The Top Trends That Are Changing the Face of Manufacturing

Sophisticated technology trends of 2019 will continue to push the manufacturing industry forward into the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Meaghan Ziemba, Content Creator/Community Manager, MakingChips


Advanced technologies continue to revolutionize manufacturing into a highly connected, highly intelligent industry where tech-savvy workers and intelligent robots develop the products and services of the future.

According to a recent survey[1] done by IQMS Manufacturing Software, manufacturers who are implementing some or all of these technologies to improve their strategies are growing 10% faster than their peers.

In 2019, we can expect to see more sophisticated technology trends that will continue to push the industry forward into the Fourth Industrial Revolution towards intelligent manufacturing. The top five include:

1. Continued IoT Expansion and 5G Rollout

The Internet of Things (IoT) continues to grow at an exceptional rate with 3.6bn connected devices already being used for daily tasks. IoT is anticipated to grow more momentum at the end of 2019 with the rollout of 5G—the fifth generation of mobile communications that targets high data rates, reduced latencies, energy savings, cost reductions, increased system capacities, and massive device connectivity.

 IoT technologies provide manufacturers with real-time information on their overall business operations; however, most companies today are not structured to take full advantage of IoT.

According to Rajan Suri[2], Emeritus Professor of Industrial Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM)* is a critical first step in the journey to these new IoT technologies.

“It’s like you have a house with a shaky foundation. You don’t just jump in and try to update your electrical wiring. First, you fix the basic structure, then you consider how to fix the wiring,” Suri says.

QRM provides the necessary organizational structure that enables companies to respond quickly to all kinds of situations. Once manufacturers implement QRM into their business strategy, they will have the basic structure in place necessary for IoT technologies.

2. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

The increased adoption of IoT is elevating the data production of manufacturing operations. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and smart machines allow manufacturers to meticulously collect and analyze the data so they can resolve any existing machine inefficiencies and increase their responsiveness to customer demands.

AI and machine learning also help businesses who want to achieve autonomous, lights-out production. Unmanned smart machines provide continuous production and send statistical analytics of performance, quality, and yields that lead to significant cost and energy savings. 

3. Virtual and Augmented Reality Enhancements

Virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) enhancements are expected to gain broader adoption in 2019. Companies using VR and AR in existing machine processes enhance overall experience and improve workforce productivity and safety.

Some early adopters have implemented the technologies into their training programs to help bridge the skills gap with more efficient training for incoming workforce.

According to an article[3] written by Shelby Hegy, product marketer of PTC, AR overlays digital content and analytics onto the real world to provide:

  1. Visual, auditory, and kinesthetic training.
  2. Real-time step-by-step visual and oral instructions.
  3. Efficient navigation of factories and warehouses to workers.
  4. Identification of the proper tools and parts needed for a task.
  5. Real-time feedback for alerts and corrections to missteps that occur along the way.
  6. Overlays of key performance metrics and operational data onto equipment to illustrate how the factory is responding to changes.

 VR creates fully immersive scenarios for employees to:

  1. Practice emergency response situations.
  2. Work in certain environments that are not available due to construction or unsafe circumstances.
  3. Prepare for rapid product changeovers and equipment upgrades without damaging property or personnel.

4. Blockchain Technologies

Blockchain is a digital ledger that records digital transactions chronologically and publicly. In the upcoming year, it has the potential to increase visibility across every area of manufacturing, including:

  1. Suppliers
  2. Strategic Sourcing
  3. Procurement
  4. Supplier Quality
  5. Shop Floor Operations

 Blockchain’s distributed ledger structure is perfect for improving supply chain efficiency, order accuracy, product quality, and track-and-trace capabilities. 

5. Industry-University Collaborations and Partnerships

There is already a shortage of skilled workers within the manufacturing industry. As companies continue to rely on advanced technologies to maintain a competitive edge, they need to make their businesses more appealing to tech-savvy individuals who could potentially fill that void.

One solution involves the collaboration between manufacturers and local educational institutions in Project Lead the Way (PLTW) programs. These programs prepare students for STEM careers as early as kindergarten. They also create opportunities for manufacturing companies to mentor students and teachers and donate technology equipment to community colleges and high schools.

Another solution involves apprentice or internship programs that provide hands-on experience to students interested in manufacturing careers. Hands-on learning environments equip students with the appropriate skills that make them confident in the trade, allowing them to prosper in areas of problem solving and industry knowledge.

Employers must recognize the generational differences that exist and understand how they can affect everything from training and development to simple communication.


*Note: To learn more about Quick Response Manufacturing, please register for the upcoming WOTM workshop in Rockford, Illinois: “Increasing Your Manufacturing Competitive Advantage: It’s About Time”—Presented by Rajan Suri, Emeritus Professor of Industrial Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Visit http://www.wotm-rockford.com/events for registration details.


[1] “Where ERP is Making the Greatest Contributions to Growth” - IQMS Manufacturer’s Survey Results (https://www.iqms.com/products/whitepapers/how-erp-contributes-to-growth-survey.pdf).

[2] Rajan Suri is Emeritus Professor of Industrial Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is Founding Director of the Center for Quick Response Manufacturing (www.qrmcenter.org). He can be reached at rajan.suri@wisc.edu.

[3] “How AR and VR are Transforming Training in Manufacturing” (https://www.controleng.com/articles/how-ar-and-vr-are-transforming-training-in-manufacturing/)