Manufacturing Trends for the Next 5 Years

Manufacturing has seen significant change in the last decade, and this rate of change will continue.

I love the optimism that comes with the dawn of a new year. Along with its good and not so good, 2013’s wins, losses, heartaches and victories are behind us as we look to what it will take to make 2014 a great 365 days. As we bury ourselves in the daily work of leading people, answering emails, supporting customers, staff meetings, production meetings, quality problems and the like, it will be so easy to look past the fact that we live in amazing times. Moore’s Law is alive and well. Products are still doubling in price performance every 12 months. The technology at which we marvel today will have gone the way of the brick phone 5 years from now. What then will the next 5 years hold for manufacturers?

The sales and marketing teams of six leading manufacturing companies were recently assembled to debate that very question. 

Attacking the question from a primarily sales and marketing perspective, four sub-groups formulated their own predictions around how the world of manufacturing will change in the coming half decade. What’s trending in manufacturing, how will the manufacturing world change in the next 5 years and what should we be doing about it? Trends in three key areas—process improvement, purchasing and technology were identified, as follows:

Process Improvement 
Manufacturers will look to suppliers to be the experts in improving manufacturing processes. Suppliers will be increasingly relied upon to have “boots on the ground” and assist customers in meeting their goals. Participation in and even the ability to facilitate customer continuous improvement events will be key.

Manufacturers will continue their focus on Lean and continuous improvement. 
Manufacturers will continue to move toward “paperless” business practices. 
Automation and robotics will continue to be adopted into manufacturing processes. 

Purchasing 
Manufacturers will become better at understanding the “total cost of ownership.” 
Payment terms will become longer. 

The responsibilities of purchasing teams and buyers will be consolidated, and their people will be asked to do more with less. 

Purchasing professionals will continue efforts to commoditize suppliers who will, in turn, need to focus on educating customers and building relationships with purchasing professionals while stressing value over price.

Purchasing functions will become more centralized (for example, one corporate purchasing person for several plants). 

Technology 
Design teams and project teams will collaborate virtually, sharing information in real time. 

3D Printing will change entire business models, and manufacturers will insist on suppliers that can utilize 3D Printing technology. 

Advancements in mobile technology will lead to an environment where parts and orders will automatically scan to inventory systems and this information will no longer be tracked manually. Suppliers who provide apps to customers to be used in the RFQ, quoting and ordering processes will benefit.

Manufacturing has seen significant change in the last decade, and this rate of change will continue. Manufacturing processes will transform with lightning speed. Purchasing processes will become more precise and sophisticated. The continued rapid rate of technological change will revolutionize entire industries. The coming 5 years hold promise for those manufacturers who can keep up or better yet anticipate and stay ahead of the curve. Will you?