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Trends Shaping The Future of Advanced Manufacturing in 2021

Manufacturing has been battered and shut down to its core in the last year. The new normal for business will be how they integrate and improve their operations. Several innovative technologies are available that will change the future if they choose to pursue them.

Plenty of businesses must re-learn how to operate in the new era. Other enterprises can improve their current operations and add profits to the bottom line. Every business needs to find new ways to operate efficiently.

Technology and Innovation are the Key Trends

3d Printing

3D Printing is something you might see in Star Trek, not on a production floor. For almost 40 years the technology has become indispensable to manufacturing companies around the world.

We have all thought of 3D printing as a fascinating hobby or maybe in a small office. The technology is changing the face of advanced manufacturing, and it will only improve in 2021.

Design, prototyping, and tooling are the mainstays of 3D technology for factories and industrial production. Prototyping is a cost-effective way for designers to test new products destined for the market. The time-consuming process of tooling has also been transformed. Rather than months for tooling projects, 3D printing completes the process in just days, saving untold dollars.

3D printing technology has become a fixture in the automotive and aerospace industries.

Statistic: The market for 3D printers and everything associated with the industry is expected to grow a healthy 21.2 percent year over year. By 2022 the industry is expected to reach 5.3 billion US Dollars.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality and augmented reality have been the sole proprietors of video games and other weekend happenings. However, AR and VR have received renewed interest in high-tech manufacturing concerns.

Social distancing has brought the world forced innovation across several sectors of the economy. The convenience of calling into support and having a technician arrives to fix your equipment has gone by the wayside.

Assistive technology has made it possible for technicians to assist with either AR or VR devices. Companies send their clients AR or VR-enabled equipment and then walk the client through basic or necessary repairs.

Enterprises are seeing this innovation as an exciting new long-term opportunity.

Statistic: Massive growth is ahead for the AR/VR market in manufacturing. The innovation is expected to have a growth rate of 78.5% over 2019 numbers. In the future, the technology has a 5-year growth rate of 77% worldwide. According to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, nearly a third of all US manufacturers have implemented the technology in their operations.

A Shift In Business Strategy

In 2021, manufacturers are shifting their focus to a trend that has been in the pipeline for decades. The models of business to business and business to the consumer are well known around the globe.

The B2C model features a host of benefits for manufactures. Even though this is a forced business model due to the pandemic, it is advantageous in many ways.

  • Businesses see increased profits due to cutting out the middle man.
  • Brands are strengthened because the brand does not see a continued dilution over time.
  • Manufacturers see better price control throughout the entire process.
  • Products see a faster time to market, reducing the sales cycle.

Transformation: Businesses in 2020 who have embraced a digital transformation see a better than 8% shareholder return and five times more revenue growth over their peers. In the past, digital transformations involved an increase in efficiency or maybe an increase in manufacturing output. Today’s transformations involve the customer experience.

Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics has always been one of the holy grails of business. Unfortunately, very few companies practice useful business analytics, and fewer still know how to implement the changes.

Predictive maintenance is a proven tactic that combats unplanned outages of equipment. Using IoT provides manufacturers insight into equipment performance and will add years to product life-cycles.

Reliable data and analytics offer a wealth of information to a company’s bottom line.

Bottom Line: Upper-level management in every business world is attempting to improve operations and increase efficiency. Technologies such as big data and analytics have transformed the end-user paradigm. One industry that has benefitted is pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Facilities can now use data to bring products to market much quicker. In 2016 the predictive analytics market size was 545 million. By 2026 it is expected to reach 2.5 billion, growing at an annual rate of 21.7%.

IoT Integration

IoT for manufacturing continues to be listed at the top of every trend list for 2021. Year after year, there continue to be many new devices and software, all connected and talking to each other.

Interconnected devices allow advanced manufacturing facilities to make informed, strategic decisions. Real-time data and insights allow managers to make informed goals, including reductions in cost, efficiency, improved safety standards, and product innovations.

IoT and predictive analytics are having a significant impact on every way of life around the world. Innovation drives business growth, and technology enables manufacturers to evolve with a digital-first landscape.

IoT devices allow manufactures to monitor equipment on-site safely and quickly identify potential problems.

Percentages: The MPI Internet of Things study gives us many advanced percentages dealing with advanced manufacturing. 71% of business executives involved in the study say IoT will significantly impact business in future years.

31% of production processes in the US incorporate smart devices and embedded intelligence. 34% have plans to incorporate the technology into their facilities.

Advanced Robotics

Advanced robotics in manufacturing is expected to be a bright spot for every industry by the end of 2021. Many of the once busy manufacturing plants have been shuttered due to the pandemic and social distancing rules.

The trend of using IoT will continue with companies expecting to increase outlays for automated robotic systems. Single source supply chains and inventory management systems are already seeing significant upgrades. By the end of 2021, the Robotics Industry expects the installed base of automated robotics to increase dramatically by 3.2 million units. This number is only a fraction of the world’s manufacturing workforce of 320 million.

Several initiatives are being rapidly implemented. Collaborative robots, the interface between humans and machines, are quickly coming to market. High deployment costs, especially for small to mid-size businesses, are dropping.

The automotive sector was the most influential user of industrial automation. Now several other industries are jumping in, including electronics.

Statistics: The global industrial automation market size is expected to double by the year 2023. The global segment is growing at 26% per year, to reach 210 billion by 2025. The market in the US alone will reach 100 billion.

Global Workforce

Expect the global workforce to merge with virtual reality in 2021. Manufacturers have struggled to find the right STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) educated employees. Expect this to change soon.

The push for advanced products to tap into skilled workers has arrived. Across the globe, employees can work with company engineers to operate and maintain machines and equipment.

A worldwide workforce will connect globally on virtual-actual shop floors.

Statistics: The global workforce numbers are fascinating. 43% of US employees currently work away from co-workers most of the day. Virtual teams dominate the global workforce. 85% of employees involved in global business work on virtual teams. Out of those numbers, 89% of employees work on at least one team, and 27% work on at least four teams.

Pairing Humans with AI

Humans and artificial intelligence are the topics of science fiction, not manufacturing in 2021. Or is it? Remote work, social distancing, and supply chain disruptions will continue in 2021 and beyond.

Artificial intelligence, by every standard, seems to be the answer to a lot of manufacturing inefficiencies. In nearly every company, top-tier management will consider AI to address current challenges faced by companies. However, AI is destined to fail if those same managers do not consider how humans interact with AI-enabled devices.

In 2021 companies will take a human approach to AI needs, then act accordingly.

Predictions: AI will become less artificial in 2021, with the rise of human intelligence and interaction. Businesses will demand more insight into big data and the algorithms being used in their operations. In 2021 there will be a large-scale convergence of AI and human interaction. Over the past five years, businesses have persisted in democratizing advanced AI insights, yet problems persist.


Drones are finding their way into every aspect of life, from fun and games to industrial plants and heavy machinery. Licensed pilots can fly the machines over scaffolding, heavy machinery, and facilities. Drones are gathering everything from data to the condition of the equipment.

Drones advantage is the safety factor. Rather than humans crawling in and around dangerous machines, drones are used to find small spaces problems.

Growth: Demand for the commercial drone market is strong and getting stronger. Drone technologies will reach 43.1 billion by 2024, up from 14.1 billion just two years ago. The compound annual growth rate is expected to reach a healthy 20.5% this year and beyond.

Using Big Data to Improve Manufacturing Processes

Big data and analytics will continue to grow and improve manufacturing in 2021. Companies are finding new and innovative ways to gather and predict business operations.

A short time ago, companies were stuck with a simple word of mouth and spreadsheets, making business operations challenging to predict. Now humans are talking with machines, and machines are talking with other devices and improving the bottom line.

Statistics: Humans are generating nearly 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. Most of this data gets to manufacturing plants as unstructured. It is up to businesses and their software to find the correlations and patterns to improve the products we purchase.