It is a challenging time for manufacturing in Australia. The sustained high value of the dollar, coupled with relatively high costs of doing business has seen numerous high profile examples of manufacturers pulling out of doing business in the country – as we’ve seen with many car manufacturers, for example.
There are still opportunities for manufacturers in the country, however, in transitioning to highly efficient and advanced operations that are able to differentiate themselves from their cheaper rivals by being able to do what other manufacturers cannot. To achieve this, however, manufacturers need to embrace what technology can offer their businesses, and we see in 2015 there will be a lot of investment in technology innovation by manufacturers.
The major tech trends that are affecting other vertical markets – Big Data, Social Media, Mobile and the Cloud – will also have an impact on manufacturing in a variety of ways:
Thanks to mobile devices and applications, the need to be on-site across many roles within manufacturing has been lessened. Workers from those on the floor to those in the back offices can better access information pertinent to their role remotely, allowing them to perform additional functions and at greater efficiency. The rise of mobile devices will also help ease the paper burden on the environment and allows easier information sharing with customers and suppliers.
The rise of social media has given consumers direct access to the manufacturers behind the products they’re considering buying. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for manufacturers. It’s a challenge because manufacturers need to reassess how they approach customer engagement, now there is a greater desire for on-demand service and communication between customers is much easier over social media. From reputation management through to the sales process, manufacturers are finding themselves with a need to recruit social media specialists within their organisations.
As a consequence of the need to develop a greater presence on social media, manufacturers are also finding opportunities in big data. Manufacturers that have made the investment in big data and analytics technology will find themselves better understanding plant performance and identifying where inefficiencies lie, predictive modelling for future processes, and make forecasts based on consumer trends. This information will help manufacturers invest in building the products where the greatest demand is, in turn improving demand for their services and output. The more successful manufacturers in the longer term, then, will have individuals skilled in data analytics within their IT teams.
The ability to outsource the management of IT systems is a big appeal to manufacturers, who constantly need to be looking for ways to minimise costs. The Cloud is only going to grow in popularity among manufacturers for that reason. Smaller manufacturers will be able to go without a dedicated IT team at all, allowing the company to instead invest in its core competencies.
But related to the Cloud is the Internet of Things, which is set to have a huge impact on manufacturing. With more technology connected in to the Internet through IP addresses than ever before manufacturers are going to be able to automate processes even more, perform diagnostics more easily than ever, and enable condition-based maintenance for greater efficiencies.
In return for the savings to labour and service costs, manufacturers will be able to re-invest in additional R&D. This is ultimately where the manufacturer will find its competitive advantage, and we see this having far-reaching implications for the roles of those working in manufacturing. Working in manufacturing is set to become a far more creative field, and employees at manufacturers will be given more design-based tasks.
From bringing the manufacturer closer to the end customer, through to redefining what employers will look for on the resumes of prospective employees, manufacturing is far from a dying industry in Australia. Instead, our manufacturers are gaining worldwide recognition for their high levels of expertise and the quality of their end products, and in this area, technology will continue to lead the way into 2015.