Let’s look beyond 2019 predictions. Are manufacturers’ looking a decade down the road? Here are five trends that need to be on their radar, not just over the next 12 months, but in the coming years.
1. Global Virtual Workforce: Merging Extended Reality with the Internet
Two million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled by 2025 due to the skills gap. On the horizon lies a solution to manufacturers’ skilled worker shortage: the merging of global interconnectivity with Extended Reality (XR), which will help companies locate STEM-educated employees. Within a decade companies will be able to tap skilled workers across the globe to design products, work with engineers, and operate and maintain U.S.-based machines and equipment – in effect, a worldwide workforce will staff globally connected virtual-actual shop floors.
2. Linking the Human Brain to Machines
Elon Musk famously prophesied that the advancement in AI means humans must eventually merge with computers or become irrelevant. His company Neuralink plans to develop implantable brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) to treat serious brain disease and brain damage. The implications loom large for manufacturers. A mind-machine interface (MMI) will allow humans and machines to complement each other in what they do best. And sometime in the not-so-distant future machines and humans will literally join each other to help manufacturers make better-designed, better-produced goods.
3. Nano-Based Preventive Maintenance
Quantum physics is merging with the digital world. Engineers at UC-San Diego developed a nanobot, less than 5 millionths of a meter long, that can “swim” in the bloodstream and eventually will be used to remove particles and repair tissue. Now Rolls-Royce is using miniature robots 10mm in diameter for predictive maintenance within the combustion chamber of its engines. While not by definition nanotechnology, it demonstrates how we are to closing in on the use of nanobots to detect flaws and repair equipment before it breaks down.
4. Internet of Goods: Local Production and Local Distribution
A study published by the Manufacturers Alliance Foundation provides a new vision for how the Internet of Things will affect manufacturing. The rise of e-commerce fulfillment centers and the digitization of distribution, pioneered by Amazon, opens up new ways for manufacturers to shift from a warehouse model to a more flexible distribution process. Customization and cloud computing will lead to an “Internet of Goods,” allowing the creation of new business models capable of expanding the market and changing the geography of production.
5. The Exponential Generation of Leadership
While Millennials prepare to take over leadership roles in the business world, it’s the next generation (born after 1999) that manufacturers need to put on their radar. Gen Z, which is just starting to populate college campuses and technical schools, has never known a world without smartphones, the internet, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. Their knowledge of and capabilities with technology and their skillsets and 21st-century leadership style will be needed to help U.S. manufacturers compete globally in the coming decades.