The 5 Emerging Technologies Driving Industrial Digital Transformation

Written by: David Immerman

Read Time: 10 min

Manufacturers are faced with more frequent and more impactful market conditions, where their reactions determine their business continuity and financial performance. To address these seemingly endless shifts, manufacturers must turn to emerging technologies within an industrial digital transformation program.

Below we’ll dive into five emerging technologies industrial enterprises are implementing to prepare for tomorrow’s market induced uncertainties and lead in today’s constantly changing marketplace.


1. SaaS provides limitless accessibility

Industrial companies have traditionally been bogged down by their legacy software, which typically runs on-premises. With remote work becoming increasingly common in the wake of COVID-19, companies need to ensure all employees regardless of location have the same access and collaboration opportunities.

Accessing software programs like CAD remotely through virtual desktop applications does not provide an intuitive, seamless experience or work-from-home-friendly environment. This severely challenges product and manufacturing engineers’ need to run complex and compute-intensive software programs on powerful office workstations and desktops, which were not accessible.

Product development SaaS platforms like Onshape lessened this product development dilemma with powerful remote accessibility and design collaboration features available to engineers across the world. Simultaneously working on the same product iteration on a multitude of different devices across an engineering team can greatly reduce rework and improve time-to-market.

With remote work becoming a tenet of current and future operating models, increased globalization, and internet ubiquity, SaaS will be the predominately chosen platform to free desk workers from their traditional cubicles and desktops.

2. IoT connects products and factories for ‘Remote Everything’

Shifting market conditions create operational uncertainties for manufacturers where accessibility to their production facilities and products in the field is seldomly guaranteed.

Remote monitoring and service enabled through Industrial IoT maintain product uptime when physical on-site interventions aren’t available.

ESAB, a manufacturer of welding products, had already implemented this technology across its fleets of products for its customers and as a result was able to drive higher levels of uptime and new engagement models.

The concept of ‘Remote Everything’ will continue to become mainstream with increasingly ubiquitous IIoT enabling digital twin views of the industrial enterprise.

3. AR brings digital powers to the frontline worker

Around 2.5 billion or 75% of total global workforce are considered frontline workers, yet only 1% of software venture funding is geared toward technology specifically for these workers. By and large, these workers have yet to benefit from digital technologies and – what’s more - they belong to industries facing looming skills gap, which is creating workforce productivity challenges for companies worldwide.

Augmented reality (AR) is the new platform designated toward the frontline worker by augmenting physical environments with real-time digital information. AR is playing an increasingly major role when complex work is required by guiding and supporting the frontline worker with ‘just-in-time’ information.

PTC president and CEO Jim Heppelmann explains this concept in a demonstration of how Volvo Group’s quality assurance operators complete complex tasks with augmented reality.


Solving problems in-situ presented another novel COVID-19 challenge as many more experienced employees weren’t physically available for guidance. AR for Remote Assistance enabled seamless collaboration for over-the-shoulder support help in these situations.

AR and the many use cases it enables for the frontline worker makes it a necessary investment for industrial companies in the near future.

4. AI enhances industrial applications

Artificial intelligence is increasing its presence and impact in practical industrial applications.

AI-driven generative design is one example: manufacturers are using it to optimize product development processes. Embedding AI into this process instantly provides dozens of optimized product design options with various materials, manufacturing processes, data sources, and other design variants.

An emerging AI application is the role of deep-learning in computer vision. In context to AR and industrial applications, companies can use their CAD data files to train neural networks and create inferenced AI models that can automatically recognize a spare part or machine. With increasing product and service complexity, it becomes challenging to perform complex tasks on these industrial assets; AI’s ability to instantly recognize it, in-context, and overlay work instructions drastically improves this process for the frontline worker.

Heppelmann poses another emerging AI application that monitors hand worker motions for improving quality inspection and validation. The potential to scale this application across an industrial enterprise could result in millions in cost savings from scrap and rework alone.


5. Spatial Computing Optimizes Industrial Work

At PTC, we’ve begun to rethink the traditional workspace in the new normal and how emerging technologies can play a pivotal role. The next wave of digital transforming physical in the work spaces of industrial companies will come with spatial computing.

Spatial computing is the digitization of spatial relationships between machines, people, objects, and environments to enable and optimize their interactions.

In the next video, Heppelmann explains how the technology could be leveraged through a frontline worker directing a machine in an industrial environment.


Spatial also provides a new framework to traditional work process optimization techniques, such as Taylorism or scientific management. The final video showcases what this would look like in a factory setting and the types of analysis possible. Applying spatial analytics to this novel worker data source can identify and resolve bottlenecks in real-time, driving higher levels of productivity.

Final thoughts

Many of these technologies underpinned flexible work models that are enabling manufacturers to prepare for future uncertainties and lead the markets they serve. Technologies like SaaS, IoT, and AR are clearly here to stay as they help enable this flexible nature of work now and the future, while emerging technologies, including AI and spatial computing, will become increasingly pervasive in the industrial workspace.

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Tags: Connected Devices Augmented Reality Industrial Internet of Things Industrial Equipment Digital Transformation SaaS

About the Author

David Immerman

David Immerman is as a Consulting Analyst for the TMT Consulting team based in Boston, MA. Prior to S&P Market Intelligence, David ran competitive intelligence for a supply chain risk management software startup and provided thought leadership and market research for an industrial software provider. Previously, David was an industry analyst in 451 Research’s Internet of Things channel primarily covering the smart transportation and automotive technology markets.