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Predictions for the manufacturing industry in 2022 and beyond

Jason Chester, director of global channel programmes at InfinityQS, provides his thoughts on what we can expect to see from the manufacturing industry over the next 12 months and beyond

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The year of 2021 was a challenging one for the manufacturing industry, with the global chip shortage and ongoing Covid pandemic having a severe impact on manufacturers. Despite this, there is optimism for 2022.

In December 2021, it was revealed by IHS Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing PMI that manufacturing output, new orders and employment all rose, resulting in a strong end to the year. But will this momentum continue this year, and what can we expect to see over the course of 2022 and beyond? 

Pandemic response becomes post-pandemic strategy

The past two years has taught us two things. First, that the impact of the pandemic will be with us for some time to come, perhaps indefinitely. Second, that the proverbial black swan events can, and indeed will, happen eventually.  

That means we not only need to make permanent some of the rapid changes recently made, and make them more robust and operationally sound, but we need to rethink many parts of our business operations. How flexible are they? How robust are they? And how are they able to support other future events that may have unprecedented impact on the business? Not just in terms of another pandemic, but from other events such as natural disasters and economic upset, for example.

Therefore, 2022 will be the year in which businesses of all sizes and across all industries will move from the firefighting era of the pandemic response to an era of operational change and restructuring in the form of a post-pandemic strategy.

Cloud computing/SaaS and the new normal

Over the past two to three decades, cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS) have been slowly increasing in momentum in adoption, with the curve becoming steeper and steeper.  

That is because more and more IT departments, C-level executives and many other disciplines are now realising the extraordinary business benefits of cloud/SaaS over traditional in-house client-server IT architectures.  

Coupled with advances and maturing of the core technologies, it is now becoming a “cloud-first” strategy for most organisations when turning to new technology capabilities.

But again, the pandemic has had a role to play in that recent acceleration to a cloud-first strategy. Supporting remote workers through anytime, anywhere access to critical business processes and information was solved largely through the rapid deployment and migration to cloud-based solutions.  

Those companies that were previously reluctant to make the leap, due to either misunderstanding or lack of understanding, often had their hands forced. As a result, legacy systems are a high priority for digital transformation, particularly with a view to cloud/SaaS-based alternatives.  

I believe that 2022 will represent the tipping point in cloud adoption, with a cloud-first strategy becoming the standard default position for most legacy renovation projects and the major technology consideration in a post-pandemic strategy.

Tribal knowledge becomes codified

In many industries – and manufacturing is no exception – people build up significant levels of skills, knowledge and experience that pertain to their roles. But most of that tacit knowledge is stored mentally and rarely documented or codified.

For example, an operator may hone a particular skillset over many years in a particular process area using a particular piece of machinery. Quite simply, she just knows how to perform the tasks correctly and get the best out of the equipment and resources. But what happens when she, or her immediate peers, are no longer available (such as from the impact of the Covid pandemic or other events) to perform those tasks?

2022 will be a pivotal year in this regard, as organisations begin to move more aggressively towards codifying what is currently highly tacit, tribal knowledge. Not only using solutions such as workflow and business process management (BPM), but also emerging solutions in areas such as predictive and prescriptive analytics, as well as leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) techniques. 

Sustainability accelerates digital transformation momentum 

The driving force behind digital transformation is shifting, with sustainability beginning to take centre stage. Organisations across every industry and of all sizes are now recognising the responsibility and scrutiny being placed on them by governments, consumers and society at large to become much more environmentally responsible in their business activities.  

From waste to resource usage, carbon emissions and recycling, for example, organisations will increasingly turn to digital solutions to optimise efficiency and productivity and this significantly reducing unnecessary environmental impact.

Industrial automation makes way for information automation

Information is rapidly becoming the next battleground in the war on efficiency and productivity. We now have the technology capabilities to effortlessly capture data in real time, analyse that data automatically and in real time using sophisticated algorithms, and present the result of that analysis in highly visual and intuitive visualisations.  

This makes decision-making much quicker and more effective, enabling critical decisions to be made in real time to ensure that industrial processes are running optimally, and where that is not the case, enable us to better predict when and where problems are most likely to occur, before they affect efficiency and productivity.

As industrial automation delivers ever-diminishing returns as much as the low-hanging fruit has been harvested and now has become commonplace, I believe that 2022 will see information and cognitive automation within industrial environments become much more prevalent.

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