Canadian Manufacturing

Four trends having a big impact on manufacturing

New product and customer demands mean shifting priorities on the shop floor

The manufacturing industry is awash in buzzwords. Never in the history of manufacturing have so many buzzwords been so hyped. You would be forgiven for deciding these words have no real meaning.

Unfortunately, the jargon masks important trends that will have a huge impact on the manufacturing industry.

The Internet of Things, big data, and 3D printing, to name just a few, will have a critical effect on manufacturing and change how manufacturers do business while disrupting business models and supply chains.

After looking at these changes, a pattern emerges—four trends to watch:

1). Production flexibility
2). New production models
3). Production proximity
4). Faster decision-making

Production flexibility
Changes in the market are driving production flexibility. Consumers expect more customized products and the Internet has created a situation where trends spread quickly across the globe and disappear nearly as fast.

The two main technologies allowing manufacturers to better meet this need for production flexibility are flexible manufacturing systems (FMS) and 3D printing.

Flexible manufacturing systems aren’t new, but changes in demand patterns make them even more valuable. They provide machine flexibility which allows you to adapt the assembly line for new parts; and routing flexibility which enables the use of different machines for the same operation.

The main drawback of an FMS is the initial expense, but it allows manufacturers to reconfigure the factory floor with minimal downtime.

3D printing is already in widespread use for prototyping, where it can turn what may have taken weeks or months in some manufacturing industries into a task completed in hours.

It’s also starting to see use in primary manufacturing. The quality of 3D products is rapidly improving to the point where they’re being used in strictly-regulated manufacturing industries such as aerospace.

New production models

The same changes driving production flexibility are also causing manufacturers to adopt make-to-order and assemble-to-order manufacturing models.

These models promote more efficient use of materials such as reduced lot sizes, which is becoming a growing trend among leading manufacturers.

Material and component planning is changing too. Forecasting at the central factories making the product platforms is increasingly done on components, rather than finished goods. This provides greater flexibility while facilitating the make-to-order process.

Smaller manufacturers feeding the central factories are increasingly pulling components as needed in a just-in-time model rather than relying on forecasting.

Production proximity
The changes to production models are creating a situation that favours production of platforms and components at a few global plants with final customization and assembly done by local partners.

Production is becoming more customer-oriented; manufacturers are increasingly being expected to provide customized products; and volume certainty and time urgency are becoming bigger priorities over the long production runs of the past. Perfect order fulfillment will become a key performance indicator over plant efficiency.

In order to serve this demand and achieve perfect order fulfillment, manufacturers will need systems that provide information about the order process from start to finish. Customer service will also become more of a priority as manufacturers become more focused on after-sales services, warranties and, in some cases, lot traceability and batch details.

Faster decision-making
Technology is providing manufacturers with the tools to get real-time insight into the factory floor, the supply chain and the world around us.

Embedded sensors in machines, part of the emerging Internet of Things, give real-time feedback from the floor. This information will feed flexible manufacturing systems, allowing managers to respond to obstacles in real time and re-route operations to keep production moving.

Forecasting applications will take in data from internal and external sensors as well as other data sources to give managers an even more accurate view on manufacturing, the supply chain, and the market. In some cases, the applications may even make some of these decisions instead of management.

Following the buzz

Big data, the Internet of Things and 3D printing are all important new technologies changing manufacturing. These technologies all have a great deal of hype around them and it’s wise to avoid getting too caught up in it, but they will impact industry, so manufacturers should monitor them and prepare for their coming.

For more information on how technology is changing manufacturing, download the SYSPRO whitepaper, “The Future of Technology in Manufacturing,” from where the ideas in this article are derived.

odeteOdete Passingham is the marketing director at SYSPRO Canada. SYSPRO is an ERP application consisting of finance, distribution and manufacturing controls for mid-size companies. To contact Odete, email: or call (604) 451-8889. Learn more about SYSPRO at


This article is part of the Manufacturing Growth & Innovation Centre, showcasing strategies for manufacturers on the move.

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