The manufacturers gaining the competitive edge on product quality and customer satisfaction appear to be those that adopt smart-manufacturing technologies, including the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Why is IIoT such a key differentiator in today’s economy? It lies in the ability to monitor, correct and optimize operational issues in real time.

A headline in Chief Executive Magazine recently posed the question: “Who’s Pushing U.S. Manufacturing Forward?”

“Accelerating the rebound in U.S. factories depends on what they make and how they make it, not just where,” wrote Chief Executive contributor Dale Buss.

It’s a statement that rings especially true today. Talk of trade wars, changing consumer demands and continuing workforce shortages mean U.S. manufacturers must place a greater emphasis on quality, innovation, and efficiency to remain competitive.

Dependence on low-cost sourcing won’t win the game anymore.

Many manufacturers have relied on outsourcing to remain competitive. But this model isn’t quite as effective as it once was. For one, wages are increasing in many low-cost countries, such as China. Also, consumer demands for faster delivery and more customized products mean manufacturers can’t afford long lead times, supply chain disruptions or quality issues.

The winners appear to be manufacturers that adopt smart-manufacturing technologies, including the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Why is IIoT such a key differentiator in today’s economy? It lies in the ability to monitor, correct and optimize operational issues in real time. If you make things efficiently at home there’s no reason to source materials halfway around the world. And that means you can serve customers faster and be agile enough to meet their demands for more customized products or just-in-time deliveries.

The key is finding IIoT systems that provide the in-depth analytics you need to make immediate decisions to correct variations in quality or increase throughput. Sensor-based data systems are nothing new. IIoT has become a catchphrase for any manufacturer that deploys a sensor to its equipment or production line to receive critical performance data over the Internet.

But truly effective IIoT includes dashboards, alerts and statistical analysis to correct problems as they happen and adjust production to meet changing customer requirements. Many IIoT systems still deliver information to traditional spreadsheets, such as Excel, which requires manual manipulation to begin root-cause analysis.

In fact, according to Deloitte’s “Global Cost Survey Report,” digital solutions, such as data analytics, are the most effective ways to drive cost savings. Analytics and automation empower “companies to analyze mountains of data and identify key costs savings opportunities. These technologies will help increase efficiency and effectiveness — evolving new platforms and driving cost improvement across the entire enterprise,” according to Deloitte.

Chief Executive Magazine recognized rapid prototyping manufacturer Protolabs as a company that’s “pushing U.S. manufacturing forward.”   The St. Paul, Minnesota, company helps manufacturers respond to customer demands faster with services such as 3-D printing. Company President and CEO Victoria Holt noted that about half of companies’ annual revenues are from products they launched within the last three years. In other words: product lifecycles are getting shorter.

“To be able to address that, we’ve got to be taking advantage of manufacturing technologies and Manufacturing 4.0, or we won’t be able to compete,” Holt told Chief Executive.