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4 ways to take advantage of modern manufacturing trends

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Big companies are in a bit of a bind currently with ongoing trade issues and environmental impact, so wouldn’t local manufacturers be the way to go?

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A lot of trends are impacting the world economy and the manufacturing sector in 2020. We don’t always get to choose our circumstances, but we do choose how we react to them.

The following is a rundown of the four biggest trends affecting manufacturers today. Knowing how to meet these challenges — and when a problem is an opportunity in disguise — could be the key to survival in increasingly competitive markets.

Here’s how companies can weather ongoing and future changes and come out the other side stronger than ever.

1. Domestic Sourcing and Manufacturing

Multiple reasons exist for why domestic sourcing and manufacturing are trending right now in the United States. One is the environment — shorter supply chains lead to smaller carbon footprints. Another is ongoing trade tensions making international freight more complicated than it needs to be.
To figure out if switching to domestic sourcing of materials and local manufacturing makes sense, businesses have some questions to ask themselves. Domestic production is making a comeback because of higher buyer control and potentially lower costs. However, determining real-world ROI is more complicated. It requires an understanding of factors such as:

  • How large is a typical run for your company? Overseas manufacturers often require larger batches. This process, in turn, requires the storage of more inventory than you might want.
  • Is the product light or heavy? Transporting cumbersome items over a distance is more resource- and labor-intensive than shipping smaller ones.
  • How much collaboration do you require with your suppliers and manufacturing partners? Speaking the same language and having the option to visit a factory are major advantages.

2. Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)

Additive manufacturing has the potential to change the game for small and large companies completely. The ability to quickly prototype new product designs or fabricate replacement parts in-house is exceptionally enticing for manufacturers. However, these are just a hint of the advantages.

Research points to a potential 41 to 74% energy savings for 3D printing compared to traditional large-scale manufacturing techniques, such as injection molding. Manufacturers that incorporate 3D printing into their operations may also reduce waste and improve productivity and efficiency.

Not every company produces the types of consumer goods for which 3D printers are best suited. Several questions should come up before adopting additive manufacturing, including whether 3D printing-based “manufacturing-as-a-service” is a better way forward.

Is the part highly complex? Does it require post-processing? Current 3D printers don’t always play well with highly convoluted shapes and may require post-processing that would occur in CNC machining anyway. How much assembly is required? It may be tempting to 3D-print one consolidated part instead of assembling five separately machined ones. However, 3D printing large pieces can be much more expensive than manufacturing them separately and assembling after.

Is the company not yet ready to purchase a 3D printer? Manufacturing-as-a-service could be the path forward for many companies that lack capital but not creative vision. Rolls-Royce was one of the first to offer industrial services on a per-use basis, but 3D printing is revolutionizing the concept thanks to collaboration tools, such as the easy exchange of digital blueprints.

3. The Industrial Internet of Things

The Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT, is bringing smart manufacturing to the masses. Smart manufacturing refers to networks of digital and physical systems that make industrial data available anywhere and anytime it’s needed.

Many examples exist of how the IIoT delivers value to manufacturers. These instances include gathering equipment data in real-time to spot trouble and avoid downtime, tool monitoring to maximize product quality and consistency and the means to track and reduce energy usage across a facility or supply chain.

Choosing and implementing the right connected equipment and IIoT products isn’t always straightforward. It requires close attention to factors. Compatibility and interference, for instance, bring new connected devices onto the factory floor and require input from engineers who understand how different devices connect as well as how they can interfere with one another. LCD screens are standard in human-machine interfaces, but choosing low-quality components can introduce interference and other unpredictable behavior.

Physical and cybersecurity is also a point of concern. Not every IoT vendor takes safety seriously. Connected factory equipment requires new levels of training and vigilance. Physical assets should have reliable access controls to avoid purposeful or accidental tampering. Plus, all data transmitted off-site should be encrypted first.

4. The Skilled Labor Shortage

Estimates claim that around 2.4 million skilled and semi-skilled manufacturing positions could remain unfilled by 2028. This trend will continue to impact companies throughout the coming years if they don’t figure out how to turn the situation to their advantage.

If manufacturers find their way back to the apprenticeship model and other forms of onsite training, they can attract not just potential talent, but engaged expertise. Studies show that workers are likelier to stay with companies that invest in their development.

Manufacturers can also set themselves apart from the competition in the eyes of job-seekers by working closely with universities and trade schools. This strategy could open the door to students earning credits and degrees onsite instead of in classrooms. Jim Nelson, a VP at the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, says, “Every job should have a pathway to a bachelor’s degree. But not every job starts there.”

Plus, smart automation on the factory floor can pick up the slack during downturns in talent availability without displacing existing workers. Robotic inspections outperform human inspectors while allowing management to lift employees into more rewarding, more challenging, less repetitive positions.

Manufacturing in Flux in the Wake of New Trends

More than ever, success in manufacturing requires a careful balance of humanity, culture and technology. Companies with the right approach can benefit from these positive trends and learn to see the less-favorable ones as opportunities for reinvention.

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

Business Marketing

Snapchat’s study reveals our growing reliance on video

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Snapchat released a report that shows some useful insights for future video content creation.

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Snapchat is taking a break from restoring people’s streaks to publish a report on mobile video access; according to Social Media Today, the report holds potentially vital information about how customers use their mobile devices to view content.

And–surprise, surprise–it turns out we’re using our phones to consume a lot more media than we did six years ago.

The obvious takeaways from this study are listed all over the place, and not even necessarily courtesy of Snapchat. People are using their phones substantially more often than they have in the past five years, and with everyone staying home, it’s reasonable to expect more engagement and more overall screen time.

However, there are a couple of insights that stand out from Snapchat’s study.

Firstly, the “Stories” feature that you see just about everywhere now is considered one of the most popular–and, thus, most lucrative–forms of video content. 82 percent of Snapchat users in the study said that they watched at least one Snapchat Story every day, with the majority of stories being under ten minutes.

This is a stark contrast to the 52 percent of those polled who said they watched a TV show each day and the 49 percent who said they consumed some “premium” style of short-form video (e.g., YouTube). You’ll notice that this flies in the face of some schools of thought regarding content creation on larger platforms like YouTube or Instagram.

Equally as important is Snapchat’s “personal” factor, which is the intimate, one-on-one-ish atmosphere cultivated by Snapchat features. Per Snapchat’s report, this is the prime component in helping an engaging video achieve the other two pillars of success: making it relatable and worthy of sharing.

Those three pillars–being personal, relatable, and share-worthy–are the components of any successful “short-form” video, Snapchat says.

Snapchat also reported that of the users polled, the majority claimed Snapchat made them feel more connected to their fellow users than comparable social media sites (e.g., Instagram or Facebook). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the next-closest social media platform vis-a-vis interpersonal connection was TikTok–something for which you can probably see the nexus to Snapchat.

We know phone use is increasing, and we know that distanced forms of social expression were popular even before a pandemic floored the world; however, this report demonstrates a paradigm shift in content creation that you’d have to be nuts not to check out for yourself.

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Business Marketing

Technology is helping small businesses adapt and stay afloat

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Small businesses need to utilize digital platforms to adapt their businesses during COVID-19, or else they may be left behind.

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While many may not have imagined our present day back in March, and to what extreme we would be doing things “remotely” and via “hands-free contact”, we have to give some credit to small business owners who remain flexible and have pivoted to stay afloat. They deserve major credit on adaptations they have made (and possibly investments) in new technology (ordering online, online payments) especially at a time when their in-person revenues have taken a hit.

There are various marketing buzz words being used lately to say “let’s keep our distance”, including: curbside, to-go, hands-free, no contact, delivery only, order via app, social distancing and #wearamask.

The thing is, if you really think about it, small businesses are always in evolution mode – they have to pay attention to consumer consumption and behaviors that can shift quickly in order to stay relevant and utilize their marketing and advertising budgets wisely. They heavily rely on positive customer reviews and word of mouth recommendations because they may not have the budget for large scale efforts.

For example, we use Lyft or Uber vs calling an individual cab owner; we order on Amazon vs shopping at a local mom-and-pop shop; we download and make playlists of music vs going to a record or music store. Small business owners are constantly fighting to keep up with the big guys and have to take into account how their product/service has relevance, and if it’s easy for people to attain. In current times, they’ve had to place major efforts into contactless experiences that often require utilizing a digital platform.

If stores or restaurants didn’t already have an online ordering platform, they had to implement one. Many may have already had a way to order online but once they were forced to close their dining areas, they had to figure out how to collect payments safely upon pickup; this may have required them to implement a new system. Many restaurants also had to restructure pick up and to-go orders, whether it was adding additional signage or reconfiguring their pick up space to make sure people were able to easily practice social distancing.

According to this article from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “Studies have shown that 73% of small businesses are not aware of digital resources, such as online payment processing tools, online productivity tools, e-commerce websites, online marketing and other tools, that can help them reach customers around the world. If small businesses had better access to global markets, it could increase the GDP of the United States by $81 billion and add 900,000 new jobs. During the pandemic, this could also mean the difference between thriving and closing for good.”

There are some larger corporate technology companies offering ways to support small businesses whether it’s through small business grants from Google, resources and grants from Facebook or Verizon giving them a break on their telecom bill. The challenge with this may be whether or not small business owners are able to find time from their intense focus on surviving to applying for these grants and managing all that admin time. Many business owners may be focusing on what technology they have and can upgrade, or what they need to implement – most likely while seeing a loss in revenue. So, it can be a tough decision to make new technology investments.

It does seem like many have made incredible strides, and quickly (which is impressive), to still offer their products and services to customers – whether it’s a contactless pay method, free delivery, or even reservations to ensure limited capacity and socially distanced visits. There are still some that just haven’t able to do that yet, and may be looking at other ways to take their business to a wider audience online.

We would encourage, if you can, to support small businesses in your community as often as you can. Understandably there are times that it’s easier to order on Amazon, but if there is a way you can pick up something from a local brewery or family-owned business, this may be the lifeline they need to survive and/or to invest in new technology to help them adapt.

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Business Marketing

There’s a shortage of skilled workers, so get learning

(BUSINESS MARKETING) COVID-19 may end up justifying training funds for lower-class workers to learn new skills. Skilled workers are desperately needed right now.

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The COVID-19 pandemic (yes, that one) has ushered in a lot of unexpected changes, one of the which is most surprising: An increased call for skilled workers — a call that, unfortunately, requires a massive retraining of the existing workforce.

According to the New York Times, nearly 50 percent of Americans were working from home by May; this was, reportedly, a 15 percent increase in remote work. The problems with this model are expansive, but one of the greatest issues stems from the lack of training: As employees of lower-class employment transitioned to working online, it became increasingly evident that there was a shortage of skilled workers in this country.

The Times traces this phenomenon back to the Great Recession; Harvard University’s Lawrence Katz points to some parallels and insinuates that this is an opportunity to elevate the lower class rather than regressing, and it seems fair to put the onus of such elevation on lawmakers and senators.

Indeed, Congress has even addressed the issue of skill equality via “bipartisan support” of a $4000 credit for non-skilled workers to use toward skill training. For Congress to come together on something like this is relatively noteworthy, and it’s hard to disagree with the premise that, given the invariable automation wave, many of our “non-skilled” workers will face unemployment without substantial aid.

COVID-19 has accelerated many trends and processes that should have taken years to propagate, and this is clearly one of them.

Supporting laborers in developing skills that help them work within the technology bubble isn’t just a good idea–it’s imperative, both morally and economically speaking. Even middle-class “skilled” workers have had trouble keeping up with the sheer amount of automation and technology-based skillsets required to stay competent; when one considers how lower-class employees will be impacted by this wave, the outcome is too dark to entertain.

It should be noted that non-skilled workers don’t necessarily have to scale up their training in their current fields; the Times references a truck driver who pivoted hard into software development, and while it may be easier for some to focus on their existing areas of expertise, the option to make a career change does exist.

If we take nothing else away from the time we’ve spent in quarantine, we should remember that skilled labor is integral to our success as a society, and we have a moral obligation to help those who missed the opportunity to develop such skills fulfill that need.

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