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4 min read

Looking Back at 2023 to Prepare for the Technology Trends of 2024

As I reflect on 2023, for the first time in three years, phrases such as “managing disruptive forces” and “remaining agile” weren’t the key phrases I would choose to describe what drove our, or our customers', business this past year. What a welcome change! Instead, if I were to set a theme for our business in 2023, it would be centered around helping customers perform better through technology adoption. With this, I am not just referring to upgrading obsolete control systems and software with more modern versions. While modernization is critical for keeping your facility functioning, what I am talking about is taking advantage of opportunities to strategically incorporate tools designed to further improve uptime, optimize processes, and provide additional insights into production systems.

AdobeStock_569528198_2023YearInReview_ResizeAs a result, in 2023 we saw increased demand for technologies such as digital twins and robotic systems that can help facilities do more with their existing assets while also tackling the continued challenges that have plagued industrial facilities for years including handling supply chain disruptions and labor shortages. Another interesting trend we saw unfold in 2023 (and this could probably be the overarching theme for 2023 in general) was the rapid evolution of tools capitalizing on artificial intelligence (AI). Since I think we are just scratching the surface of what these technologies can do for industrial control and automation processes, below are some of my thoughts on what we are already experiencing at ACE as well as what we see happening in 2024 and beyond.

Increasing Demand for Digital Twins

By providing the opportunity to test system changes and train operators on an offline system, control system digital twins are an excellent tool for reducing risk and shortening development lifecycles. For many years, our engineers have made it a point to discuss the value of adding a control system digital twin with customers who are adding a new production line or modernizing an existing one. While some customers have capitalized on these opportunities, it wasn’t until recently that we’ve seen the demand for control system digital twins  grow. It’s exciting to see the industry realize the many benefits a digital twin can offer and even see some organizations including the development of a digital twin in their RFQs.

Incorporating Robotic Tools into More Industries and Applications

Using robotic systems in industrial processes is not a novel idea. Many manufacturers have been automating processes with robots for decades. But as robotic tools become more sophisticated, what is changing is the number of industries and applications that are finding it beneficial to bring robots into their facilities to optimize processes. Even in process spaces, where robots have not traditionally been found, we are starting to see opportunities for robotics where difficult or monotonous work would be eliminated.

Plus, as the labor shortage in manufacturing intensifies, many facilities are looking for opportunities to incorporate robotics and cobots, or collaborative robots that work alongside humans, into the production line to perform repetitive tasks. This will both reduce the amount of manpower required and further enhance product quality and worker safety. As robots are incorporated into more aspects of the production line, this is not only changing the way manufacturers perform their processes, it’s actually changing the jobs that need to be performed and the skillsets manufacturers are looking for in employees. Facilities now need employees with the skills to maintain and program these robots.

Making Better Data-Driven Decisions with AI

No matter what industry you work in, it’s hard to talk about 2023 without discussing the impact of AI. Although machine learning has been used in the manufacturing world for a couple of decades to enable a variety of process improvements, emerging analytic and generative AI technologies are  poised to bring these capabilities to a whole new level. While there are many possibilities for how software developers can incorporate and use AI in their platforms, there are several use cases we predict seeing in the near future that will impact manufacturing processes in a big way.

Vision systems will be able to autonomously interpret real-time inspection data, performing faster and even more accurate quality inspections. Powerful analytics tools will drive better predictive maintenance and process improvement recommendations, especially when AI is incorporated into edge devices. And AI-powered demand forecasting tools will eliminate supply chain bottlenecks and help manufacturers better allocate capital. Finally, AI will be used to assist in the configuration of future control systems with manufactures starting to test new tools to improve implementation time and reliability of code on their platforms. I am really interested in seeing how this technology impacts, or potentially revolutionizes, the industrial space.

Driving Internal Process Improvements to Better Support You

At ACE, we don’t just help customers improve their processes, we are always trying to grow and improve our internal processes so that we can better serve you. Just like the industries we serve are constantly evolving, so are we. In 2023, we made several of our own changes to enable process improvements. First, we grew our employee base by more than 5 percent by strategically hiring in the areas where our customers need us most, such as robotics. Similarly, as we see customers need to implement larger control and automation projects, we are leaning more heavily on the well-established relationships we have with our technology partners. We also opened our ninth office in Allentown, PA, which provides additional space for  our quickly growing Lehigh Valley facility and allows us to be closer to customers in northern New Jersey and northeast Pennsylvania.

Finally, we made some structural changes internally that will allow us to be more scalable and adaptable as we grow. These changes included the addition of a full-time continuous improvement leader whose primary role is to identify opportunities for our own internal process improvements across the company – from sales to IT to marketing to operations. As we grow, we continue to do so strategically while investing in ways to make ACE a better company for both our customers and our employees.

Looking for ideas on how to optimize your industrial processes in 2024 and beyond? Chat with an ACE expert today.