Trends & Perspectives on Manufacturing in 2021
As 2021 gets underway, many companies are putting fresh plans in motion and charting a course for future success. What will 2021 look like for the manufacturing industry, and what are some of the trends we can capitalize on? We put this question to members of our executive team at Okuma America and here are their responses. We hope these might inspire ideas you can put to good use in your business.
Jim King, President and COO
In 2021 I believe we’ll see more companies taking advantage of virtual communication tools that increase the speed of business. For example, by now we’ve become accustomed to video conferencing, and it can provide some advantages. We’ve learned that it’s possible to evaluate machine tool technology (at least in initial stages) without expensive and time-consuming travel. Even machine runoffs can be accomplished virtually with confidence. Virtual will never fully replace in-person interactions, but it can be useful for some phases of the evaluation/purchasing process.
The manufacturing industry will begin to see early applications of artificial intelligence (AI) such as using data to predict unplanned maintenance events before they occur.
Automation will become a must in most shops. It’s important to keep in mind that automation can take many forms, and it’s not just robots. Bar feeders, pallet pools and flexible manufacturing systems are just a few of the many types of automation systems a machine shop can utilize to increase productivity. Machine tool builders will also continue to engineer innovative automation solutions such as Okuma’s ARMROID and STANDROID systems.
In times of accelerated change, it’s important to resist the urge to overcomplicate things. It’s better to “get back to basics” and make sure your foundation is sound. Control the things that are in your control.
Jim Kosmala, Vice President of Engineering & Technology
- I believe 2021 will bring a continued drive toward turning data into knowledge. Today we have the tools to collect large amounts of data from our machine tools; now we must look for ways to turn that data into knowledge that helps make better decisions.
- We’ll see a continued shift toward what I refer to as the “Future Technology Trilogy.” This includes artificial intelligence (AI), digital twin, and 5G: three technologies that will feed off each other to drive advancement of processes.
- AI is fueled by data. 5G will provide the bandwidth to exponentially increase the availability of data, thereby providing rich resources to AI. Digital twin will apply AI to optimize designs faster than people can.
Ira Busman, Vice President of Customer Service
- It’s more important than ever to stay in touch with reliable sources of intelligence to monitor industry trends. I use the excellent resources published by AMT (The Association for Manufacturing Technology), where I look at key metrics like PMI (the Purchasing Managers’ Index), capacity utilization, and market share, which provide indicators of where the market is headed and can help guide decision-making for your business.
- “Doing more with less” is a trend that most of us now deal with on a daily basis, so it’s critical to look for ways to build efficiencies into your business. Many companies have downsized or rightsized, which could present challenges as business begins to ramp up again. It will be smart to look for services like virtual/online training, which can be useful for upskilling your workforce. Shops can also create efficiencies by taking advantage of tools like Okuma’s Connect Plan (which can be used to monitor and optimize plant processes), and remote support capabilities.
- In 2021 it will be worthwhile to consider a one-stop-shop strategy for maintaining and supporting machine tool assets. Once again, “efficiencies” are a main theme, and I believe we’ll see a slimming down effect in supply chains as well. Shops will take their long lists of specialized suppliers and consolidate those purchases with a select few who can meet their needs. In anticipation of this trend, Okuma America, along with our distributors, has expanded aftermarket service offerings to create a strong foundation of support for our customers.
During times of change and transformation it’s important to remain flexible, with an open mind to new ideas and ways of doing things. As you do so, remember that Okuma welcomes any opportunity to lend a hand and support you through 2021 and beyond.