5 Digital Transformation Trends in the Factory for 2019

Written By: Mark Gallant
  • 2/27/2019
  • Read Time : 5 min

If there’s constant in manufacturing, it’s the drive to improve. There is an ever-present objective to get things done faster, cheaper, safer, while still meeting quality– or, to sum it up in one word, better.

While that primary objective doesn’t change much year to year, how manufacturers are achieving this goal is evolving at a rapid pace. In 2019, industrial factories are leveraging an array of technology that’s emerging to support industrial manufacturers in their quest for digital transformation.

Digital transformation is the encompassing term for the implementation of these new technologies, systems, processes, and talent, and it’s enabling factories to innovate ahead of competitors and meet increasing customer demands.

As a solutions-driven company, when it comes to manufacturing trends it’s not just about the technology itself, but how it’s solving problems within factories and companies. Technology like industrial internet of things (IIoT), augmented reality (AR), analytics, and artificial intelligence, has already been leveraged by innovative manufacturers today, and new transformative use cases are emerging with recent improvements in hardware and software.

Here are five digital transformation trends PTC sees taking hold in the factory – and taking off – in 2019:

1. Use of IIoT and Augmented Reality to Bridge the Skills Gap

A 2018 Deloitte study found that within the manufacturing industry, there may be more than 2 million positions left unfilled over the next 10 years, with a potential economic impact of $2.5 trillion. The study predicts that by 2021, key manufacturing roles – including digital talent, skilled production, and operational managers – will be three times as difficult to fill.

Addressing this worker shortage has been and will continue to be an important concern within the manufacturing industry. Enterprises are looking to do more with less people, attract new candidates, and quickly onboard new people. there are very compelling use cases of IIoT and AR to address this issue head-on.

Examples include:

  • Augmented reality remote assistance: Workers can troubleshoot and receive real-time guidance from off-site experts to reduce asset downtime or potential errors.
  • Contextualized Digital Work Instructions: Workers use role/task-based 3D, augmented reality and/or mixed reality for more effective step-by-step to improve efficiency and product quality while bridging both IT & OT.
  • Digital shift handovers: Factories can improve safety and drive operational efficiency by capturing key data points and insights necessary for a smooth shift transition.
  • Real-time workforce performance monitoring: With IIoT-connected devices and software, manufacturers are beginning to harness real-time information that can be used to optimize workflows and processes, as well as make proactive business decisions.


2. Upskilling of Existing Workforce

In a recent report, the World Economic Forum (WEF) discussed the business case for reskilling and upskilling the U.S. worker. They anticipate nearly 1.4 million American workers will be displaced in the next decade. By providing training to workers, companies support employee retention and drive efficiency, which ultimately translates to a higher value workforce.

For example, if a factory can implement technologies and processes that makes its employees 25 percent faster, it doesn’t need to hire more skilled workers.

To make this type of training economical – and more appealing to the C-suite – leading manufacturers are exploring (and implementing) augmented reality software and tools to reskill and provide continuous learning to workers.

For example, training time can be significantly reduced (and output optimized) through augmented reality procedure or assembly guidance. Workers wear AR glasses, like HoloLens, and are guided step-by-step through a complex process. It’s been shown to improve quality and drive productivity.

BAE Systems, a global defense, security and aerospace company, was able to leverage mixed reality step-by-step instructions to improve battery assembly speed and compliance. As a result of this powerful solution, BAE frontline workers were able to complete their tasks 30 to 40 percent more efficiently.

We expect to see more manufacturers looking to implement these types of solutions in both small and large-scale projects in 2019.

3. Implementation of Solutions that Create Flexibility & Agility

The age of disruption is here, and manufacturers are now in the thick of it. They face competition from traditional competitors as well as new, innovative companies. From the supply chain to the shop floor, manufacturers need to be more agile and flexible to meet shifting customer expectations, drive efficiencies, and lower costs, but it remains a challenge with many moving pieces.

The nature and pace of work on the shop floor is rapidly evolving as products and processes become increasingly complex and variable, as well as with the advent of 3D printing, IIoT.

Eliminating a siloed approach to data – and creating a single source of truth across an organization – through a product lifecycle management (PLM) solution integrated with IIoT is one of the most impactful ways manufacturers are jump-starting digital transformation. These technologies bring together all the disparate systems across IT and OT, including MPM, MES, ERP, and more. When used together, manufacturers get visibility into their operations, can move more quickly, and be more responsive.

4. Enablement of Real-Time Data and Insights

The pace of business has changed, and enterprises need to be proactive about solving problems to stay ahead in the marketplace. They need to understand what’s working – and what’s not working – as quickly as possible.

How are they doing this? With a combination of IIoT and artificial intelligence (AI) technology, manufacturers can see how their factories and processes are performing in real-time. As a result, they are adjusting on-the-fly to improve operations that drive productivity, efficiency, and safety.

With the influx of data available with IIoT integrations, manufacturers are exploring analytics solutions that break down the data into role-based dashboards. These surface the most important insights, like OEE metrics and KPIs for specific job roles.

Leveraging IIoT also deconstructs long-held silos between IT and OT – giving these teams to have visibility into their interconnected roles. With IT and OT sharing real-time insights, better, more timely business decisions can be made that has direct and measurable impact – such as reduced costs – on manufacturing processes.

5. Deep Dive into Asset Utilization

Manufacturers rely on their assets to be productive and need to ensure asset reliability to avoid unplanned downtime and production delays. To support this effort, they’re implementing data-driven preventative maintenance programs with real-time asset condition monitoring and insights.

Generating actionable insights through IIoT-enabled technology is reducing planned and unplanned asset downtime. Instead of relying on intuition or legacy knowledge, operations managers have actual data in which to made decisions.

Digital twin technology is also emerging as a powerful way for manufacturers to understand how their assets and processes are operating throughout the factory. Armed with contextualized data, manufacturers are quickly making modifications to improve asset and/or system performance.

Final Thoughts

Today’s technologies are helping manufacturers achieve more of their bottom-line goals, more quickly and more effectively. Digital transformation is no longer an optional activity, it’s a business imperative.

Manufacturers that are not actively seeking out new ways to succeed in their current business and uncover new opportunities to improve efficiency are going to fall behind.

What are you looking to achieve in 2019?


  • Augmented Reality
  • Industrial Connectivity
  • Industrial Internet of Things
  • Industrial Equipment
  • Digital Transformation
  • Industry 4.0

About the Author

Mark Gallant

Mark Gallant leads PTC’s Customer Reference and partner Marketing teams, supporting our Strategic Partnerships with Rockwell Automation and Microsoft, our GSI&MC partners, as well as our Technical Partnerships co-marketing teams. He has more than 30 years of direct manufacturing experience in discrete, process and hybrid manufacturing.