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Top five manufacturing IT stories of 2013

2013 saw manufacturing IT innovation, from mobile computing and 3-D printing and same-day shipping.

The year 2013 was one for the history books when it came to technological advances and forward thinking in the manufacturing IT space. Mobile devices and 3D printers evolved from what-if to must-have items for many shop floors, while manufacturers explored new ways to achieve same-day shipping and attract more young recruits. In light of all this, anybody who still insists that manufacturers are behind the times when it comes to technology hasn't been paying very close attention. Let's take a look at the top stories that made 2013 a banner year for manufacturing IT.

Manufacturers stood up to the Goliath of Amazon shipments

There's no way around the reality of Amazon's same-day shipping model -- customers are getting used to receiving their packages faster than ever, and manufacturers need to find a way to keep up. In 2013, many of them found innovative ways to do just that.

Some manufacturers, such as Longmont, Colo.-based Specialty Products Company, have boosted their shipping times by dealing partly through Amazon itself while also offering direct shipping from their own e-commerce sites. Others, such as the Winamac, Ind.-based Braun Corp., have made the move to larger or multiple warehouse facilities to allow for faster and more efficient order processing. The end result is the same: smaller manufacturers are meeting the instant-gratification needs of customers and staying competitive in an Amazon world.

Mobile devices became more common -- but not safer -- in manufacturing

Manufacturers took an enthusiastic, if rather reckless, approach to mobile computing in 2013. TechTarget's Annual IT Priorities survey found that while nearly 40% of manufacturers are working on or planning to adopt mobile devices for their business, only about 30% are really thinking about mobile device management (MDM) or mobile security measures.

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This lack of a security focus was only made more concerning due to the rising popularity of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) -- allowing employees to use their personal smartphones and tablets to access company data and apps. While BYOD may be a frugal approach in the short term, experts agree it opens manufacturers to long-term security issues, with IT departments straining to manage multiple operating systems and device models. Making a solid mobile security plan and sticking to it can avoid future headaches and potentially serious data breaches.

3-D printing took on new dimensions

If there was one technology on everyone's minds -- and expo floors -- in 2013, it was 3-D printing. With a seemingly endless range of use cases, from jewelry to prosthetics to weapons and even food, manufacturers began to look at 3-D printing as a serious next-gen approach to production.

One of the biggest changes that 3-D printing could bring to a manufacturing organization is a shift from large bulk-order production to small, sometimes one-unit, custom-designed products. This sort of designer manufacturing could revolutionize the industry, experts say, but it's important to keep things in perspective for now. The average 3-D printer is still thousands of dollars above the budget of small and mid-sized manufacturers, not to mention the average consumer. Regardless, 3-D printing seems to be here to stay, and something to watch closely in 2014.

Manufacturers struggled to remain relevant to young job seekers

A still weak economy managed to produce hundreds of thousands of new hires in 2013, but not many of them saw manufacturing as their next step. ThomasNet's Industry Market Barometer report found that manufacturing is in need of a major image overhaul if it is to survive the coming mass retirement of Baby Boomers.

According to ThomasNet, manufacturers need to make sure young job hunters know the business isn't limited to the old-fashioned, assembly-line careers of their parents and grandparents. Indeed, today's manufacturing environments are tech-heavy and in need of tech-saavy recruits -- precisely the sort of skillset that Gen Y has in spades. Advertising this fact at job fairs and internship programs will help the industry secure the new blood needed to thrive in the years to come.

Infor released major SyteLine update

One of the biggest vendor stories of 2013 was Infor's announcement of SyteLine 9.00, a major upgrade to the ERP platform. The release included improved cloud deployment and development, single-instance vs. multi-site database model options, more flexible financials and stronger support for environmental and safety compliance standards.

Experts noted that the SyteLine update positions Infor as a stronger competitor to ERP industry giants SAP and Oracle. However, they also cautioned that it's too early to tell whether SyteLine 9.00 will live up to its lofty promises and how these changes will affect customers in the long-term.

SearchManufacturingERP on Twitter @ManufacturingTT.

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