Manufacturing IT Trends for 2024: Embracing Innovation, Data-driven Insights, and Workforce Augmentation

Ryan Spurr

The manufacturing industry is undergoing an accelerated transformation driven by technological advancements, cost management, evolving market demands, workforce challenges, and a growing emphasis on creating a competitive advantage. As we look toward 2024, several key trends are expected to shape the industry, fostering data-driven decision-making, innovation, productivity, and a more empowered and augmented workforce. While some are not new or cutting-edge, the following five trends are poised to significantly impact manufacturing as many organizations plan, pilot, and scale investments to create a smarter manufacturing organization and optimize their value stream.

1. Cybersecurity in Manufacturing: Safeguarding the Digital Manufacturing Ecosystem

Cybersecurity remains a top priority for manufacturers. In 2023, manufacturing remained the number one most attacked industry. The top result of cybersecurity incidents was extortion, accounting for 32% of all successful events and 70% of all ransomware incidents impacting the operational technology (OT) domain, not just traditional IT. The increasing integration of digital technologies into manufacturing processes, including the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), has expanded the attack surface, making manufacturers vulnerable to data breaches, ransomware attacks, and disruptions to critical operations. In 2024, we expect manufacturers to invest heavily in cybersecurity measures, including OT cybersecurity assessments, compliance, network segmentation, access control, employee training, and advanced threat detection and prevention solutions. These measures will protect valuable data, ensure operational continuity, obtain and keep cybersecurity insurance, and maintain a competitive edge.

2. Harnessing the Data-rich Environment: Unleashing the Power of Connectivity and Data Integration

Manufacturing facilities generate vast amounts of data from sensors, machinery, and production processes. To put this into perspective, there are an estimated 13 million employees in US manufacturing but an estimated 15 billion IoT and industrial control systems (ICS) devices in use by US manufacturers. This data holds immense potential for improving efficiency, optimizing operations, and making data-driven decisions. In 2024, we expect manufacturers investing in connectivity solutions and data integration platforms to collect, analyze, and visualize this data in real-time, such as IIoT software platforms that leave no device behind, unlock access to data, and integrate bi-directional communications across business systems, hybrid cloud, and the value stream. This will enable manufacturing employees to identify bottlenecks, predict potential failures, optimize production schedules, and make informed decisions to improve quality, reduce costs, and enhance overall performance. 

This same investment will also lay the vital groundwork necessary to unlock advanced solutions such as digital twins, simulation, and artificial intelligence, all of which rely upon timely, accurate, and trusted data orchestration.

3. Vision AI, Generative AI, and Digital Twins: Revolutionizing Operations

Artificial intelligence (AI) transforms manufacturing processes by enabling real-time data analysis, intelligent automation, and predictive maintenance. This topic is so pervasive we can’t escape it, given recent events evolving from large language models (LLMs) such as Generative AI. 

Vision AI, a subset of AI, utilizes computer vision techniques to analyze and interpret visual data from cameras and sensors. This technology is used for defect detection, product identification, quality control, and workplace safety. While machine vision solutions (e.g., automated optical inspection (AOI) machines) are not new, the expansion of the technology unlocks more opportunities, allowing organizations to infer at the edge of dozens of use cases atop the same camera stream, making today’s solutions more flexible and holistically inclusive.

Generative AI, or the branch of AI getting all the attention today, is being used to develop new product designs, optimize production processes, enable workforces to have quicker access to information, and personalize products for specific customer needs. This is an up-and-coming area of AI, especially as manufacturers learn how to leverage their trusted data sources to feed Generative AI and deliver highly feasible and beneficial use cases across various functions. 

Digital twins, virtual representations of physical assets or systems, are being employed to monitor equipment performance, predict potential failures, and optimize production schedules. Digital twins are being utilized to model and represent many aspects of manufacturing from complex supply chains, production factories and equipment, and even complex product platforms. With trusted data and orchestration, manufacturers can leverage digital twins to deliver new insights, enable employees to act and impact the organization, and reduce risk through scenario simulations.

Expect to see further integration of vision AI, generative AI, and digital twins into manufacturing operations, leading to improved quality control, increased efficiency, and enhanced product innovation.

4. Empowering the Workforce with Modern Tools: Workstations, Mobility, and Data

The manufacturing workforce faces a skills gap, as the demand for advanced technical skills in areas like robotics, automation, and data analytics continues to grow. To address this challenge and empower the workforce they do have, manufacturers are increasingly turning to modern workstations, mobility solutions, and data analytics tools. Modern workstations provide workers with the computing power and ergonomic design they need to perform their tasks efficiently. Combined with advances in silicon from companies like NVIDIA, Intel, and AMD, and certified solutions from partners like HPI, HPE, Dell, Lenovo, and others, today’s employees have powerful tools that accelerate high-performance computing and speed time to market.

Mobility solutions, such as tablets and wearable devices, enable workers to access critical information and collaborate seamlessly from anywhere on the factory floor, in the warehouse, or in the field. Data analytics tools provide insights into production processes, equipment performance, and worker productivity, enabling data-driven decision-making and continuous improvement. 

With ongoing workforce challenges, we must empower the manufacturing workforce we can attract and retain with modern tools and data-driven insights, leading to a more skilled, adaptable, and productive work environment.

5. Automation and Technology: Filling the Labor Gap and Enhancing Productivity

The manufacturing industry faces a labor shortage as skilled workers retire and the demand for specialized skills increases. In fact, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, of the 4 million manufacturing jobs needed by 2030, 2.1 million are expected to remain unfilled. To address this challenge, manufacturers are turning to automation and technology to augment their workforce and fill the labor gap. Automation is being used to perform repetitive, error-prone, and dangerous tasks, freeing up human workers to focus on more complex and value-added activities. Collaborative robots, or cobots, work alongside human workers, performing repetitive tasks and enhancing productivity. Technology is also being used to improve training and upskilling programs, enabling workers to acquire the skills they need to adapt to the changing manufacturing landscape, such as modern manufacturing execution or connected worker platforms that aim to provide improved work instruction, on-the-job training, and knowledge transfer to less experienced workers. As workforce gaps continue to pressure organizations’ ability to remain operational or support growth, expect to see a continued focus on automation and technology to augment the workforce, leading to a more efficient, productive, resilient, and adaptable manufacturing sector.

Let’s Prepare for the Future Together

At Connection, we understand that manufacturers are at different points in their smart manufacturing journey. Our Manufacturing Practice regularly works with manufacturing organizations to help them grow and improve their business through the application of domain experience and enabling technologies.

These five key trends represent just a glimpse into the exciting and transformative future of manufacturing. As technology continues to evolve and market demands shift, manufacturers that embrace innovation, harness the power of data, and empower their workforce will continue to evolve on the smart manufacturing journey, become more competitive, and create market differentiation in their subindustries.

Our Manufacturing Practice has a team of experts from trade, an evolving portfolio of manufacturing solutions, and expertise to assist IT and OT teams by augmenting their existing skillsets with complementary advisory services to help your business accelerate technology adoption where it matters most. 

If you want to learn more about how we support our clients or the topics covered, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology, available services, and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

Ryan Spurr is the Director of Manufacturing Strategy at Connection with 20+ years of experience in manufacturing, information technology, and portfolio leadership. He leads the Connection Manufacturing Practice, go-to-market strategy, client engagement, and advisory services focusing on operational technology (OT) and information technology that make manufacturers more digitally excellent.