Environmental concerns, rapid progress in technology and political changes have shaped the manufacturing landscape in 2023. Rishi Sunak’s Net Zero announcement in September caused frustration in the industry after many manufacturing companies prioritised meeting net zero targets, just for these to be pushed back. The Autumn Budget promising £4.5bn of funding for British manufacturers was welcomed by the sector, and the Advanced Manufacturing Plan looks promising, with a particular focus on renewable technologies and increased digitisation. In 2024, we can expect to see improved investment help manufacturers grow whilst still working to become more sustainable. The impact of AI advancements cannot be overstated, and this, along with other technological developments, will have a huge effect on what manufacturing will look like in the new year.Generative AI’s impact on the workforceArtificial Intelligence (AI) is expected to dominate the manufacturing sector in 2024 and beyond. The focus has shifted from robots on assembly lines to machine learning and generative AI. This new technology can take over the more monotonous tasks, freeing manufacturers to explore and pursue more innovative and creative ideas.Generative AI is expected to reduce supply chain disruptions by assessing shipment routes and potential congestion, assessing the level of potential disruption, and recommending actions such as rerouting shipments, transferring stock or adjusting plans. Furthermore, generative AI can be used as a reference tool when faced with issues or challenges on the factory floor. It can help to identify the causes of issues and provide solutions based on input from staff.Generative AI can also be used for design purposes. Numerous versions of a new product idea can be generated using inputs such as weight, material and cost. This can help manufacturers optimise their product design and cut costs whilst doing so.Sustainability Sustainability will continue to be a key driver in 2024. Manufacturing companies are looking to integrate greener choices into their operations, with a focus on the reduction of waste and fossil fuel usage and lower carbon emissions. Rapidly-developing technology is enabling manufacturers to hit sustainability targets more easily through material and energy use reduction. Alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind, are also growing in popularity and will continue into 2024. Reusable materials in packaging is a trend that will also continue as single-use plastics get phased out.A shift toward lean manufacturing is also part of the trend towards more sustainable practices. Lean manufacturing focuses on streamlining production to ensure higher productivity and reduced waste. The adoption of lean manufacturing practices will empower manufacturers to use the resources they need with no extra waste. Supply chain resilienceSince the outbreak of COVID-19, challenging and constantly changing supply chains have been a key issue for manufacturers. Although reports indicate that supply chains are beginning to stabilise – with Deloitte showing average delivery times for production materials have dropped from 100 days in July 2022 to 87 days in August 2023 – the average lead time for production materials is still yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. A key reason for ongoing supply chain delays is shortages in key components, including electrical and semiconductor parts. These shortages have been persisting for over 30 months and have resulted in production and delivery issues for multiple sectors within manufacturing. Although there is increased investment in semiconductor manufacturing in the United States, this is unlikely to make a difference for some time.These shortages, as well as the impact of COVID, mean that manufacturing companies are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of readiness for unseen events. This means working toward more resilient supply chains, minimising disruptions to maintain continuity as best as possible regardless of external challenges. Internet of Things (IoT) integrationIn 2024, the Internet of Things (IoT) will be used to make the manufacturing floor even more efficient. Manufacturers will shift towards greater interconnection of smart devices to improve the flow of their processes. Examples may include machines that know when they require maintenance to prevent breakdowns, energy management using systems that reduce power use when possible, greater supply chain visibility and live tracking of materials. Worker safety can also be improved by using sensors to alert when an employee is at risk of injury.Internet of Things integration can also help the manufacturing industry move toward the concept of a smart factory – which uses a connected system of machines, devices and production systems to collect and share data, optimising the manufacturing process. Like generative AI, greater incorporation of the Internet of Things can enable manufacturers to have access to real-time data, allowing better planning and more effective operation. SummaryAs we enter 2024, the rapid advancement of technology means that the manufacturing industry is changing very quickly. AI, the Internet of Things and Smart Factories will make manufacturing processes more efficient and cost-effective. Meanwhile, sustainability remains a key priority, and the reduction of waste and fossil fuel usage will continue. Methods such as lean manufacturing can to help to meet these targets. The landscape of manufacturing will be shaped by these emerging and continuing trends, paving the way for greener, more efficient production.
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