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Home / Blog / Innovation : Review: Technology Transforms Manufacturing into a Hotbed of Innovation

innovationEach year, the Industry Market Barometer (IMB) is published by ThomasNet, a platform for supplier discovery and product sourcing that helps companies in a variety of ways. “Technology Transforms Manufacturing into a Hotbed of Innovation“, the 2013 report, is a result of surveying those who are engaged in buying and selling industrial products and services. The respondents to the survey were from a cross section of manufacturers, distributors and service companies and include engineers, purchasing agents, business owners, managers and sales and marketing executives. The 2013 survey was released in September of 2013. More than 1200 individuals responded to the survey, 64% of whom represented companies with 100 or fewer employees. Thirteen percent of the respondents were from what the survey identified as the Ohio Valley (Ohio, eastern Pennsylvania, portions of Indiana and Kentucky). Seventy percent of the respondents were product manufacturers, the remainder are custom manufacturers. The survey reviewed several aspects of business, including growth trends, dedication of resources, innovation and technology, growth investments, strategic focus, export and workforce needs.

And the Survey Said…


Sixty-three percent of the respondents expected their business to grow in 2013, an increase of 8 percent from 2012. In order to achieve this growth, a significant number of respondents planned to acquire or grow business in new industries, or in different regions of the U.S. Other growth was reported to come from higher sales to same customers, competing more aggressively in their core markets, and bringing new and/or innovative products/services to market.

Innovation and Technology

New technologies and innovation was one key area in which companies expected to grow. From 2012 to 2013, the percentage of companies that expected to grow through innovative or new products and services had nearly doubled to 67%. Technology also played a role as more companies planned to increase productivity with advanced CAD software, CNC equipment and to adopt cloud computing into their business model. Savings were also being expected through bringing processes that were previously outsourced back in-house. When it came to looking at ways to overcome challenges, 48% of the survey respondents said they would do so through innovation, 45% through technology.

Workforce Challenges

While many of those who responded to the survey stated that they were excited about their careers and love what they do, they also acknowledged that there would soon be a workforce issue. A manufacturing ‘biological clock’ is winding down with regard to recruiting and training a younger workforce. This survey, as with others, indicated that a majority of workers are over 45 and nearly 1/3 of those who responded are over 55. Forty-two percent of those surveyed anticipated new hires in 2013, 50% planned to remain at their current level and only 8% anticipated a decrease. These new positions, according to the survey, would be in careers such as engineering (60% of anticipated hires), skilled trade (59%), sales and marketing (55%) and manufacturing/production management (53%). There was also a high demand for line workers noted (69%). The challenge for manufacturing HR is to reach the millenials (ages 18-32) and get them interested in a manufacturing-based career. Just over half of those who responded to the survey stated that they are recruiting workers from apprenticeship and internship programs, sometimes offered in career and technical schools, as well as universities and community colleges.

Manufacturers and the Internet

A strong focus was being placed on websites in manufacturing. From 2012 to 2013, the number of companies stating that their website would have the most impact on securing more business tripled to 62%. Companies weren’t abandoning other venues for securing business, though, with events and trade shows (42%), expansion of the direct sales force (36%) and customer service initiatives (36%) also making the list. Along with building out their websites, companies engaged more in social media and email marketing a ways of reaching new customers and staying in contact with current customers.

Exporting Results-Another Area of Growth

The number of companies that planned to increase their export business grew only 5% from 2012 to 2013, from 25% to 30% with about 2/3 of the respondents saying their export effort would remain about the same. Top countries for export, according to the survey: China, Brazil, Mexico and India with Germany also in the running.

Results Look Good

Overall, the results of the IMB survey indicate a growing manufacturing economy in the U.S. Challenges such as reaching the younger workers are not insurmountable, but require attention. Manufacturers are adapting to new technologies, both on the shop floor and on the world wide web, to help grow their businesses.

We Can Help

PolymerOhio is poised to help companies realize the growth they desire. Our depth of knowledge in Ohio’s polymer industry and our breadth of expertise enable us to work with companies to overcome the challenges they may be facing with innovation.

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