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Four Paperless Manufacturing Predictions for 2014

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We take a look at the manufacturing topics and trends you’ll be talking about in 2014, and offer hints and tips to help you get a leg up in the New Year.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

This year, I began thinking as 2013 rumbled to a close and 2014 burst on the scene in a polar vortex, considering what to expect in the New Year.

Manufacturing is in a pretty good place right now, with six straight months of growth according to ISM, and reports predicting continued growth and confidence in manufacturing for 2014, but there are still concerns and risks. This week, we’ll highlight for manufacturing a few 2014 trends, and look at ways your business can turn a challenge into a competitive advantage.

1. Cloud Computing and Cybersecurity

As more and more servers become virtual, and businesses continue to search for ways to drive down IT costs, maintenance, and total cost of ownership, consolidation through the cloud is becoming an appealing option (or reality) for many companies.

Manufacturing isn’t ready to fully embrace the cloud. There are still challenges to working in the cloud that make the option a non-starter for many companies. Cybersecurity is one. If there is one thing we’ve learned from the recent data breach at Target, and the continuing saga of NSA snooping, it’s that the cloud isn’t nearly as secure and safe as we would like it to be. For manufacturing, where security and secure accessibility is paramount, the cloud is an unnecessary risk.

In 2014, vendors continue to adapt their offering and messaging regarding the cloud to manufacturers. Keep an eye out for new innovations to target security and accessibility. For your own business, be wary of fully embracing the latest trends. Look for ways to utilize the strength of the cloud while minimizing the risk.

2. Mobile Manufacturing

More and more of us are embracing mobile computing (tablets and cell phones) over the traditional PC. Businesses are making the move as well, as employees find advantages in mobility.

In 2014, look for manufacturing to continue slowly embracing mobility. There are apps and software focused on mobile manufacturing, but they don’t yet offer a practical shop floor solution. For example, have you ever tried to view a complex CAD drawing on a cell phone screen? In addition, cost and security is a limiting factor. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) will work for many businesses, but not for the secure shop floor. Many shop floors are a dangerous place for an expensive mobile device.

We see manufacturers taking practical first steps to embracing mobile manufacturing. Quality Control with a tablet and a strong MES can walk the floor and proactively increase quality, rather than waiting for a problem to happen. For your own shop floor, look at ways you can benefit from the mobility – implementing it where it makes sense.

3. The Qualified Worker Crunch

This is an issue we’ve seen in the past, but it’s also one that the industry continues to grapple with in 2014.

The skilled labor shortage continues to impact manufacturing in America. According to statistics, more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled. A study by Thomasnet.com reveals more than 80% of the current manufacturing workforce is between 45 and 65. Studies have identified the shortage as not just a manpower issue, but an education issue. Colleges are taking steps to address the issue with new programs and training opportunities, but manufacturers have also begun looking at ways they can ensure new workers can be effectively trained, and the knowledge and skills of the older workers can be passed on to a new generation before critical skills are lost to worker turnover.

In 2014, look for more attention to be spent identifying critical shop floor skills and for process enforcement and training to be a focus of manufacturing. Take a close look at the processes and training programs you have in place to minimize the impact of the qualified worker crunch on your business.

4. The Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data

In recent years, we’ve been riding the wave of Big Data and the Internet of Things due to advances in our ability to collect and store data. It’s an issue we’ve seen manufacturing grapple with in the past.

The challenge we see for manufacturing in 2014 is collecting the “right” data and having the shop floor and process visibility and control to act on it. We’re seeing the customer, supplier chain and the shop floor connected by information. Big data holds the promise of improved quality and production, and an optimized and efficient enterprise, but only if your company has the tools and ability to act on the data – shaping manufacturing of the future through technology, real-time data and analytics. Customers expect data and information at their fingertips. Are you ready?

As I wrap this blog up, I already see issues I’d love to explore further (3D Printing? Green Manufacturing? Robots on the shop floor?), but the issues and trends presented here offer opportunities for the New Year. The strategic steps you take now can have a positive impact on your business in 2014.

What do you think? What issues do you see impacting the industry in 2014? Leave us a comment and let us know. Our friends at the manufacturing software reviews site Software advice are also conducting a survey on the most popular manufacturing products, and if you'd like to contribute, take the survey here and see what other industry leaders are using and planning for 2014. And as always, if you have a question don’t hesitate to ask. We’re happy to help.