2024: The Year Manufacturing Tech Matures

Dec. 26, 2023
With manufacturers’ initial investments in digital transformation behind them, they’ll soon be looking to mature their systems to derive even more value using AI, the cloud, containers and cyber-physical risk management.

Digital transformation has been on business leaders’ minds for years now. Across  industries and sectors, organizations have invested trillions of dollars in digital tools to  streamline business functions, drive productivity and develop a deeper understanding of  their performance. And, in the past few years, manufacturers have finally been able to get  in on the process.    

Manufacturing’s lagging adoption is not the fault of its leaders. The first wave of enterprise  digitalization solutions focused squarely on software and solutions designed to streamline  offices and enterprise operations. Information technology (IT), not operations technology  (OT), ruled the day. Now, advancements in industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices have  turned digitalized manufacturing from an idealistic future into a realistic, achievable  present.    

Still, though, manufacturing has a way to go. The past year set the stage for mature digital  manufacturing, as economic and social factors that demanded a shift in approach made  headlines alongside news of extraordinary advancements in technology. Now, with the  initial investments in digital transformation behind them, manufacturers will be looking to  mature their systems to derive even more value.    

Manufacturers faced significant challenges over the past few years, with many turning to  smaller-scale tech investments to support their efforts. Now, with those initial investments  made and the returns evident, leaders within the industry are on the path to maturity. And  the technologies outlined below, which are making headlines as we round out 2023, are  perfectly aligned with that goal.   

AI: The new “dot com”

Artificial intelligence is having its moment, and rightly so. Its potential to change business  and daily life as we know it is not unlike that of the internet in its earliest days. Though  just 36% of manufacturers currently use AI (source: Wipfli), industry leaders are eager to  integrate AI at every step of the journey. In a recent Parsec study, more than half of leaders  (52%) said it was “very” or “extremely” important that their enterprise solutions have AI or  machine learning (ML) capabilities and, according to Wipfli’s research, 50% of  manufacturers plan to invest in robotics and automation.    

It makes sense, and it’s the reason manufacturing execution systems (MES) are rising in  popularity at a rapid clip. Bolstering digitalized systems with AI/ML capabilities will elevate  the value of investments by contextualizing performance metrics to illustrate opportunities  for strategic adjustments. Furthermore, the increased automation capabilities that AI  provides will help manufacturers transition their reporting, record-keeping, data  collection, scheduling and other administrative practices from analog methods. This will  not only increase efficiency but get businesses one step closer to truly connected  operations.    

Cloud infrastructure

Though cloud-based builds are common in modern enterprises, many cloud transitions  are still occurring throughout manufacturing. After all, other sectors had a significant head  start on industrial manufacturing. However, recent advancements in the technologies that  support connectivity and bandwidth reliability between sites and the cloud may help  manufacturing get up to speed more quickly than many expected.    

As engineers pursue progress in edge computing, IIoT device design and other related  fields, the potential value of cloud-based options will only grow. That will drive  improvements to the efficacy of these solutions, encouraging manufacturers with real- time application needs to continue to embrace cloud offerings.     

Cyber-physical risk management

For all of this to become a reality, industrial manufacturing IT teams need to familiarize  themselves with the unique security demands of cloud-based networks. MES applications,  for example, require integrations between physical equipment and digital systems. Not  only does this increase the potential for exposure at large, it opens equipment to cyber- attacks. This gives bad actors the chance to turn a digital attack into physical  consequences—like work stoppage, equipment damage, or even explosions or  contamination of materials.    

The prospect of managing the unique risks and needs within operational systems has been  a hindrance to manufacturers’ adoption of digital systems. While specialized OT cyber  solutions do exist, businesses often—understandably—found that they did not yet have  the IT maturity to safely manage business-critical applications. That’s unlikely to change in  2024. However, recent events have raised the profile of OT cyber concerns, expanding  knowledge and encouraging progress in the field. With both manufacturing digitalization  solutions maturing and the field of OT cyber pushing ahead, the task of balancing cyber- physical risk in OT environments will become more manageable. 


Be it in a private cloud, data center or even on-prem hosting, 2024 is likely to usher in a  shift in the accessibility of containers. Their notable benefits—like portability, scalability  and agility—have made them desirable, but the tools and expertise needed to host them  were expensive and impeded use.    

Now, containers are on their way to commoditization, not unlike virtual machines (VMs)  before them. As skills in this space become more common and the equipment and tools  needed to support the model become more widespread, manufacturers will be able to  take advantage of the benefits of the model to mature their systems.  

Bill Rokos is chief technology officer at Parsec Automation and a member of MESA.