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The Value of Modernizing Your Manufacturing Company

See how technological transformation can enhance productivity, improve worker retention, and keep you one step ahead of customer demands.

April 02, 2024

To stay ahead of industry competition and move beyond simply meeting customer demand, manufacturing companies need to be tech-forward. Those businesses that embrace “smart factory” initiatives see a 10% to 12% gain in output, utilization, and productivity—in fact, 86% of manufacturing leaders believe these initiatives will be the main driver of competitiveness in the next five years.

Despite these telling statistics, many businesses have not yet made the switch. Only 39% of frontline manufacturing workers say their factory is “very modern,” while 43% say it’s “somewhat modern” and 18% say it’s “not very modern at all,” according to our new report.Change is always a challenge, but it’s important for manufacturers to acknowledge that a factory stuck in the past leads to loss of competitive advantage, revenue, customer trust, and even employees.

Our second annual "Voice of the Essential Manufacturing Worker" report asked 600 frontline manufacturing workers about their experiences with technology in their factories and what technological initiatives they want to see more of. Here's what they said, as well as our guidance on what manufacturing leaders can do today to create a tech-forward, modern factory for tomorrow.

Embrace Digital Transformation

Elements of the modern world are all around us: digital capabilities exist in everything from cars to refrigerators, screens big and small, AI, augmented reality, and robots. We put our files and photos in the cloud, conduct business from our smartphones are able to work with anyone, anywhere in the world by jumping on a video call.

But do your manufacturing workers see the same modern world when they step into the factory each day? Some do and some don't, as evidenced by our survey, where fewer than half of respondents see their factory as "very modern." This shows a gap in technological adoption and a disconnect between what workers see in their off-hours environment and what they see while on the clock.

The solution is to embrace digital transformation and bring your manufacturing organization up to modern times. The numerous benefits of digital transformation don't just include greater productivity and a competitive advantage—embracing technological innovation can also play a role in boosting engagement and morale, as 56% of those surveyed said they would take a pay cut to leave their current company for a more technology-driven factory. Here are some ways to embrace digital transformation today:

  • Move to the cloud: Manufacturing companies that migrate to the cloud enjoy greater flexibility, security, and scalability for their systems and assets.
  • Digitize your documents: Shifting to digital documents not only minimizes paper waste but also offers remote access to anyone who needs it.
  • Adopt an ERP system: Manage your organization digitally with an ERP solution that collects and analyzes data, offers better visibility into your operations, and helps provide a communication hub for your workers.
  • Develop a plan for your data: Organizations generate vast amounts of data, so use technology to collect, manage, and analyze that data to drive your decision-making.
  • Invest in technology that's easy to adopt: Look for technology with interfaces similar to those used by employees every day (such as smartphones), to reduce the learning curve and boost adoption.

Invest in Top Technological Innovation

Emerging technologies are becoming key factors in manufacturing efficiency and success. The following examples are the ones respondents say have been adopted most frequently by their companies:

Big Data: Manufacturing companies generate a lot of data, and those who can manage and analyze that data can extract insights that help improve operational efficiency, spending, sustainability efforts, productivity, and more.

3D Printing: 3D printing gives manufacturing companies the ability to print prototypes of desired products cheaply and quickly, or to print more cost-effective yet sturdy parts that go into the final products.

Robotics and Artificial Intelligence: Robotics and AI are quickly becoming key components of a modern factory—not just in their ability to run processes but also in their capacity to do it without the need for manual contributions from a human.

Augmented Reality: Manufacturers are using AR capabilities to visualize and simulate factory floor models including processes or machinery; they’re also using AR for training purposes.

Advance Your Sustainability Efforts with Technology

Our report found that 55% of workers prefer more sustainable working conditions, yet only 45% see their companies as prioritizing sustainability. Frontline factory workers are looking for their company to lead the way on sustainability efforts, which can be done more easily through technology. Whether it's reducing waste, increasing your energy efficiency, sourcing eco-friendly materials, or tracking sustainability across the supply chain, technology allows you to track and analyze your data to show you where you're finding success or where you still need to take action.

Invest in Upskilling for a Tech-Savvy Workforce

Strikingly, 83% of workers who had the opportunity to use new tools or technologies said they worked more efficiently, highlighting the positive impact of tech exposure and training. Upskilling your workers should already be a priority in your manufacturing company, but it's going to become imperative as your workforce increasingly needs to learn and manage new technologies within their everyday duties. Invest in upskilling opportunities to help ensure your workforce is capable of navigating and excelling in a technologically advanced manufacturing environment. This not only gives workers confidence in their jobs, but also helps your organization adapt to innovation while staying competitive.

Preparing for the Future of Manufacturing

If one of your factory workers were asked if their workplace is “very modern,” what would they say? If you’re unsure, it may be time to take a fresh look at your tech tools and processes. Make your factory a model of modern manufacturing by embarking upon a digital transformation, adopting emerging technologies into your operations, using technology to further your sustainability initiatives, and upskilling your workers to be ready for a tech-forward future.

Download the full report for more in-depth insights to better support your workforce and adapt to the evolving manufacturing landscape.