Top manufacturing trends in 2024: Navigating the future with agility

engineer tablet working manufacturing factory

December 14, 2023By Chirag Rathi, Senior Director, Industry & Solution Strategy for Manufacturing

Few sectors experience changes as rapidly as manufacturing. Consumer preferences continuously evolve, innovative technologies consistently disrupt operational norms, regulatory frameworks perpetually fluctuate, and even business models transform regularly. This unrelenting dynamism mandates organizational agility—the capability to nimbly adapt to accelerating market shifts. 

As Andrew Kinder, Infor's Senior Vice President of Industry Strategy, observes, "It is the most volatile and uncertain period that almost anyone I've met can remember during their careers." In such an environment of compounded uncertainty, agility is no longer just ideal but an absolute imperative for competitiveness. 

This blog details four crucial trends set to define the manufacturing landscape in 2024 and beyond, synthesized from insights uncovered through Infor's extensive three-part "Agility in Manufacturing" webinar series conducted in partnership with leaders across the manufacturing ecosystem. The collated takeaways aim to help firms preemptively position themselves to thrive amidst intensifying volatility.

Trend 1: Business agility takes center stage

As the pace of change accelerates, business agility is taking center stage. Manufacturers are moving beyond lean processes and incremental improvements to fundamentally transform their culture, systems, and talent. Agility is becoming a core competitive advantage rather than just a means to stability. 

In 2024, the most successful manufacturers will be defined by their capacity to evolve swiftly in response to market volatility rather than optimize for steady-state efficiency. 

The evolution of agility
While foundational principles of agility, lean processes, and continuous incremental improvement have grown prominent across manufacturing over the years, the unprecedented pace of exponential change now necessitates an elevated aperture—comprehensive "business agility"—to fundamentally realign enterprise-wide culture, systems, and the human talent for responsiveness. 

As one expert succinctly summarized in the webinar series, "Agility is a competitive advantage rather than just stability." In other words, the winners will be defined by their capacity to evolve nimbly rather than simply optimize for steady-state efficiency.

Anticipated impact in 2024
The manufacturing industry faces a business environment of mounting volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). Today, companies must cultivate organizational agility and the capacity to adapt and respond to change or risk losing competitiveness quickly to combat this. 

With business volatility clearly becoming the norm rather than a transient exception, developing superior enterprise-wide dexterity to swiftly counter unrelenting market complexity gains fundamental urgency. 

As cycles accelerate, resilience gives way to responsiveness. Kinder concluded that since stability seems highly unlikely to return at scale, "If we're not expecting stability, we have to learn to live in an environment of VUCA. And there is only one way to combat that: to just respond." Consequently, manufacturers still narrowly focused on honing resilience may soon find themselves outdated. 

The organizations architecting comprehensive responsiveness throughout their systems, culture, and partners consistently outmaneuver competitors anchored in rigid operations and mindsets suited for past realities rather than the fluidity of today's environment.

Trend 2: Laying tech foundations for a transformative future

Manufacturers now have access to a powerful toolkit of technologies like cloud business platforms that promise better, faster decisions and performance. Augmented intelligence solutions power decision-making with AI/ML for data-driven insights that enhance productivity and agility. The same organizational insights that once required a data scientist can now be seamlessly integrated as a service.  

However, adopting these tools does not automatically enable organizational agility or competitiveness. Manufacturers must focus first on clearly defining core problems and opportunities, then select technologies that will improve productivity, decision velocity, and experience.

Strategic tech choices
From enterprise automation, to AI/ML platforms, to the industrial internet of things (IIoT), manufacturers now have access to an overflowing toolkit of technology solutions promising better, faster decisions and enhanced performance. 

Yet simply adopting these powerful tools does not inherently enable organizational agility or competitiveness, despite the ever-present temptation to conflate the two. Technical potential and business transformation do not automatically equate.

Insights and implications
Manufacturers must avoid casually assuming new technologies will intrinsically enable operational metamorphosis. 

Sandeep Anand, Infor Senior Director of Applied Science, emphasized that manufacturers seek specific operational guidance from technologies, not just more data for its own sake. He states, “I think when you look at AI in manufacturing, it is all about data-driven decision making and how businesses can automate, improve productivity, reduce costs and create this model of operational excellence using that data and using their different ecosystems that drive their businesses.” In this case, connectivity powers actionable analytics.

While migrating systems to the cloud can undoubtedly remove prior physical provisioning barriers, the human procedural adjustments required to leverage new capacities effectively remain equally vital. Technology merely sets the stage—a genuinely agile culture allows the entire performance to shine. 

Getting the sequence right matters greatly, and clearly defining core problems or opportunities before exploring technology solutions prevents operating in a void. Despite expanding potential, analytics and data must directly inform enhanced decisions and changes that boost performance rather than quantify stagnation. 

Connectivity and capacity give way to genuine operational enhancement. Beyond raw technical ingenuity alone, technology's larger purpose includes systematically guiding transformations anchored in commercial outcomes versus hypothetical improvements.

Trend 3: Harnessing cloud to unleash transformation

Cloud computing forms the critical foundation for organizational agility. By providing on-demand access to computing resources, the cloud enables rapid scalability to handle spikes in workload. 

Catalyst for change
Transitioning to cloud-based infrastructure provides an essential catalyst for rapid transformations in manufacturing by dissolving once-formidable legacy barriers around capital allocation constraints and prolonged hardware procurement cycles. Cloud unlocks new degrees of flexibility and versatility through on-demand access and automatic updates that ensure the latest and greatest features are available. By eliminating data silos and legacy software issues, the cloud provides manufacturers with the agility needed to scale up or scale down operations.

Showcasing impactful use cases
Heightened inflationary pressures make aggressively optimizing productivity while simultaneously controlling technology expenditure vital for competitiveness. Cloud solutions can uniquely balance savings, performance, and scalability. 

For example, as recently discussed in our webinar series, one manufacturer leveraged cloud analytics on data from furnace sensors to reduce overall energy spend by 15-20% by continually tweaking heating schedules dynamically rather than just running full steam constantly. Such innovations enabled by the cloud's versatility would be impossible in traditional on-premise environments.

Similarly, as Doug Bellin with Amazon Web Services (AWS) Industry 4.0 and Smart Factory explained in the webinar series, additional computing capacity can now spin up instantly without months of work to physically procure and configure new infrastructure on-site. This radical compression of provisioning latency empowers organizations to experiment and seize market opportunities in near real-time rather than get bogged down in logistical delays.

Trend 4: Best practices for manufacturing excellence in 2024 

In 2024, the leaders in manufacturing excellence will have data-driven frameworks to quantify how technology investments link to business impact. They will establish clear target outcomes during planning to enable progress measurement post-launch. Tracking relevant productivity and satisfaction metrics will ensure new tools facilitate desired transformations rather than operate as isolated technical implementations.

Strategic considerations
Surprisingly, experts suggest that too many manufacturers still lack consistent data-driven frameworks to quantify how technology investments link to realized business impact accurately. In order to sustain momentum, initiatives must establish clear target outcomes during planning to enable progress measurement after launch. 

Tracking relevant productivity and satisfaction metrics ensures new tools meaningfully facilitate desired transformations across the organization rather than operating as isolated technical implementations.

For example, Ring Container Director of IT Michelle Kelley advised launching digitalization initiatives only after thoroughly defining measurable desired outcomes upfront based on priority needs across the business. 

Early automation wins often come from reducing repetitive administrative tasks through Robotic Process Automation (RPA)—this focuses on change where it is least disruptive while enhancing productivity. 

But a genuinely holistic view combines tangible productivity factors like quality and equipment effectiveness with intangible human criteria like customer satisfaction and employee engagement to evaluate the overall impact on strategic objectives.

Key takeaways 
Thriving amidst persistent complexity demands comprehensive business agility for manufacturers to maintain a competitive edge. While technology provides the necessary foundations for success, deliberately designing operations, workforce capabilities, and executive priorities to nimbly adapt proves equally essential to realizing the benefits.

As the webinar discussions revealed, trends enable scalability, visibility, and widespread data-driven decisions, readying organizations to respond fluidly amidst volatility. But just as importantly, cultivating an innovation mindset across the enterprise that challenges orthodoxy and institutional inertia will prove vital. Because ultimately, while tools can be bought, genuine agility must be built.

Infor CloudSuite™ Industrial and CloudSuite™ Industrial Enterprise 
As these manufacturing trends make clear, the pace of change continues to accelerate across the industry. Companies able to ingrain comprehensive agility throughout their culture, systems, and measurements will sustain competitiveness amidst volatility. 

Discrete and process manufacturers worldwide rely on Infor CloudSuite Industrial and Infor CloudSuite Industrial Enterprise to manage end-to-end operations efficiently from the shop floor to the top floor. The cloud-based industry suites contain built-in last-mile functionality for seamless visibility into company-wide processes and systems. 

With deep manufacturing expertise and the complete solution for digital transformation, Infor provides the integrated tools manufacturers need to develop enterprise-wide dexterity and agility to sustain success in 2024 and beyond.


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