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Zebra Technologies report shows manufacturers lacking real-time visibility despite surge in AI

Zebra Technologies Corporation a leading digital solution provider enabling businesses to intelligently connect data, assets, and people, has announced the findings of its 2024 Manufacturing Vision Study. The study showed that 54% of manufacturers in Europe (61% globally) expect AI to drive growth by 2029, up from 37% (41% globally) in 2024.

This surge in AI adoption, combined with 92% of survey respondents prioritising digital transformation, underscores manufacturers’ intent to improve data management and leverage new technologies that enhance visibility and quality throughout the manufacturing process.

While digital transformation is a priority for manufacturers, achieving it is fraught with obstacles, including the cost and availability of labour, scaling technology solutions, and the convergence of information technology and operational technology (IT/OT).

Visibility is the first step to transformation and the adoption of AI and other new technologies enables manufacturers to leverage data more effectively to identify, react and prioritise problems and projects so they can deliver incremental efficiencies across the manufacturing process that can net the greatest impact upfront.

“Manufacturers struggle with using their data effectively so they recognise they must adopt AI and other digital technology solutions to create an agile, efficient manufacturing environment,” said Enrique Herrera, Industry Principal for Manufacturing, Zebra Technologies. “Zebra helps manufacturers work with technology in new ways to automate and augment workflows to achieve a well-connected plant floor where people and technology collaborate at scale.”

Zebra empowers manufacturers with strategic insights and technologies to advance the connected factory by boosting visibility, optimising quality, and augmenting their workforces. To learn more about the top digital and automation challenges from Herrara and other experts, visit here.

Focusing on Closing Visibility Gaps

Although manufacturers say digital transformation is a strategic priority, achieving a fully connected factory remains elusive. Visibility is key to optimising efficiency, productivity, and quality on the plant floor, yet a large visibility gap exists. Only 15% of manufacturing leaders in Europe (16% globally) globally report they have real-time, work-in-progress (WIP) monitoring across the entire manufacturing process.

While 57% of manufacturing leaders globally (compared to 49% in Europe) expect to increase visibility across production and throughout the supply chain by 2029, one-third say getting IT and OT to agree on where to invest is a key barrier to digital transformation.

Adding to these obstacles, 84% of European manufacturing leaders (86% globally) agree they are struggling to keep up with the pace of technological innovation and to securely integrate devices, sensors, and technologies throughout their facilities and supply chain. Enterprises can use Zebra solutions to put their data to work, allowing for higher levels of security and manageability as well as new analytics that can elevate the performance of their business.

Augmenting the Workforce, Elevating Value and Efficiency

Zebra’s study found manufacturers are shifting their growth strategies by integrating and augmenting workers with AI and other technologies to transform manufacturing and build a skilled workforce over the next five years. Nearly three-quarters of manufacturing leaders (71% in Europe, 73% globally) plan to reskill labour to enhance data and technology usage skills, and seven in 10 (70% globally compared to 62% in Europe) expect to augment workers with mobility-enabling technology.

The technology tools being implemented by manufacturing leaders include tablets (54% in Europe, 51% globally), mobile computers (54% in Europe, 55% globally), and workforce management software (57% in Europe, 56% globally). In addition, 61% of manufacturing leaders plan to leverage wearable mobile computers to augment their evolving workforce.

Manufacturing leaders across the C-Suite, IT and OT understand how labour initiatives must extend beyond improving worker efficiency and productivity with technology. Six in 10 leaders rank ongoing development (61% in Europe, 65% globally), retraining/upskilling (66% in Europe, 65% globally), and career path development (63% in Europe, 62% globally) to attract future talent as a high priority for their organisations.

Advancing Automation to Optimise Quality

The quest for quality has intensified as manufacturers across segments must do more with fewer resources. According to the survey, global manufacturing leaders say today’s most significant quality management issues are real-time visibility (28% in Europe, 33% globally), keeping up with new standards and regulations (28% in Europe, 29% globally), integrating data (26% in Europe, 27% globally), and maintaining traceability (23% in Europe, 27% globally).

Manufacturing leaders’ technology implementation plans will address these challenges. Over the next five years, many plan to implement robotics (63% in Europe, 65% globally), machine vision (66% in Europe and globally), radio frequency identification (RFID) (62% in Europe, 66% globally), and fixed industrial scanners (53% in Europe, 57% globally).

Most manufacturing leaders agree these automation solutions are driven by a variety of factors including the need to provide the workforce with high-value tasks (69% in Europe, 70% globally), achieve service level agreements (69% in Europe and globally), and add more flexibility to the plant floor (63% in Europe, 64% globally).

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