To say that the past year has been a wild ride for most—if not all—companies is a vast understatement.

We have witnessed supply chains under stress like never before; we saw global logistics networks scrambling to deliver; and we were inspired as the manufacturing industry regained its “hero” status by producing essential goods throughout this global health crisis.

From work models to supply chains and from innovation to production, change has been accelerated across all businesses and departments. While a lot of the past year has been responding to the crisis, now is the time to plan and execute a full reset. And as we are evaluating what our “next normal” will look like, we can’t help but see the massive opportunities this disruption has created for digital manufacturing.

While the pandemic is far from over, this State of Manufacturing Report is here to analyze the potentials it holds for long-overdue digitization efforts. As the industry moves from crisis management to evolution, we hope the insights presented here will help you discover the opportunities for innovation the pandemic has revealed.

Executive Summary


Now is the time to accelerate the pace of change.

95% say the pandemic has had long-term effects on their business

91% have increased digital transformation investments in the past year


The cost of supply chain disruption is clear.

94% report concerns about their current supply chains

92% face barriers for new product innovation


Companies are looking ahead to a transformed manufacturing future.

68% report that increasing supply chain resilience and agility is a top business priority

84% embrace on-demand manufacturing technologies

Change, Accelerated: From Recovery to Reinvigoration

Almost all respondents say that the pandemic has had long-term effects on their business.

So we agree that everything is different, but what exactly has changed for manufacturing companies?

In 2021 we are seeing an acceleration in the adoption of digital technologies as companies rush to increase manufacturing resilience and agility, accelerate new product innovation, and adapt to the new-normal of remote and flexible work processes.

Resilience, Speed, and Sustainability Make Top Priorities

Business priorities for 2021 still reflect weaknesses laid wide open by the pandemic: For 68%, improving supply chain resilience and agility is the number one business priority for 2021.

While predictability through more resilient supply chains is an understandable goal, companies are equally trying to up their agility in response to unforeseeable disruptions: More than half of all respondents (54%) aim to increase the speed of product innovation.

Notably, 40% state they are prioritizing investments in sustainable manufacturing processes to reduce their carbon footprint, possibly to mitigate future environmental risks more proactively.

A Shift Towards Digital and Remote Processes

Few people will argue against digital transformation as one of the major drivers of growth and innovation.

We have seen COVID-19 accelerate this trend by creating a wider acceptance and adoption of all things digital, both in operations and production.

From Flexible Working to Flexible Manufacturing

While many employers were hesitant towards remote work prior to the pandemic, the past year has been a case in point for the benefits of remote work processes. This shift appears to have influenced perceptions around flexible manufacturing arrangements, signaling that the industry is becoming less tethered to the ownership of physical spaces, both in regards to working and manufacturing facilities.

Taking Inventory: Overcoming Barriers of Innovation

To reach their goals of greater agility and faster innovation, manufacturers are taking inventory.

With a whopping 92% stating that they face a variety of barriers when it comes to product innovation and 94% citing concerns about their supply chain, it’s clear that the pandemic has been a wake-up call for manufacturing leaders and executives across the board.

Let’s take a look at some of the key challenges that prevent businesses from innovating the way they should.

Static Supply Chains Inhibit Progress

Pandemic or not, supply chains can create a lot of friction. Oftentimes, they are complex, intransparent, and inflexible. Changing inventory levels, growing backlogs, volatile freight costs, and countless process steps are just a few of the inefficiencies at hand.

It comes as no surprise that only 6% say they had no concerns about their supply chains. So let’s dive into how current supply chain structures are hampering innovation.

The show must go on — there’s no time for inertia or indecision.

Industrial organizations will continue to push forward, relying on operations managers to navigate an environment increasingly complicated by limited supplies, disrupted workforce availability, regulation, and fluctuating demand.

Jan Burian, Senior Director and Head of IDC Manufacturing Insights EMEA

Time-Intensive Supply Chain Tasks Slow Teams Down

Speed is key for new product innovation. Being the first to market can make or break a product, technology, or an entire company. But there are both internal and external challenges that manufacturers face today that limit innovation speed.

Externally, respondents reported that slow feedback loops with manufacturing partners as well as difficulty sourcing fast, high quality options to manufacture low-volume builds are among the top NPI barriers.

As we embrace remote work and outsourced manufacturing, what supply chain tasks could be streamlined to free up time to focus on accelerating innovation?

Digital Manufacturing Talent is in Limited Supply

The case for the benefits of outsourced manufacturing becomes stronger when you look at the variety of workforce challenges manufacturing companies face in 2021.

Quality Issues Impact the Bottom Line

The supply chain analytics market is booming — the industry is set to exceed a $10 billion USD valuation by 2027.

And for good reason: supply chain quality issues, which are exacerbated by poor visibility and performance accountability, is a top challenge faced by our survey respondents.

Modern manufacturers are deploying advanced technologies that are transforming what we make and how we make it.

This rapid digitization and the workplace disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic have created new and unprecedented risks for our members.

Jay Timmons, President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)

Digital Transformation Poses Security Risks

The pandemic has created a big reset for the entire industrial landscape, but maybe no business line has been more deeply affected than IT.

Processes such as remote work, cloud computing, and increasing automation, which had been marked as “optional” on the innovation agenda for a while, quickly became mandatory. Given the rise of digital operations across supply chains, IP & IT risks are becoming an increasingly central concern for manufacturers.

Looking Ahead: Future- Proofing Manufacturing

One thing is clear: manufacturers don’t want to repeat the disruption of 2020.

The survey data revealed three key trends around how companies plan to “future-proof” their supply chains.

Firstly, the vast majority of manufacturers today are adopting on-demand manufacturing platforms. Benefits cited include increased quality, speed, and production transparency, which aligns well with top business priorities to increase product innovation and agility.

Second, certain industries with medical devices leading the charge, are prioritizing domestic manufacturing in an effort to shorten supply chains and prevent future disruption.

And last, but certainly not least, we saw incredible movement in the prioritization of sustainable manufacturing practices as a top-three business priority.

Harnessing the Power of On-Demand Manufacturing

The verdict of those using on-demand manufacturing couldn’t be any clearer.

Leveraging a digital ecosystem with a pre-vetted network of global suppliers opens up time and opportunity to focus on the core competencies of a company: innovate and grow.

Following industry trends towards full customization and consumer-centrism, on-demand manufacturing offers scalable options for low-volume and mass production.

The Reemergence of Made in America

The pandemic has forced manufacturers to rethink their global supply chains and their resilience dramatically.

For many years, China had been the virtually undisputed go-to destination for high-quality manufacturing at low cost. And yet, 62% are pursuing a re-shoring strategy for their manufacturing operations for 2021 and beyond, especially in the medical device and robotics industries.

Areas of Investment for American Manufacturing

However, companies have concerns about a lack of technical skills and technology advantages they can find when off-shoring their production.

American manufacturers must continue to embrace digital transformation to reclaim its position as a global leader in manufacturing.

Advancing Sustainability

The industrial sector has an enormous carbon footprint. With economic and societal pressure for change on the rise, advancing sustainability is not only a goal but a key need for manufacturing. For 89%, sustainable manufacturing is gaining importance in 2021, with more than two-thirds of C- or VP-level executives reporting that it is increasing to the highest level in their corporate history.

Naturally, there are barriers to overcome in achieving sustainability goals. This holds true even in a much less disrupted world than we are facing right now.

As digital manufacturing ecosystems evolve, there is a clear opportunity to help reduce some of these barriers by helping to control the sustainability standards of pre-vetted manufacturing partners at scale.

Key Takeaway

If there is one thing to take away from this report, it’s this: The manufacturing industry will never go back to the way things were.

From automation to sustainability, we are seeing a tremendous shift of strategic priorities for manufacturing companies, led by the very highest levels of leadership. Speed, agility, and resilience are the key business outcomes and digital manufacturing is the current that runs through every innovation initiative.

So what exactly will the future of greener, more resilient and more innovative manufacturing look like?

With the enhanced transparency, speed, and agility it presents, on-demand manufacturing platforms are poised to be a game-changer for manufacturers, providing a clear path to the digital transformation that 95% of companies agree is essential to future success.



Fictiv is a Digital Manufacturing Ecosystem that rapidly delivers custom parts on-demand to help teams accelerate new product innovation. Its quality-driven ecosystem delivers unprecedented manufacturing agility and speed through a digital quote-to-order platform, highly vetted and managed global partner network, and team of manufacturing experts that manage programs and inspect quality every step of the way.

Different from traditional contract manufacturers, Fictiv’s operations are built around a digital core that leverages proprietary AI algorithms to deliver instant pricing, design for manufacturability feedback, and production transparency. Fictiv’s portfolio of optimized manufacturing services includes 3D printing, CNC machining, urethane casting, and injection molding.

Over the last seven years, Fictiv has manufactured more than 12M parts for early-stage companies and large enterprises alike, helping them innovate with agility and get products to market faster.

Dimensional Research

Dimensional Research® provides practical market research for technology and manufacturing companies. We partner with our clients to deliver actionable information that reduces risks, increases customer satisfaction, and grows the business. Our researchers are experts in the processes and technology used by modern businesses and their customers. For more information, visit www.

Survey Methodology & Participant Demographics

Independent sources of manufacturing professionals were invited to participate in an online survey where a variety of questions were asked on topics related to COVID-19 disruption, digital transformation, and supply chain management. The survey was fielded between March 17 - 25, 2021.

A total of 230 qualified individuals participated in the survey. All were senior decision makers who work in supply chain, engineering, R&D, technology or business leadership roles at companies that produce medical devices, robotics, automotive, aerospace or consumer electronics.

Individuals Represented

Companies Represented