Driven by globalisation, intensifying competition and rising customer demand for more options and higher quality products, a connected plant floor has become a necessity, and the number of organisations achieving a fully connected factory is expected to rise dramatically over the next five years.
This is among the findings from Zebra’s 2017 Manufacturing Vision Study, a body of research analyzing the emerging trends shaping the future of industrial manufacturing. The global study revealed that manufacturers are adopting the IIoT to enhance visibility and improve quality.
The study reveals that manufacturers will continue to adopt Industry 4.0 and the smart factory. Workers will use a combination of radio frequency identification (RFID), wearables, automated systems and other emerging technologies to monitor the physical processes of the plant and enable companies to make decentralized decisions.
By 2022, 64% of manufacturers expect to be fully connected compared to just 43% today.
Half of manufacturers plan to adopt wearable technologies by 2022; and 55% of current wearable users expect to expand their level of usage in the next five years.
As Industry 4.0 takes off, manual processes are expected to dramatically decline. Today, 62% of companies use pen and paper to track vital manufacturing steps; this is expected to drop to one in five by 2022. The use of pen and paper to track work in progress (WIP) is highly inefficient and susceptible to error.
Executives across all regions cited achieving quality assurance as their top priority over the next five years. Forward-looking manufacturers are embracing a quality-minded philosophy to drive growth, throughput and profitability.
By 2022, only 34% of manufacturers expect to rate quality assurance as a top concern, an indication that improvements made by both suppliers and manufacturers will ultimately improve the quality of finished goods.
Manufacturers stated that investments in visibility will support growth across their operation. A solid 63% of respondents cited tracking as a core focus with a blend of technology (for instance, barcode scanning, RFID and realtime location systems [RTLS]) expected to be deployed to achieve the desired visibility.
Voice technology will also enjoy growth, with 51% of respondents planning to expand this in the next five years. The most dramatic growth for voice technology will be in the largest companies (more than $1-billion), with reported use growing to 55% by 2022.

Regional findings include:
* On-demand, cloud, and Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions for Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) are expected to grow rapidly, with 58% of North American respondents expecting to use these services in 2022.
* By 2022, 54% of surveyed European manufacturers plan to use RTLS to collect critical data about assets including location, stage and condition.
* More than one-half (51%) of surveyed Latin American manufacturers and 48% of Asia-Pacific manufacturers plan to use RFID to optimise production WIP by 2022.
* Almost six in 10 (58%) of Latin American manufacturing executives cite improving quality assurance as their top priority over the next five years.
* Companies are focusing less on keeping materials on-hand and depending more on suppliers to provide goods on-demand. In five years, just in time (JIT) shipments will have the highest use in Latin America (42%) and Asia Pacific (40%).
Jeff Schmitz, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer of Zebra, comments: “Manufacturers are entering a new era in which producing high-quality products is paramount to retaining and acquiring customers as well as capturing significant cost savings that impact the bottom line.
“The results of Zebra’s 2017 Manufacturing Vision Study prove that IIoT has crossed the chasm, and savvy manufacturers are investing aggressively in technologies that will create a smarter, more connected plant floor to achieve greater operational visibility and enhance quality.”