Historically a conservative industry, the manufacturing sector must now be more agile and innovate at a higher level in the years to come. The industry has been bombarded with new and unprecedented challenges and has had to pivot in record time during the coronavirus pandemic.

There have been supply chain disruptions, factory closures due to COVID-19 cases, and delayed launch schedules. Some oversight processes have been stalled and raise quality issues that need to be solved immediately.

Emerging technologies must take a lack of resources into account and create provisions to meet steady consumer demand. This is especially true of electronics and small appliance manufacturers.

The power of the cloud seems to be the biggest solution for all things manufacturing for now. That, along with automation, can help the industry find solutions to the most pressing problems.

Traditionally, the manufacturing industry has lagged in the adoption of cloud technologies compared to other fields. But now, manufacturers have realized that cloud databases can help manufacturers aggregate data across multiple on-premises systems. This could go a long way to counter the challenges posed by various restrictions during COVID-19.

Data aggregation in the cloud will allow for real-time remote oversight and comparative intelligence across global factories, suppliers, and business units. There will still be some risk related to the safety of data for sensitive manufacturing information. Still, cloud technologies will innovate towards better security, allowing users to leverage technologies to solve pressing problems without worry.

COVID-19 has necessitated a faster modernization of manufacturing and an urgent need to innovate. Experts say that these emerging solutions will lead to greater efficiency, less waste, and lower costs that will outlast the pandemic and create more sustainable solutions.

Cloud data can help unlock technologies like AI, which will play a notable role in anticipating problems and defects during development and catch quality shifts in production without the need for human presence in the factory. Automation can create an unprecedented opportunity for the industry, which is so dependent on manual processes. While this is a large, capital-intensive project now, it may be manufacturers’ only path towards sustainability. By reducing human dependency, they may increase the efficiency of labor and make better utilization of resources.

Along with AI and machine learning, innovations in robotics, chemistry, optics, and software will become more prevalent in manufacturing. Flexible, high-tech manufacturing will help integrate the production process to help bolster onshoring or increased domestic manufacturing. It may also mitigate the factors that have necessitated the migration of U.S. manufacturing to Asian countries.

Modern plants will run with sophisticated information technology and enjoy unprecedented production flexibility. Built around modular units, they can make tooling and software changes to move products quickly from development to production. They can also be expanded as needed without impacting operating modules.

Flexible, high-tech manufacturing relies on IT's creative application to integrate product development, marketing, and sales processes. Big data will also play a significant role in informing manufacturers of best practices and ways to innovate further.

The right data at the right moment is the key to making the right business decisions. Optical inspections, predictive models, predictive maintenance, and machine learning algorithms will become everyday terms to determine how a product is performing in real-time.