What’s ahead: Top tech trends in 2020 and beyond

By Kevin Dherman   

Industry Manufacturing artificial intelligence digital manufacturing Technology

New technologies ranging from AI to IoT are transforming manufacturing.

It’s no secret manufacturing is important for both developed and emerging economies. From producing necessities to creating jobs, it’s a source of innovation and productivity that also fuels global trade. In Canada, manufacturing represents more than 10% of total GDP and represents 68% (more than $354 billion) of all of Canada’s merchandise exports annually.

Innovations in technology have transformed manufacturing many-fold over the last decade. Combined with globalization and evolving consumer demands, the pace of change affecting business models and processes will continue to quicken, creating rich new market opportunities.

Here are the technology trends that will transform manufacturing in the next few years.

1. The augmentation of human ability.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer just an industry catch phrase. According to professional services firm Accenture, 84% of C-suite executives believe they must leverage AI to achieve their growth objectives. Interactions with customers will move from straightforward transactions to multidimensional conversations spanning a variety of complementary channels.

In manufacturing, this could take the form of AI chatbots. These ‘digital citizens’ aren’t replacing the human element in customer service, they’re adding value by offering a 24/7 touch point while allowing manufacturers to make decisions faster.


2. Industry 5.0 and the digital opportunity. International Data Corp. (IDC) predicts the global economy will finally reach “digital supremacy” by 2023 with more than half of all GDP worldwide driven by products and services from digitally transformed enterprises. The fifth industrial revolution will require manufacturers to incorporate a level of AI, managed infrastructure, advanced analytics and robotics to remain relevant. Global advisory firm Deloitte calls this digital “muscle building”, in which technology allows manufacturers to connect and monitor every facet of the business.

3. The circular economy and the evolution of sustainability. A recent global sustainability report by Nielsen, an information, data and measurement firm, says 81% of respondents feel strongly companies should help improve the environment by implementing programs.

There is also an appeal for manufacturers to opt into the circular economy, which refers to each product at its end-of-life becoming a new resource rather than waste. For example, a plastics manufacturer could incorporate more recycled content in each packaging unit sold. And the environmental benefits of less air pollution will follow from reducing energy use.

Technology makes this process a lot easier. Increased intelligence helps decision-making on a range of topics, from planning the factory floor more efficiently and buying more energy efficient machines, to implementing a full green initiative.

4. Advanced food tracking and packaging. The World Health Organization reports 600 million people suffer food poisoning every year and 420,000 are fatalities. When an outbreak occurs, investigators can spend days or weeks tracking its source.

Technology is playing a more pivotal role in risk detection. Technologies and software such as ERP allow manufacturers to meet consumer demand for food transparency while enhancing the ability to identify, respond to and prevent food safety issues.

5. The wise pivot. With the competitive landscape changing, businesses are investigating a shift away from traditional business models. This “wise pivot” also speaks to the generation of new revenue streams made possible by the introduction of the digital opportunity. Examples include Netflix, which started out as a DVD rental service, or Starbucks that started off selling espresso makers and coffee beans.

Product-focused manufacturers are looking at current business models and how they respond to market trends. Manufacturing leaders are also investing in new connected services that facilitate integration both within and beyond their enterprises. For example, instead of keeping obsolete or excess inventory in stock for months, those items are placed on a third-party platform such as Amazon.

6. Every enterprise is a platform. This refers to making money from services delivered via apps and APIs on a scalable technical foundation. According to the 2020 IDC FutureScape Report, 60% of G2000 manufacturers will have a digital ecosystem with thousands of developers by 2023. Half of those enterprises will drive more than 20% of digital revenue through their digital ecosystem/platforms.

7. Greater customer engagement. Despite continuous technological shifts, one element remains the same: customer experience needs to be phenomenal., which is focused on digital services, brand perception and buying behaviour, sees this tying in directly to customers’ end-to-end experience with a company. This includes its products and services, employees, website, apps and marketing/promotional materials.

Customers are calling for greater sustainability efforts, quicker response times and improved service levels. Technology offers a digital opportunity for manufacturers to flourish in 2020 and beyond.

Kevin Dherman is chief innovation officer at SYSPRO Canada, an ERP provider based in Mississauga, Ont. Visit

This article appeared in the January-February 2020 print edition of PLANT Magazine.


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