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What’s next in manufacturing? Some predictions for 2012

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There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.

– Franklin D. Roosevelt


In the last few years U.S. manufacturing has taken a hit, but with the nation focused on manufacturing job creation and education, 2012 promises to be a year of change for the industry.

What do you think will be significant changes in manufacturing in the upcoming year? More importantly, do you think these changes are for the better?

Below is a list of my predictions, and I’d love to hear what you think.

#1. Increased complexity in product design and functionality

With increased globalization, shorter production cycles and continual adoption of new technologies, complexity in both manufactured products and associated operations will define 2012. Expect to see increasingly complex supplier networks and more sophisticated manufacturing processes—from product development all the way through customer support.

Jeff Moad, executive editor at the Manufacturing Executive Community, predicts this trend will mean even more SKUs for manufacturers to manage and a new emphasis on mass customization of products.

#2. Continued growth in the cloud-based software sector

While the manufacturing cloud was initially met with skepticism, the benefits of cloud computing are increasingly harder to ignore. Gartner predicts that global cloud revenue will jump to $150 billion in 2013 in the U.S. alone—up from $46 billion in 2009.

Arena is one such cloud-based company that has sworn by its financial-grade security for years, and with other companies like Autodesk rolling out cloud offerings, 2012 may be the year the manufacturing cloud sees widespread adoption.

#3. Engineering majors are cool again

As students seek out programs that are likely to result in stable employment, engineering may become a more popular choice for new college entrants. And with the current manufacturing skills gap making it difficult to fill positions, this is a good thing. Schools all over the world will benefit from beefing up their engineering programs to attract the next generation of great minds in manufacturing and engineering.

#4. Manufacturing becomes a political buzzword

Any smart 2012 U.S. presidential candidate knows that if you want to talk to Americans about the economy—you need to talk about manufacturing.

President Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership gave more than $500 million to U.S. manufacturers developing emerging technologies, and 2012 Republican presidential candidates have been equally dedicated to the efforts—each discussing their respective proposals for boosting manufacturing across the nation. Many of the candidates have outlined their plans for creating more manufacturing jobs on their campaign websites.

#5. The onshoring trend continues to grow

Outsourcing has long been a way to lower labor costs and save money. But as rising labor costs, fuel and transportation costs, intellectual property security concerns and even international political instability continue to make outsourcing less of an opportunistic move, more manufacturers will consider bringing operations back home in 2012.

So those are my guesses, and I’d love to hear yours! What are your predictions for this next year in manufacturing? And what emerging trend do you believe will have the greatest impact?