The megatrends are among us, part 2

We’ve talked about the impact of knowledge automation and big data on manufacturing. What other megatrends are at play?

In the first part of this blog, we looked at the impact of knowledge automation and big data on manufacturing.

Safety is another megatrend today, and has gone from a functional specialty to a top management risk topic in many sectors. Safety includes personal health and safety, for example robots taking on highly repetitive tasks or working in dangerous environments. There is also an increased interest in robots for remote and dangerous environments, for example autonomous production for deeper mines.

Safety also relates very much to process safety, for example traceability for food and beverage. The past few years have seen scandals which have severely damaged the reputations of well-loved global brands and imperiled the dairy and meat industries in several countries. Only recently Kraft foods announced the recall of some 43,500 kilos of hot dogs over a packaging issue.

And perhaps the most powerful mega trend is consumer driven – the need for flexibility and agility. There is a huge shift in automation, from a focus on machinery and capacity to a focus on optimizing manufacturing processes to meet increasingly diverse market needs. This is driving a need for more and more complex automation solutions.

Automakers are now making nearly double the number of models they were just a decade ago. BMW now has 22 models, up front 12 in 2002. Audi has gone from 15 to 32 for the same period. And the lifecycle of cars has dropped from 10 years to 8, which pressures automakers to reduce product launch cycles and squeeze more variety out of the same factory lines.

Lower volumes per model also means that production lines must be more flexible so manufacturers don’t need to maintain large inventories for many product variations, as squeezed margins force a focus on cost. And production needs to be integrated closer with the supply chain.

Slow economic recovery in some of the world’s key mature markets is also driving consumers towards generic and bargain brands – often made at the same factory as premium consumer brands. This is forcing F&B makers to modify their products and packaging. Generic and private label sales are now a $92.7 billion market in the US alone according to the Private Label Manufacturers Association, and more than half of Wal-Mart’s US revenues is grocery sales.

Lastly, as brands become global, consistent quality becomes a more and more critical differentiator. This applies to established players wishing to reach new customers in emerging markets, who are increasingly adopting Western-style consumerism and brand affinity as living standards rise. It also applies to the many emerging market brands who are now looking to take their offering global.

Global manufacturers also need standard automation solutions that can be shared across many production sites. Flexible robotic automation can help make sure that local manufacturing is able to keep up with rising local demand while maintaining the quality and consistency consumers expect.

Technology innovations and market pressures don’t always follow the same rhythms – but I think right now is such an exciting time because robots have advanced to the point where than can help large and small manufacturers alike roll with the punches and react better and faster to ever changing markets. What megatrend is on your mind?

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About the author

Philip Lewin

I'm one of the many people sharing ABB's passion and great stories for robotics and industrial ingenu-ity. It’s exciting for me to be at the leading edge of a new age for one of the most fundamental things that people do - we make things. At the same time, the awareness has never been greater that economic progress, higher living standards and new ways of making things cannot come at the expense of our environment. I’m proud to contribute to this exciting and important discussion.
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