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Survey: Almost all manufacturers struggle with making use of data

March 7, 2024
The Advanced Manufacturing Report from Hexagon, with the research conducted by Forrester Consulting, also yields significant insights on communication and collaboration—and the roadblocks to OT/IT convergence—in manufacturing and automation.

New research from industrial technology giant Hexagon reveals that almost all manufacturers—98%—are struggling with data and data-related issues, which is erecting roadblocks to their ability to utilize technology such as AI and automation and presents significant challenges to their digital transformation efforts.

In the brand-new Advanced Manufacturing Report, released March 7, with research conducted by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Forrester Consulting and commissioned by the manufacturing intelligence division of Stockholm, Sweden-based Hexagon, 97% of manufacturers also reported facing hurdles in collaboration and productivity and that nearly 40% are falling behind—becoming "digital laggards"—by failing to adopt automation in their factories and warehouses.

Upcoming related webinar: Getting the “Ts” to Get Along: How the “Odd Couple” Corporate Cultures of IT and OT Can and Do Work Together

The Forrester survey, conducted last May, received responses from a relatively limited sample size, 524 “leaders in manufacturing” with 126 (almost one quarter of the respondents) of them being C-suite executives.

“Focusing on the three formative subjects of data quality, collaboration, and automation, this report uncovers evidence of fundamental shifts underway in our industry,” according to the Hexagon MI division’s president, Josh Weiss, in the executive summary of the new report. “Future success rests entirely on the ability of manufacturers to apply new technologies.”

Demographics in verticals mostly outside North America

Of the survey respondents, 30% represented North America while 40% were located in EMEA nations (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa), and 30% represented the APAC (Asia-Pacific) region, and those who answered the survey work mostly in five industrial verticals: automotive, aerospace and defense, electronics, energy, and health care and life sciences.

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The report also shows that data quality is a severe problem, according to the respondents, with 35% reporting they have incomplete data, 31% saying their data is outdated, and 30% claiming they know for sure that their data is plainly inaccurate.

But an overwhelming majority in the survey expect improving communication and collaboration in manufacturing—including IT and OT convergence and integration—to have significant payoffs: 88% expected improved product quality; 86% expected faster time to market for their products; and 82% expected to meet their sustainability goals.

Also of note, 40% of the responding manufacturing leaders said they plan to invest in breaking down silos to make their data more visible across their organizations.

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“Amid growing expectations to better use data throughout processes, manufacturers can seize the opportunity for transformation by bringing disparate data sets together to make better-informed engineering and business decisions,” the report notes.

Survey’s significant emphasis on automation

Automation and its role in augmenting human talent holds a sizable place in the survey and in the results.

Of the respondents, 34% of manufacturers report they have eased talent shortages with automation, and more—56%—expected similar benefits from future automation efforts.

Also, half of the respondents—52%—predicted they’d see major improvements in product lifecycle through automated design optimization and through AI and generative AI design enhancing human innovation. The manufacturing leaders also predicted which kinds of automation they would utilize:

  • 57%, workflow automation
  • 53%, automated quality control
  • 48%, predictive automation
  • 47%, generative automation
  • 30%, full automation


A deeper dive into data problems at industrials

The research digs deeper into the data problems that the respondents reported they are having.

More than one third—36%—reported having problems ingesting and integrating external data and, because of internal silos, almost as many—35%—have difficulty accessing data that already is in-house.

Also, 42% of the responding manufacturers said they have trouble sharing data between teams to achieve common goals and 35% identified an inability to identify actionable insights to help employees. Only 2% reported that their organizations had no data challenges whatsoever.

See also: How to unlock the power of TSN-driven IT/OT convergence

“Without high-quality data,” the report notes, “manufacturers lack the essential tools to make informed decisions across the lifecycle. At an organizational level, any of the above issues could significantly impact any effort to start a digital transformation project.”

Despite their data troubles, a significant percentage of the 524 respondents also identified other top priorities for their organizations in the next three years: 31% seek to increase productivity; 29% want to reduce product costs; 26% said they wanted to increase the flexibility and agility of their operations to respond to change; a quarter wanted to raise the overall effectiveness of equipment; and 23% said they had the goal of reducing the time to market for new innovations.

About the Author

Scott Achelpohl

I've come to Smart Industry after stints in business-to-business journalism covering U.S. trucking and transportation for FleetOwner, a sister website and magazine of SI’s at Endeavor Business Media, and branches of the U.S. military for Navy League of the United States. I'm a graduate of the University of Kansas and the William Allen White School of Journalism with many years of media experience inside and outside B2B journalism. I'm a wordsmith by nature, and I edit Smart Industry and report and write all kinds of news and interactive media on the digital transformation of manufacturing.