By Dusty Weis, AEM Strategic Communications Manager

In the day-to-day operations of a business, it’s easy to get lost in the work of today and postpone planning for a future that’s next-to-unknowable.

But with new trends and technologies arriving in the industry at a higher rate than ever before, it’s important for business leaders to call “time out,” occasionally, and challenge the assumptions that guide business decisions.

As part of its thought leadership efforts to keep members on the leading edge of technological disruption, AEM presents the report, Exponential Possibilities: Insights on the Potential Future of the Equipment Manufacturing Industry. 

Download the Report

This report is the result of a workshop in which the AEM Futures Council, the association’s leading source of information on disruptive trends and technologies impacting our industry, pooled its expertise with facilitators from Singularity University, a global learning and innovation community focused on exploring exponential technologies.

“Technology is disrupting every facet of traditional manufacturing and industrial processes across the board and throughout the supply chain—hardware, software, economics and infrastructure,” says Guru Bandekar, the 2019 Futures Council chair and the Vice President of Global Engineering & Program Management at JLG Industries. “They are all changing rapidly, and they’re never going back.”

Listen to a podcast interview with JLG’s Guru Bandekar & SU’s Andre Wegner

While the report is presented as a speculative exercise, intended simply to get AEM members to consider the ramifications if core tenets of the industry were to shift, there are three concrete steps your enterprise can take to use this report to ensure that the future doesn’t take you by surprise.

1. Familiarize Yourself with the Impact of Exponential Technologies

If your organization has not invested significant effort in understanding the ongoing technological shift in the industry, your first step may be to familiarize yourself with the range of emerging “exponential technologies.” Andre Wegner, chair of Digital Manufacturing at Singularity University, explains that the term “exponential” is rooted in the notion that technological change is happening more quickly each year.

“It goes back to the idea of Moore's Law, that silicon wafer chips are getting twice as fast and half as expensive every 18 months,” Wegner says. “Every industry that's digitizing is building on some of these same exact trends, and we see a rapidly increasing evolution in every industry that does this.”

Fortunately, in addition to the new AEM-SU report, there are numerous other resources available to help understand the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, autonomy and other emerging trends. AEM’s Thinking Forward initiative offers a series of regional education events, plus a diverse library of articles and podcasts to help members of your company comprehend the possibilities. Likewise, SU offers a deep well of resources for enterprises.

One thing’s for certain, according to Bandekar—it’s not too late to leverage exponential technologies to your benefit, because they have not quite yet reached the absolute inflection point of widespread adoption in our industry.

“If you look at any construction site today, it's still largely manual and largely diesel-powered,” Bandekar says. “So all the things we are talking about are going to change our industry dramatically, but there's still some road for us to cover before we get there.”

2. Take Steps to Position Your Company as an Exponential Enterprise

If exponential technologies are those that develop at an ever-increasing rate, then the exponential enterprise is one that’s positioned to thrive during these times of change.

In the new AEM-SU report, corporate innovation faculty expert Renu Kulkarni lays out the case for why every business should strive to become an exponential enterprise. She also explains five steps organizations can take to achieve that goal, noting that the increasing pace of change incentivizes businesses to experiment, fail fast and fail productively.

“Today’s enterprises should already be building the capabilities that will enable them to become exponential organizations and make the leap from 10% improvements to 10x outcomes,” Kulkarni says.

If the carrot in this equation is the chance to lead the industry and set the technological curve, Bandekar notes that the stick is the threat of getting left behind entirely—or getting disrupted by competition from industries outside our own.

“So suddenly now you find yourself not just competing with other equipment manufacturers in your space, but those which are in completely different spaces like drone manufacturing or sensor manufacturing,” Bandekar says. “That is game-changing in the degree and the nature of the competition in our industry.”

3. Convene an Executive-Level Meeting to Pressure-Test the Status Quo

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the new AEM-SU report is the process it outlines for delineating the assumptions that define our industry and envisioning the impact for your business if those assumptions were to change.

In Singularity University’s workshop, the AEM Futures Council undertook such an exercise, and the insights ranged from unlikely scenarios several horizons away to trends that are already taking root and reshaping the industry.

“For the longest time, our industry was based on driving machines with engine power, and electrification is changing that,” Bandekar says. “It's very important for organizations like ours to continue to monitor the basic assumptions of competition so we can define the space going forward.”

The AEM-SU report outlines some of the Futures Council’s insights. But just about every organization could benefit from organizing its own executive-level session to define the assumptions that govern its business models, delineate disruptive factors that could uproot those assumptions and brainstorm how the organization could adapt to thrive in that change.

Such an exercise could not only expose organizational blind spots, but also provide your business with a framework for assessing where your research and development efforts are leaving you exposed to potential disruption. For the purposes of the exercise, no scenario should be considered too far-fetched.

After all, the future inevitably arrives, whether or not you’re ready for it.

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