Three Key Drivers of Disruptive Manufacturing

by: Smith and Howard

September 6, 2017

Back to Resources

Ready or not, the next generation of manufacturing has arrived, and it is rapidly transforming the industry. According to the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI), shifts in technologies have created a new normal for manufacturers, and it is all based on disruptive innovation.

The application of disruptive practices varies depending on the size and scope of the manufacturing operation. With that said, the increasing reliance on data interconnectivity has made cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT) and 3-D Printing (sometimes called additive manufacturing) essential for meeting customers’ needs now and in the not-too-distant future. 

What is Disruptive Innovation?

Disruption may seem like a negative term, but disruptive innovation is any constructive change that creates a new way of doing things and replaces the previous approach with an often groundbreaking, improved model. As data connectivity remains effective and efficient, the internet continues to disrupt the manufacturing industry by replacing old methods with improved efficiencies. From cloud computing to the IoT, the industry is undergoing a startling transformation that is often referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0.

Cloud Computing

Manufacturers want to reduce costs, eliminate waste and increase productivity. As manufacturing operations become increasingly digitalized, outdated computing systems will not be able to keep up with the needs of the business or the demands of customers. It is difficult to quickly scale operations using an old IT infrastructure.

Enter the cloud—a network of remote servers, with each server having a different operational function for the sharing, processing and storing of data. Instead of all the business’s data running locally on computers, it runs on the internet and can be accessed from anywhere using multiple devices. With cloud-based systems, businesses can streamline key areas of their business, create efficiencies, improve collaboration and track sales and operational information in real time. Additionally, manufacturers are increasingly embracing the value of embedding cloud computing into their manufactured products – such as voice activated commands in automobiles.


As part of an April panel discussion about disruptive innovation hosted by IndustryWeek and Infor, a global cloud-based provider of business applications, Andrew Dugenske, Director of the Factory Information Systems Center for the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute (GTMI), said “The IoT is one of the most disruptive technologies to ever influence manufacturers.”

He shared the following statistics:

  • 50 billion devices are expected to be connected through the internet by 2022
  • $675 billion will be saved by companies because of greater labor efficiencies from the IoT
  • Smart devices will yield $729 billion in savings from eliminating manufacturing waste associated with production

The IoT allows manufacturers to achieve higher levels of productivity. One of the greatest benefits is that data is accessible on devices ranging from online dashboards to mobile apps.

Consider the electronic controls, sensors and automated equipment used in a manufacturing facility that “speak” to one another. For example, if an engine on a machine can trigger an alert that it needs servicing before it breaks down, costs associated with emergency service and downtime can be avoided while still meeting customer timelines. The future of the manufacturing industry will rely on the manufacturer’s ability to remotely control equipment and systems or have systems interact with one another without human intervention.

As Infor industry analyst Steve Beard put it, “IoT has the power to transform manufacturing by changing the types of products companies will make and how they will be made, all while reducing costs. Disruptive technologies are good for business.”

3-D Printing 

3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing is a process that begins with raw material and a digital design of a component. A part is created layer by layer from a digital file from the bottom up with the end result being a three-dimensional product created in a matter of hours.

Additive manufacturing accelerates the design-build-test cycle, allowing the designer to:

  • Immediately assess the viability of a product
  • Make any necessary design changes
  • Reduce the need for long supply chains
  • Decrease the manufacturing footprint
  • Reduce cost
  • Eliminate waste

It is already possible to produce any component using metal, plastic, mixed materials—even human tissue. To put this in perspective, the health care industry is deploying additive manufacturing for custom prosthetics and medical implants. As more manufacturers adopt 3-D printing technology, additive manufacturing will dramatically alter the manufacturing industry.

Whether or not your manufacturing facility is using 3-D printing now or considering it in the future, you are likely using more devices to track your processes and products. As you increasingly rely on the IoT to improve efficiencies and realize productivity objectives, you will drive future growth through disruptive innovation.

Quality and speed are the first things that are improved in this hyper-connected Industry 4.0 environment, and that, in turn, drives something all manufacturers want—an improved customer-service experience.

Questions? Contact Smith and Howard’s manufacturing and distribution team at 404-874-6244 or fill out the form below

How can we help?

If you have any questions and would like to connect with a team member please call 404-874-6244 or contact an advisor below.