In 2023, manufacturers struggled to find skilled workers. 2024 is likely to be a year of trying to figure out whether AI is helpful.

Rob Spiegel

December 19, 2023

4 Min Read
2024 predictions
Bin Kontan for iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

At a Glance

  • Worker shortages
  • AI in manufacturing
  • Cyber security in the plant

2023 was marked by several challenges for manufacturers. One of the most pressing was worker shortages. As companies continue to struggle with this persistent issue, 2024 will offer a few new challenges, some of them not quite clear yet – like what’s going to happen with AI. Will it morph into applications that will change our lives forever as the internet did? Or will it not be a useful technology for manufacturing?

We caught up with Caleb Funk, engagement engineer at IMAGINiT Technologies to get his views on outgoing 2023 and incoming 2024 from the POV of manufacturing. Funk noted that it may be a tad early to know what the true impact of 2023 was. “In 2025 I’ll know what was important in 2023. What I see now is that talent was a struggle for manufacturers in 2023,” said Funk. “People were not able to fill their vacant positions. They had the work coming in and they had to get it done. They asked, ‘Who do I need to hire?’ That was a big conversation. They needed engineers and they needed people on the floor making chips.”

Higher Wages or Automation

The shortages during 2023 were spread across many manufacturing disciplines. While some of the disparity can be addressed by automation, higher wages are also part of the solution. “Whether it's design automation or process automation, they have been worried about the headcount,” said Funk. “They’re paying more for talent. The new guy is getting hired at the same pay rate as those who waited years for raises.”

Automation can be used to capture some of the knowledge that is walking out the door when workers leave. “Baby Boomers are retiring. They knew what needed to be done. There is always that one guy who knows what screw was used in 2008,” said Funk. “You have to capture that knowledge in a set of rules and databases. There has been a big push for digitization. Automation has been doing this on the design side. On the process side, it can be addressed with digitization and the digital factory. But how do you create a system to track it so you know where the information is?”

What will 2024 Bring?

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If 2023 was the year Artificial Intelligence was widely introduced, 2024 may be the year that manufacturers figure out what to do with it. Surveys over the past year revealed that few manufacturers were deploying AI in areas other than machine learning – primarily predictive maintenance. “AI will be a big interest in 2024. One of the things I keep hearing about is what to do with AI. I haven’t seen a lot of practical applications yet,” said Funk. “The idea of AI changes everything. Yet I haven’t seen a whole lot of realistic case studies and applications. If something came out to leverage AI, everyone would be truly interested. Conceptually, everyone likes the idea, but I haven't seen it in reality yet.”

As for possible areas in manufacturing where AI could take a role, Funk believes it will have wide applications. “It's going to be ubiquitous in so many different areas,” said Funk. “A lot of time is spent trying to figure out a design file. The amount of time people create file folders uses a lot of mental power. I could imagine a program that looked at the file and knew where to put it. Someone will come up with cool applications for AI. It is going to be a useful tool.”

Data Attackers Never Sleep

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Funk also expects that cybersecurity will continue to be a major issue in 2024. “Data security has been a big issue, and it will get bigger in 2024. Everything is digitized now. All our information needs to be protected,” said Funk. “When a company gets compromised, it’s rarely a sophisticated attack. They got in through an old password on an old operating system. Someone found it on the internet.”

Funk noted that manufacturers typically get hit by simple attacks on local servers. “A lot of times, manufacturers just leave something open. There are some high-level actors, but most of the time the attacks are not sophisticated,” said Funk.

He doesn’t expect data security from cloud connections will be an issue. “With cloud technology, there is a high level of sophistication,” said Funk. “People ask about Amazon web servers and whether they are safe from cyber-attacks. Amazon is spending more time on data security than you are. That are more attacks on local servers than on cloud servers.”

About the Author(s)

Rob Spiegel

Rob Spiegel serves as a senior editor for Design News. He started with Design News in 2002 as a freelancer and hired on full-time in 2011. He covers automation, manufacturing, 3D printing, robotics, AI, and more.

Prior to Design News, he worked as a senior editor for Electronic News and Ecommerce Business. He has contributed to a wide range of industrial technology publications, including Automation World, Supply Chain Management Review, and Logistics Management. He is the author of six books.

Before covering technology, Rob spent 10 years as publisher and owner of Chile Pepper Magazine, a national consumer food publication.

As well as writing for Design News, Rob also participates in IME shows, webinars, and ebooks.

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