Top 5 Manufacturing Challenges (And What to Do About Them)

Tammy Borden
Posted by Tammy Borden on July 19, 2021
Colleagues walking manufacturing plant floor discussing current challenges

After years of sluggish growth (and in several cases decline), followed by a global pandemic that shut down entire nations, you’d think that manufacturing would be on the brink of disaster. 

However, the manufacturing sector has shown incredible resiliency and innovation, leading to growing optimism and expected growth of 7.2% for the remainder of 2021. That’s definitely a positive forecast, but even those enjoying growth will continue to face manufacturing challenges in the years ahead.

We talk with manufacturers of all sizes every day and hear first-hand about the problems they’re dealing with. Their struggles are real, so we thought we’d highlight a few of the most pressing and provide insights into how industrial manufacturers can address them head-on.

1. Supply Chain Disruption

2. Labor Shortage

3. Keeping Up With – and Leveraging – New Technologies

4. Cybersecurity

5. Attracting Qualified Leads

1. Supply Chain Disruption

What can bring production of a two-ton truck to a screeching halt and shut down multiple manufacturing facilities? The answer fits in the palm of your hand. Semiconductor shortages have plagued the global automotive industry in addition to other technology-driven industries. Supply chain disruptions are among the biggest challenges facing manufacturers for the time being. 

Supply chain issues have impacted the manufacturing sector more than any other industry, with inventories at their lowest levels in decades. Offshoring of electronic components to Taiwan and China combined with the effects of the pandemic and shipping delays have contributed to major supply chain disruptions. But it’s not just technology. Domestic production has struggled to keep up, too, with everything from lumber and fuel to hot dogs and, yes, even chicken wings. Say it isn’t so!

Supply chain management issues have exposed vulnerabilities in the “real time” manufacturing mindset that was supposed to improve efficiencies. It left some companies scrambling to catch up after demand surged faster than expected in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies that can combine their agile practices with the ability to quickly pivot as needed have an advantage. 

If there’s one positive spin on the supply chain dilemma, it’s the resurgence of “Made in America” products to help minimize reliance on global suppliers. 

2. Labor Shortage

The largest contributor to supply chain disruption, however, is the inability to fill manufacturing jobs. A lack of workers is woven throughout the supply chain, including manufacturing, warehousing, distribution and logistics, and more. 

Manufacturing already struggled to fill available positions prior to the pandemic, and now the challenge has only deepened. Making things worse, baby boomers are exiting the workforce in record numbers and taking valuable skills with them. While automation and robotics may help fill the skills gap, workers will still be needed to apply problem-solving capabilities, perform analyses, and manage production lines.

To ensure they’re building a workforce for the future, some manufacturers are partnering with local community and technical schools to support trade programs. They’re also offering apprenticeships and internships that lead to full-time employment. Some even assist in developing programs and training candidates on everything from die making and welding to robotics programming and sheet rolling.

Manufacturers also need to get creative in their efforts to attract workers by meeting them where they’re at — not through newspapers, radio, TV, or billboards, but online. The more effective way to connect, especially with millennials, is through social media. Keep in mind that younger generations today aren’t looking just for a career; they’re looking for a positive culture focused on employee and community wellbeing. Use video to highlight the benefits of working for your organization, and promote your workplace culture as a primary asset.

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3. Keeping Up With – and Leveraging – New Technologies

Automation, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), robotics, cloud computing, and is advancing at warp speed, and most manufacturing companies struggle to keep up, let alone stay on the leading edge. By the time many IT departments have gone through the process of researching, getting approval, purchasing, and installing new technology, a faster and more agile solution may have already emerged.

Today, manufacturers should take note of these important developments:

  • The Internet of Things (IoT) market is growing rapidly, with 46 billion connected devices used globally for daily tasks this year, equating to a value of $500 billion. The IoT market is expected to grow nearly five-fold through 2028 at a CAGR of 25.4%. Fueled by 5G connectivity and advances in sensor technology, smart manufacturing will see opportunities to drive growth by adopting IIoT devices to boost productivity, enhance product quality, reduce costs, and streamline project management.
  • As IIoT and intelligent systems are more widely used, there will be an associated surge in the amount of data manufacturers generate. What’s needed is the ability to analyze all this data. Updated Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) technology can help manufacturers manage volumes of data and formulate insights that lead to better decision-making.

4. Cybersecurity

As technology advances, so do the efforts and skills of cybercriminals. Ransomware attacks on major corporations and infrastructure have increased dramatically, and 2020 broke all records for data loss, with 2021 keeping pace. Alarmingly, eight in 10 companies lack confidence in their security postures despite investing more to combat cybercrime. With the average cost of a data breach coming in at $3.86 million, it’s critical for manufacturers to protect their systems.

Many manufacturers rely on outdated systems incapable of addressing the number and complexity of threats today. Businesses need to employ more sophisticated ways of securing their networks, as the traditional firewall approach may not be adequate to keep hackers from accessing them and doing real damage.

The best weapons for combating cyberattacks are ensuring that all computer security software is routinely updated and educating employees about the warning signs of a security breach. The most common way cybercriminals get into your network, however, is via email. One of our clients has a helpful list of email phishing scam clues that you may find helpful in avoiding a breach. It’s also a given that your website needs an SSL certificate.

5. Attracting Qualified Leads

Traditional marketing efforts for manufacturers are proving far less effective than in the past; trade shows, trade ads, and cold calls aren’t working like they used to. In the digital marketing age, organizations need to do more than put up a website and hope their best prospects stumble across it.

Industrial B2B marketers need to make a concerted effort to attract, engage, and delight prospects, and get found organically through online searches by providing a wealth of information that demonstrates relevance and expertise. That means they need to leverage inbound marketing and SEO tactics by creating content that provides answers to potential customers’ questions and problems.

What is Inbound Marketing (in a Nutshell)? Get the Infographic

Robust manufacturing marketing strategies generate sales-qualified leads by building trust through relevant blogs, case studies, eBooks, infographics, and other helpful resources. Once trust is built through online engagement and leads are nurtured through the sales funnel, those leads are more likely to engage on a personal level. It might start with a request for a free consultation, demo, assessment, or other offer from the company.

Creating all that content takes time. Just like the products you develop require the right skills, a high level of expertise is needed to make your organization’s content rank higher in search engine results. Enlist the help of inbound marketing experts who understand your pain points and are laser-focused on the manufacturing sector. When you do, you’ll be better equipped to meet these challenges head on.

To learn more, check out our Inbound Marketing Guide for Industrial Manufacturers by clicking the link below. Then, reach out to us to start a conversation!


Read the The Ultimate Guide to Inbound Marketing for Industrial Manufacturers

Topics: Manufacturing

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