A report from Hexagon found that 98 percent of manufacturers cited at least one issue with data within their organization.

COBHAM, England—Manufacturers that fail to get their data in order risk being left behind their rivals, according to a new report from Hexagon. The global survey of more than 500 manufacturing leaders, conducted by Forrester Consulting and commissioned by Hexagon, found that 98 percent of manufacturers report at least one issue with data within their organization, Hexagon said in a release.

Leaders are considering real-time collaboration, artificial intelligence (AI), and automation. However, major challenges with data availability and quality are stifling innovation and impeding the roll-out of advanced manufacturing technologies such as digital twins, automation, and AI in manufacturing.

These challenges are compounding issues with workplace collaboration, impacting productivity and time to market. Nearly 40 percent of manufacturers are automation laggards and risk being left behind their rivals that are prioritizing data-driven productivity and automation, the company said.

The Advanced Manufacturing Report is said to highlight evidence of fundamental shifts in how high-value products are designed and manufactured through three fundamental digital enablers: data quality and availability, workforce collaboration and empowerment, and automation.

Data utilization and collaboration: manufacturers’ big headache

These data woes are said to have contributed to 97 percent of manufacturers facing challenges in collaboration and productivity, which can impact their ability to innovate and delay responding to customers’ needs. The majority of business leaders realize that better collaboration can improve product quality (88 percent), time to market (86 percent), and sustainability.

Some 82 percent of respondents said they believe better communication between design and manufacturing teams can significantly reduce material waste and emissions. Despite this, almost three-quarters (71 percent) of business leaders are concerned about the lack of synergy between their design and manufacturing teams, according to the release.

“It’s ironic that manufacturing invented the automation and agile practices that are driving business transformation in other industries and is now struggling to transform,” said Josh Weiss,  president of Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division, in the release. “But that’s because achieving digitalization throughout manufacturing value chains is a very real, complex, and human challenge. Digital twins are crucial to making factories smart, they enable teams to solve problems across departments, to innovate, and that same high-quality data underpins productivity-superchargers such as AI and robotics.”

Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division provides solutions that use data from design and engineering, production, and metrology to make manufacturing smarter.

“Those that empower their organization to use data right now can drive more efficient value creation and get products to market faster with the agility to adapt to market conditions,” Weiss continued. “We saw it when consumer electronics led the shift to rapid product innovation, and now BYD has shaken the automotive sector by overtaking Tesla as the electric vehicle market leader, emphasizing the need to transform productivity and innovation throughout the manufacturing value chain.”

The research surveyed manufacturing leaders from North America, Asia, and Europe. Twenty-four percent of respondents were C-level executives. It found that while access to high-quality data appears to be a universal issue, Asian manufacturers are more confident applying their data—for example, using simulation, virtual manufacturing, and predictive maintenance—to predict and avoid problems downstream when the financial impacts can be severe.

Digitalization leaders surge ahead, with data underpinning time to market and Industry 5.0

With only 2 percent of manufacturers claiming to be problem-free with their data practices, a vast majority of companies risk missing their business goals if they fail to act now, according to Hexagon. Manufacturing business leaders cited improving operational efficiency, increasing manufacturing output, and improving the quality of new products faster, as their top business priorities for the next three years. All of these could be impeded by not making the organization-wide cultural and technical changes required to succeed with digitalization, the company said.

The findings also reportedly indicate that 37 percent of manufacturers are falling behind their rivals and should be considered “laggards,” as they have failed to automate—highly or fully—any phase of their manufacturing process. On the other hand, a quarter of manufacturers should be considered “leaders” in the market, as they have highly or fully automated at least two phases of their manufacturing processes.

Manufacturers globally are looking to advanced automation technologies to boost productivity. Fifty-eight percent of Asian companies reported they plan to invest in AI-powered, or generative, automation over the next three years, versus less than half of manufacturers in North America (45 percent and EMEA (38 percent), the company said.

The research was conducted in May 2023 to understand how technology is shaping manufacturers’ strategies today and for the future. The Advanced Manufacturing Report is said to provide in-depth analysis throughout the value chain from product design to finished product and quality processes, spotlighting trends and providing valuable insight into the challenges manufacturing leaders face, their successes, and new opportunities.