As 2022 comes to a close, it’s a good time to look back on the year and reflect on 12 months of changes in process manufacturing. 

All the following trends of 2022 could probably be summed up in one word: resilience. This is the year that process plants, like the rest of the world, moved out of the immediate grip of the pandemic and looked to broader horizons. It saw a shift in mindset from one of reacting to crises to proactively strengthening operations and preparing ahead for whatever might come next. 

Manufacturing organizations began grappling with longer-term issues like supply chains, labor shortages, and sustainability, which have been brewing for years but were thrown into sharp relief by COVID-19. Rapid advances in technology meant that plants could and did adopt new tools and workflows to build resilience, whether that meant taking steps to attract digital talent, preparing the ground for advanced digital transformation use cases, shoring up security around growing networks, or strengthening the supply chain so it can’t be broken as easily again. 

Here are 11 prevailing trends that we witnessed in process manufacturing during 2022.

Predictive maintenance and monitoring solutions became the norm

Predictive maintenance and monitoring solutions have been growing in popularity for a few years, but 2022 saw adoption become widespread as plant managers sought ways to make their plant more resilient. 

Predictive maintenance generates alerts when equipment shows signs of failure or reduced efficiency, so maintenance teams can respond to issues while they are still small enough to fix quickly and at a lower cost. Predictive monitoring notifies personnel about bottlenecks in production, inefficient processes, drops in quality, and other issues. Together, these technologies help reduce downtime and lower the risks of executives being taken by surprise by unexpected incidents. 

It’s expected that by the end of this year, the global predictive maintenance market will have grown to $5.86 billion, a rise of 31.55% CAGR from last year’s market size of $4.46 billion. 

3D printing becomes a valued part of plant resilience 

Adoption of 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, grew by leaps and bounds in 2022, although the price tag for 3D printing equipment means there’s still some way to go before it becomes widespread. Organizations recognize the role it can play in building a resilient plant, through use cases like printing replacement parts on demand and reducing links in the supply chain. 

2022 saw advances in 3D printing for metal, using new selective laser sintering (SLS) technology, which enables plants to save money and shorten product development time by creating vital metal components and parts in house. It’s expected that by the end of 2022, the additive manufacturing market will have grown from $15.10 billion in 2021 to $18.33 billion, and we can expect to see this trend continue strongly into 2023 as the cost continues to fall. 

Digital transformation moved ahead, but the pace varied

COVID-19 drove a rapid digital transformation in 2020-2021, but in 2022 the initial impetus slowed down and gaps began to open up between leaders and laggards. PWC Deutschland reported that only 10% of manufacturers have completed their digital transformation, while the L2L Digital Transformation Survey reported that 42% haven’t even begun. 

Digitalization rose overall, with individual digital solutions like supply chain analytics, predictive monitoring, on-demand manufacturing platforms, and a plethora of IIoT devices seeing rapid adoption this year, even by companies that haven’t pursued a full digital transformation. But while the leaders began moving on to more advanced, plant-wide use cases like digital twins and immersive reality tools, others remained stuck at piecemeal implementations. 

Plants laid the groundwork for advanced tech adoption

Although plants moved at different paces through their digital transformation journeys this year, there was a clear trend of putting into place the foundational technologies and key capabilities needed for full digital adoption. 

We saw a move towards universal connectability through system-agnostic tools, which are vital to remove data silos and obstacles to insights. This is partly due to the rise of cloud-based SaaS solutions for manufacturing, which enable plants to break the lock-in to vendor-specific software.

Process manufacturing organizations are also adopting edge computing and 5G networks for faster data sharing from IIoT devices, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions that allow them to oversee the entire manufacturing operation, direct strides towards automation, and make better strategic decisions. 

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AI implementation continued even stronger

Adoption of AI/ML, and deep learning (DL) isn’t a new trend for 2022, but it did grow even stronger over the course of the year. Around the world, close to two-thirds of all plants now use AI in their day-to-day operations, and by the end of the year that’s predicted to rise to 75%. 

Use cases for AI include supply chain insights, inventory management, predictive monitoring, and automating processes, as well as various business analytics to help predict demand and understand customer preferences. 

Robotics joined plant teams

2022 saw a rise in adoption of various types of robotics. 44.9% of manufacturing businesses already see robots as an integral part of their operations, and more are implementing automation into manufacturing processes. Robotics helps make the plant more resilient, enables it to operate with a skeleton staff onsite, and raises safety standards for human employees.

The rapid advance in robotic process automation (RPA), cobots, and other robots is thanks to the widespread adoption of AI tools which can crunch data from across the plant, understand what “normal” processes should look like, and convert that information into instructions for robots. 

Technology drove innovation 

In some verticals such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and food and beverage (F&B), new technologies were harnessed to speed up innovation. These industries are grappling with rapid fluctuations in customer expectations, rising demand for customized products, and a need to swiftly meet sustainability requirements. AI-powered R&D and digital twins allow them to develop, test, and iterate potential formulations in a much safer environment, and in far less time, than traditional methods. 

Talent acquisition and retention moved to center stage

In 2022, the manufacturing industry felt the bite of the labor shortage. It was the year that the dust settled after the initial crisis of the pandemic, and it became clear that masses of older skilled workers had taken early retirement, many more were dealing with the after-effects of long covid, and flexible and remote working was here to stay. 

One report found that the shortage of skilled workers was a top concern for manufacturers this year, ahead of worries about the supply chain. This helped drive adoption of digital tools that enable remote working, and of advanced tech that attracts digitally-native talent. Plants paid more attention to sustainability in order to appeal to values-driven younger workers, and beefed up HR departments to improve talent recruitment and retention. 

Supply chain solutions arrived

The supply chain crisis has been lingering since 2020, but 2022 saw increased adoption of real solutions. The percentage of organizations using a supply chain planning software solution jumped from 30% in 2017 to 78% in 2022, and manufacturers reviewed suppliers and updated or changed contracts. 

We saw a wave of companies seeking to onshore and near-shore supply chains to increase resilience against another supply chain disaster, and many adopted 3D printing to fill in supply chain gaps for replacement parts and product components. 

Cybersecurity concerns increased

Not surprisingly, rapid digitalization also brought increased vulnerability to cyber-attacks. The Russian invasion of Ukraine early in the year threw a spotlight on the risks of cyberwarfare and the risk of manufacturing plants as soft targets. Fictiv found that 97% of manufacturing leaders say they are concerned about security for their digital manufacturing. 

Access controls, authentication, firewalls, and phishing awareness education all grew over the course of the year as manufacturers tried to reduce their attack surface as much as possible. 

Sustainability remained an issue

In 2022, sustainability became even more important. Consumers made it clear that their interest in green and eco-friendly manufacturing wasn’t going to disappear, and governments signaled their willingness to fine plants that repeatedly cause environmental incidents. 

PWC reports that sustainability has been a key driver in the digital transformation, with its importance in digitalization rising by 150%, and the World Economic Forum (WEF) notes that data ecosystems and predictive analytics are crucial for plants to achieve sustainability goals, and have seen rapid adoption this year. Technologies like predictive maintenance, predictive monitoring, IIoT, and autonomous operations help reduce waste and prevent flare events and leaks, and have seen a surge in adoption this year. 

More digital solutions for manufacturing resilience in 2022

Throughout 2022, process manufacturers began to exit the long shadow of COVID-19, take stock of their digital transformation journey, and implement solutions to serious problems. What 2023 will bring still remains to be seen, but most plants are entering it on a better digital footing than they enjoyed at the start of 2022.