The coronavirus crisis reminded us all of the often-invisible powers that manufacturers and logistics companies have in keeping things moving. Remember all the panic buying of toilet paper and pasta and shortages of personal protective equipment at the beginning of the crisis? Well, goods got mostly produced and delivered. The lights stayed on.

But behind the scenes, processes designed over years to drive operational cost control, efficiency, and predictability were complemented and sometimes even replaced by those that emphasize flexibility and resilience. Looking forward into 2021, the current crisis will accelerate the digital transformation efforts already underway in manufacturing. It will drive the shift of the underlying core systems away from linear transactions that are focused on efficiencies and cost to the continuous interaction focused on effectiveness and customer value. Here are some of the highlights of our 2021 predictions for smart manufacturing:

  • Manufacturing ecosystems will drive flexibility and resilience. For example, in 2021, most large manufacturers will reevaluate their supply chain systems and processes against the goals of better resilience and flexibility. They will regularly pool data about supplier and carrier performance and take faster decisions on ecosystem relationships they need to enter or exit. They will shift many of these systems into the cloud to manage operations from anywhere with everybody and thereby elevate the collaboration of these systems within a broader partnership ecosystem.
  • Emerging tech will act as a catalyst for change. The pandemic showed how emerging technologies such as augmented reality and additive manufacturing (3D printing) can help in an emergency, but now manufacturers are working out where they can drive sustainable value and thus change the way their organizations operate. Engineers guided customers through remote maintenance tasks as travel restrictions limited their ability to help in person. The need for a rapid response to the pandemic removed many obstacles to adoption.
  • Elevating human skills will be a key success factor. Despite ongoing automation within manufacturing organizations, shortage of talent has become a major issue, especially in China and India. Already, the processes of manufacturing advanced AI and automation technologies are extending from repetitive physical tasks into knowledge territory. In 2021, manufacturing firms will aggressively invest in technologies such as unstructured content analytics, digital worker analytics, knowledge management solutions, industrial knowledge graphs, and reinforcement learning.

To understand the major dynamics that will impact European businesses next year, download Forrester’s complimentary Predictions guide.

To dive even deeper into what we see for the coming year, check out our Predictions 2021 complimentary webinar series and engage directly with the analysts who made the predictions.