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Thanks, 2010s: Four Compelling Changes from the Past Decade

Jan. 9, 2020
… and what they mean for manufacturing.

The decade of the 2010s was one of dramatic change, with some expected revolutions, e.g., the growing power of social media and millennials overtaking boomers in the workforce, and some unexpected ones, e.g., Donald Trump’s presidency and the Cubs winning the World Series. Here is a list of four compelling changes from the 2010s. 

1. The Uber/Amazon/Googlization of society. Few experts in 2010 predicted that digital service mavericks Amazon (D.O.B. 1994), Google (1998), and Uber (2009) would revolutionize consumer behavior in the coming decade. You can thank them—and Netflix—for creating today’s increasingly on-demand society.

In only a decade the “Amazon effect” has revolutionized customer expectations for shopping. Nothing is affecting manufacturers more than Amazon’s distribution revolution, which incorporates robotics and machine learning to improve the productivity of order fulfillment and the best allocation of items across fulfillment centers. We’ve also seen the “uberization” of business—the conversion of services into discrete tasks that can be requested on-demand, particularly via an app. Manufacturers are leveraging this with on-demand manufacturing – companies connecting those who need machine time with manufacturers that have it. Finally, there is the “Googlization” of the economy—the expansion in, and impact of, search technologies that incorporate the mass collection of data for commercial use. In the industrial space, the data manufacturers collect provides increasingly valuable information on the needs of customers, tracking data on products to enhance their ability to serve those customers’ needs. 

2. AI: No robot soldiers yet, but... While artificial intelligence wasn’t novel in 2010, the extent of the change was unexpected. Voice-controlled virtual assistants (VAs) took over America (Apple’s Siri in 2011, Amazon’s Alexa in 2014, Microsoft’s Cortana in 2014, Google Assistant in 2016). Already there are VAs available that can be posted at manufacturing workstations to provide employees real-time assembly instructions, warn of potential risks, validate execution of assembly tasks, and prevent human errors.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. AI also made significant advances with the rise in collaborative robots (cobots) in manufacturing, which due to their close proximity to humans require greater “intelligence” than industrial robots. Just over 11,000 cobots were sold globally in 2015. This year sales will top 150,000, a number that could quadruple by 2025.

Perhaps the broadest impact came with the advance in augmented reality, where a view of the real world is enhanced with computer-generated virtual elements. While not a new technology, in recent years AR has advanced enough to be adopted for industrial purposes. In 2013 the auto industry introduced AR apps to help service workers identify various parts and access step-by-step repair instructions. Now Google Glasses – which virtually disappeared for consumers – has with Microsoft HoloLens found a new home in factories and distribution centers, further altering how manufacturers make and service things.

3. Connection, information, and entertainment through smartphones.  Fifty years ago, Star Trek introduced the Tricorder, a multifunction hand-held device used for scanning and data analysis. Sounds a lot like today’s smart phone, which in the last decade overtook “dumb” phones in worldwide sales and became significantly more powerful than the supercomputers of 2009.

Mobile phones have become our primary means of connection to the web and to each other, and increasingly a device used in business operations.  Early in the decade, smartphones became the go-to tool in supply chain and logistics operations to track assets and shipments, conduct transactions, and collaborate with third parties.  Now with smart factories on the rise, shop-floor managers are looking to use mobile devices to help employees track and communicate in real-time with machines.

 4. Expansion of the Internet of Things.  The term “Internet of Things” has been around for more than two decades, but the vision for its potential has dramatically changed.  Today, there are about 20 billion physical devices globally connected to the internet, collecting and sharing data, enabling devices to communicate real-time data without human involvement. In 2010, we envisioned connectivity for temperature controls, refrigerators, and electricity usage. Today, that vision has expanded to digital sensors that enable industrial equipment to be inspected and repaired remotely to smart factories . Smart factories incorporate flexible systems that can self-optimize performance across a broader network of facilities, suppliers, and partners, self-adapt to and learn from new conditions in near-to-real time, and autonomously run entire production processes. 

What a decade. I can’t wait to see what the next one brings.

Stephen Gold is president and CEO of MAPI, the Manufacturer's Alliance for Productivity and Innovation.

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