to remain competitive in this more demanding, customer-centric environment.
Mike Hess is a Sales Director at Imprint Enterprises.