The year 2023 highlighted opportunities and challenges that manufacturing will experience in 2024. It was a year when much of the modern world was forced to take note of technology and recognise the skills gaps in workforces.
Manufacturing was no different. As we approach 2024, there are a few trends that manufacturers will align with in efforts to maintain their competitive status.
Recruitment and Staff Retention
For many technical sectors in 2023, there has been a skills shortage. Within manufacturing in the UK, there is a shortage of foundational skills, such as fabrication and welding, as well as advanced skills relating to the digitisation of factories.
Part of the problem is an ageing workforce and a lack of interest from younger candidates. To help solve the problem, recruiters will focus on overcoming the raw image of manufacturing by communicating its attractiveness.
Further, to help solve the skills shortage in the shorter term, manufacturers may approach retired workers to re-commence work on attractive terms and help to reskill other workers.
As part of a longer-term solution, advancements in technology and sustainability will help attract candidates. More manufacturers will consider recruitment and retention when formulating their brand strategy.
Today, manufacturers are beginning to harness the latest trends that technology offers to make their factories smart. The overall objective of smart manufacturing is to make production more profitable, safer and sustainable. This will excel throughout 2024.
The Internet of Things (IoT) describes a networked group of smart devices. They contain software, sensors and communication features that allow them to collect and share data. Smart factories will make more use of the IoT to smarten their production capabilities and feed data into systems that can be used for monitoring and decision-making.
Some of these systems will utilise capabilities such as machine learning and other artificial intelligence techniques to analyse and make decisions for the optimisation of manufacturing processes. This could be real-time or otherwise. Aside from optimisation, such techniques will also lend themselves well to meeting changing customer requirements and end-product customisation.
Robotics is also very much on the agenda moving into 2024. Precision, consistency and cost savings yield advantages that are too good to be ignored. As the IoT and AI become more advanced and reliable, robotics will also incorporate more of this technology and themselves become more capable. This will yield smarter and more productive manufacturing.
These new intelligent and data-driven technologies also provide for digital twins; a concept of simulating a physical manufacturing process into a virtual world for monitoring and facilitating control decisions. A digital twin can also be used to test different product designs and manufacturing process changes.
Quality and Service
The last few years have demonstrated the need for manufacturers to remain competitive. Political, economic, social and technical considerations have all affected demand. As a result, manufacturers are increasingly focusing on quality and customer service. Producing inferior products and services will lead to a less profitable business.
Many aspects of production affect quality. An obvious one that we see is metrology, or measuring as it is commonly referred to. Inaccuracies in measurements will always lead to inferior products, which is why many manufacturers invest in precision measurement equipment as a priority. This is especially true in industries such as aerospace and automotive.
After-market services will also play an important role, demonstrating product reliability and earning the trust of customers. This again highlights the growing need to fill the skills gap. Staff are crucial for the full function of production and good customer service.
Sustainability will be an ongoing concern for all types of businesses. However, high emitters, such as manufacturers, will have to continue to see challenges reducing to the lowest carbon emissions possible.
Modern technology will play a huge role in this. Technologies will advance with sustainability in mind and should be used for it. They will support fewer breakdowns, and greener processes and practices. Furthermore, manufacturers will place more emphasis on the entire supply chain and use their policies to attract and retain staff.
Another consideration will be the sharing of best practices as opposed to using sustainability for competitive advantage.
The Future is Near
Overall, in 2024, manufacturing may well start to look like a more attractive proposition for job candidates who may have shrugged off its dirty image in the past. Far from this, modern technology is reshaping manufacturing, leading the way in the use and development of associated technologies. Smart and environmentally sustainable factories will become centres of value for customers purchasing their products and, hopefully, they will be receiving the aftercare they deserve.
We should also remember the services and products that support manufacturing, such as metrology. They too, will continue to improve through automation and functionality. Hopefully, as 2024 progresses we will see some exciting progress.