10 key trends in the manufacturing industry

Industry 4.0 survey - 10 key trends in the manufacturing industry

Towards a sustainable, digital and human-centric industry

In an era marked by rapid technological advances and shifting global dynamics, the manufacturing industry stands at a critical juncture. Our comprehensive Industry 4.0 survey 2023 captured the essence of this transformation, spanning digital innovation to sustainability, customer demands to supply chain evolution and the pressing need for a human-centered economic approach. We delve into ten important areas where the industrial landscape is rapidly evolving. The outcome of this survey proves that our industry is evolving and is firmly grounded in resilience and foresight. In this article you can read the 10 key findings of our 2023 survey, and below you can download the in-depth survey report.

1. The digital transformation is now

Organizations consistently commit to digital transformation, with a modest uptick in prioritization for 2023. Strategic execution plans are also on the rise, and while operational efficiency dominates digitization drivers, the quest for new digital revenue streams is gaining traction. Companies largely match industry peers in Industry 4.0 readiness, with a slight decrease in those considering themselves 'advanced', hinting at a competitive recalibration.

2. The digital shopfloor as the greatest opportunity for digitalization

The digital shop floor continues to emerge as the prime opportunity for digitalization in the manufacturing sector, with 55% of companies recognizing its enhanced value in driving operational efficiency and technology adoption, a notable increase from 45% in 2021. This trend underscores the industry's focus on leveraging real-time data, AI, and IoT for process optimization and strategic business development, maintaining the digital shop floor's position as a cornerstone of industrial innovation.

3. AI and robotization are changing the game

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotization are identified as the most transformative technologies, with more than 70% of companies expecting them to have a major impact on future business operations. Alongside, digital twins and the Internet of Things (IoT) are increasingly recognized for their role in enhancing business processes and product development. Despite the potential, the adoption of 5G technology is proceeding cautiously, with many companies still not convinced of its immediate benefits and waiting for clearer returns on investment before integrating it into their infrastructure.

4. Sustainability is no longer a choice

The survey underscores that 83% of industrial companies now see sustainability as a primary objective, actively integrating it into their strategic plans by adopting greener materials, methods, and supply chains to promote the circular economy. Recognizing the dual pressures of moral responsibility and market demand, businesses acknowledge that sustainable practices are essential to long-term competitiveness and viability, making environmental stewardship non-negotiable.

5. Changing customer demands are impacting operations

Companies expect 'Evolving Customer Demand Preferences' to significantly influence their operations in the coming ten years, with 70% foreseeing a substantial effect as consumers demand a broader variety of products and favor high mix, low volume manufacturing. Moreover, 84% of businesses view the looming shortage of labor and skills as a critical issue, spurring them to undertake prompt workforce education and skill enhancement to align with evolving market demands, while also acknowledging the importance of technological innovation, sustainable practices, and supply chain resilience as crucial to their continued competitive edge.

6. Acceleration of production activities

Business priorities have shifted slightly since 2021, with a continued focus on exploring new markets, while the emphasis on survival has slightly increased amidst economic challenges. Notably, concerns over supply chain disruptions have diminished, leading to a 6% rise in companies aiming to expedite production, whereas interest in international business has waned a bit, possibly due to current geopolitical tensions.

7. Persistent shortage of labour and skills

Currently, companies are concentrating on reducing operational costs, enhancing employee training, and diversifying products or services, with more than half actively engaged in such measures. Looking ahead, a significant shift towards establishing circular value chains is planned by over 80% within the next year, reflecting a strategic move towards sustainability, while the majority are avoiding hiring freezes and not downsizing, suggesting confidence in resolved supply chain issues and a commitment to workforce retention, due to the persistent shortage of labour and skills.

8. Towards a human-centered economy

There’s a growing focus within companies on fostering a human-centered economy, evidenced by the significant rise in prioritizing the enhancement of work environments to improve employee satisfaction and to create workable work. Additionally, there's a notable trend toward upskilling and reskilling, indicating a strong recognition of the need for continuous employee development to keep pace with evolving technologies and business strategies in an aging workforce.

9. Increasing willingness to collaborate

Companies increasingly engage in project-based and structural collaborations, while still emphasizing self-reliance, only seeking external partnerships when essential. Most collaborate with established businesses and research centers for innovation, with less frequent partnerships with NGOs and governments, suggesting opportunities for expansion in these sectors.

10. Changes in supply chain strategies

The manufacturing sector demonstrates resilience amid the Ukraine crisis, with most companies reporting no impact on investment budgets and turnover and maintaining stable employment levels. Significant strategic shifts include a move towards localizing supply chains and adopting strategic stock management, indicating a proactive response to global uncertainties and a transformative period for supply chain resilience.

Download the complete survey report here

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Miranda de Ruiter, Communication Officer

Miranda de Ruiter is a communications specialist at Flanders Make. Passionate about technological innovation and sustainability, she creates both copy and the Flanders Make podcast on these topics. With one goal: to share insights and stories that inspire industry growth.