Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Top trends in 2024: Experts share key automation trends for Canadian manufacturers in 2024

April 25, 2024
By Sukanya Ray Ghosh

PHOTO: gorodenkoff / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The dynamic landscape of Canadian manufacturing is not left untouched by cutting-edge technologies that enhance efficiency, productivity and competitiveness. As manufacturers plan for 2024, industrial automation continues to evolve rapidly, driven by advancements in artificial intelligence, robotics, IoT (Internet of Things) and data analytics.

In this article, automation experts take a deep dive into the top industrial automation trends that can be instrumental in shaping the strategies and operations of Canadian manufacturers in 2024. From the integration of AI-driven predictive maintenance to the adoption of collaborative robots on the factory floor, these trends are poised to revolutionize the manufacturing sector, paving the way for unprecedented growth and innovation.

Claire Fallon is executive director of the International Society of Automation (ISA). A mechanical engineer by training, Fallon previously worked as a design engineer for Bechtel and served on the board of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and appeals board for Underwriters Laboratories (UL). 

1. Investing in new technology and digital transformation


The buzz around increasing investment in new technologies such as generative artificial intelligence (AI), cloud technology and digital twins has put digital transformation investment at the top of the list for 2024 trends in North American manufacturing. Digital transformation efforts were expedited due to COVID and according to Flexera’s State of the Tech Spend report, “74 percent of organizations see digital transformation as a top priority over cybersecurity (73 percent) and cloud implementation (64 percent) for 2024.”

Digital transformation investment is largely driven today by manufacturers’ increased focus on mining data for business insight. Generative AI and machine learning have set a new precedent – and really broadened the possibilities – for manufacturers to review their data collection, sharing, and utilization strategies. As McKinsey and Company stated in January 2024, “AI could contribute to the manufacturing sector a whopping annual impact ranging from $1.2 to $3.7 trillion by 2030.” That report also stated, “Less than 10 percent of manufacturers are using their data to its full potential,” which underscores the need for more investment for 2024.

2. Addressing labour gap issues

Investing in new technologies and digital transformation amidst an Industry 4.0 revolution, even before COVID, has led to labour gap challenges. The Manufacturing Institute reports a projected 2.1 million unfulfilled jobs by 2030 resulting from a lack of skilled labour. In the position paper Automation Depends on People to Make the World a Better Place, ISA suggested “We must educate enough people to be well versed in automation technologies, as well as the industry standards and conformance programs that support the automation field.” As part of its commitment to the education and certification of automation professionals, ISA actively supports global efforts to establish training and competency programs. An example is the Automation Competency Model developed by the US Department of Labor. This model defines the key skills, knowledge, and abilities that automation professionals need from entry level to advanced career level and is updated regularly to ensure that emerging technologies are included, recognizing that the automation profession is constantly evolving. Education and certification have become critical pieces of the strategy for those who embrace automation as a tool to repurpose jobs and create new ones to combat the labour gap issues.

3. Smart supply chain

Many industry sectors are still reeling from expensive lessons learned about supply chain management during the COVID-19 pandemic. Continued economic uncertainty and international conflicts make reliance on a smart supply chain our third manufacturing trend in 2024. ISA stated in the position paper Automation Drives the Global Quest for Resilient Supply Chains, “Several key trends are evident as manufacturers have strived to shorten and strengthen their supply chains, starting with a greater focus on uptime considerations in plant designs.” Shortening and strengthening the supply chain gives considerable importance to smart supply chains that use new technology and data analytics to manage the flow of goods and services.  A smart supply chain could aid with uptime and assist in operating expenses.  ISA’s position paper also stated, “A traditional plant uptime is 95 percent, even a one percent increase in uptime can be a major boost to the bottom line,” further supporting this claim. Resilient supply chain management that is efficient, sustainable, and safe will depend upon automation technologies and people working together to bring the most creative and innovative solutions to bear.

Flexera’s number two tech spend for companies behind digital transformation was cybersecurity. Smart supply chain is a great way to keep the supply chain secure. By utilizing AI systems in conjunction with implementation of sound industry standards, such as the ISA/IEC 62443 series, more and more manufacturing companies are finding better practices to keep cybersecurity measures in place while increasing productivity.

4. Sustainability initiatives

Prioritizing sustainability and carbon neutrality are great for the environment, but studies show it is also great for the bottom line. PDI Technologies reports “68% of Americans (two-thirds) are willing to pay more for products that are better for the environment.” There are numerous incentives, therefore, to heighten this trend in 2024.

ISA stated in the position paper Achieving Sustainability Goals with Automation, “Cost reduction, increased safety, and greater workforce development opportunities are the immediately apparent benefits, but leaders must also recognize the opportunity to demonstrate their ESG leadership in a climate where environmental responsibility is fundamental to business success and growth.”

The position paper gave examples on the different ways automation can be used to recycle materials, promote sustainable materials for Industry 5.0 initiatives, to train and upskill employees, and to obtain unbiased data analytics for compliance of sustainability initiatives. This information showcases how automation can link this goal with others and how they can productively work together for a larger impact.

5.  Industrial connectivity

IOT Analytics reports “by 2026, more than 50 percent of all products sold by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will be IoT connected” and “the number one benefit of connected IoT projects is generating deep insights into customer usage of their products and services (67 percent).” Industrial manufacturers use IoT location data to track assets in their smart supply chains for security and productivity reasons. Then, they monitor energy flows and vibration frequencies of their machines, alerting users to potential failures or uploading software fixes directly to those machines. Such data collection and analysis help manufacturers identify error-prone components to increase productivity and quality. 5G will play a crucial role in implementation as industrial connectivity takes off in the next few years.

Jim Beretta is president of Customer Attraction, an industrial marketing consultancy. He works with companies in robotics, automation, manufacturing, packaging and capital equipment on branding, marketing and search engine strategies. He graduated from Western University and is based in London, Ont.  Jim can be reached at and you can hear him too, on The Robot Industry Podcast at

1. AaaS: It’s about time

We already have witnessed companies that have tested out the efficacy of Robots-as-a-Service and some that have stepped away from this model. I believe over the next few years we will see more manufacturers and integrators consider a new way to finance automation systems and maybe even entire factories. Possibly “Automation as a Service”? Imagine a complete machine or even a factory financed and supported by others. It’s a complicated discussion with lots of up front risks, varied financial models and plug-in tech such as Blockchain and remote diagnostics. Manufacturers will continue to seek out innovative partners and models to avoid using scarce CAPEX dollars.

2. Simulation and all the twins

Reducing risk and time to market is all part of the new breed of manufacturing software which actually is not that new — it just works so much better.  Digital Twin and Robot Offline Programming (OLP)  is software that is becoming easy to use even though it is very sophisticated. With thousands of data points and variables, reliability and cost are now barriers of the past. Now layouts, machines, and systems can be  proven well ahead of ordering and implementation. Go ahead, check out NVIDIA and Generative AI enabled robotics.

3. Vision: It’s getting artificial

Artificial Intelligence is ubiquitous or will be soon, and we’ve all known that AI, ML and machine vision would be a great mix, and in fact a game changer. I predict that we will see more vision and more cameras used in automation systems especially as the technology gets better and we can depend less on variables such as lighting.

4. More robots, more cobots

There is an estimate out of Stanford that there are over 3.4 million robots in use in the world. That staggering number is the highest number on record, since global organizations such as the International Federation of Robotics started trying to keep count. I am predicting like the ROW that Canadians will buy more robots and more cobots to retain employees, replace retirees, reduce the labour challenges that we are facing and become more efficient with scarce resources, including those who fail to show up for work.

5. Industry innovation rockstars

Who are the rockstars of innovation when it comes to technology or the use of technology? This Is not a commercial endorsement, but recently on a webinar I asked the four independent webinar experts to mention the top companies that they were excited about. Here are the brands: Apera AI 4D vision, Olis Robotics, Formic, Agility Robotics, Dexterity, Keyence, Flexibowl, Tulip, Universal Robots and Flexbotics. These are in no particular order, except that a Canadian company; Vancouver-based Apera AI with their 4D vision for robotic automation received a hat-trick of votes.

6. The new trend: Sustainability is sustainable

Automation and robots are great at the dirty, dangerous, monotonous tasks, but what else are robots good at? Reducing waste and increasing quality. They are sustainable and part of the new sustainability conversation. Suppliers to manufacturers and robot integrators have recognized that sustainability is not just a fad or trend with companies starting to use IoT and Industry 4.0 technologies to manage data, reduce waste, install motors and controllers to drastically reduce “fat technologies”. I am also seeing people invest in proving that their business, their machine or their entire facility is sustainable with trusted third-party reports and endorsements. And considering who your new workforce is, this should be a priority for all manufacturers.

7. Robots and robotics is everywhere

In the good old days we really just talked about picking and placing. That was then and this is now. There are almost no industries that automation and robots have not or will not touch. Think construction and housing, medical and surgical, food preparation, material handling, fruit picking, farming and weeding. Personal services too are in the robot and automation bullseye. Need your nails done? Haircut? There’s a robot for that. Even going to the dentist – yup, it is coming. It is dizzying to witness all the innovation. We will see more robots in our lives and they will be safe, easy to use and have around and will deliver data at speed.

8. Robots exploding into new sectors

Because labour has checked out, every other industry seems to have discovered or lost its fear of robots and automation. Construction, farming, consumer and food automation to name a few will be the new leaders in driving out cost, increasing quality and uptime by deploying robots and cobots.

9. Need a job? Manufacturing is attractive, again.

A note to teachers, principals, educators and if there are still guidance counsellors out there: The manufacturing, robot and automation industry offers thrilling career options. It is a job where you are well paid, well-traveled, and you become super-educated. You will never stop earning and learning and you get to know about all the next-generation products and projects. Parents, check out your local Robotics First organization, buy your school or your community organization a LEGO Mindstorm robot kit, tour an automation company and potentially spark a hidden desire or talent. After all not everyone can or should work for Google and guess who just laid off a bunch of people. Yup, Google.

Jeff Burnstein

Jeff Burnstein, A3

Jeff Burnstein is president of A3, the parent group of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), AIA – Advancing Vision + Imaging, and the Motion Control and Motors Association (MCMA). Burnstein joined RIA in 1983 and has held a variety of senior positions, culminating in his promotion to president in 2007.

1. Robot sales on the rise in Canada thanks to automotive, but other industries decline

While North American robot sales saw a 30 percent decline in 2023 over a record 2022, Canadian companies don’t seem to be to blame. A3’s 2023 report showed a 12 percent increase in robot sales over 2022, a jump from the slight – and likely inconsequential – four percent dip in 2022 over 2021. The biggest increase in 2023 came from automotive OEMs (up 213 percent!), followed by a 17 percent increase in orders from automotive suppliers. The increase in sales to automotive companies isn’t surprising given the recent investments in Canada from automotive companies such as Volkswagen, which is building a $7-billion electric vehicle battery manufacturing plant in Ontario. Purchases by non-automotive companies, however, declined almost across the board last year. While we’re still hearing plenty of noise about robots from companies who’ve already benefited or are still doing their research, sales were down 49 percent in the food and consumer goods industry, 56 percent in plastics and rubber, 37 percent in metals, 23 percent in semiconductors and electronics. Only the life sciences industry saw an increase, up 16 percent over 2022.

2. Labour shortage: A constant automation driver

In The manufacturing industry continues to struggle to find workers. According to the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters’ (CME) annual report in January, manufacturing employment fell 6200 in January, the third decline in four months and “indicative of the continuing loss of momentum and weakness in the sector.” It doesn’t help that manufacturing wages declined sharply as well, from 5.3 percent year-over-year in December to four percent in January. Struggling to fill jobs with human workers is a key reason manufacturers automate. Otherwise, they risk productivity declines and an inability to compete with competitors that do automate.

3. Nearshoring coming to Canada?

While Canadian manufacturers aren’t reshoring at the pace of U.S. companies quite yet, trends that are driving reshoring in the U.S. are also encouraging nearshoring of manufacturing to Canada and Mexico (NAIOP Research Foundation), according to the NAIOP Research Foundation. This investment is generating demand for logistics and complementary manufacturing facilities like the Volkswagen facility in Ontario. These new facilities will require more automation to accomplish many of the dull, dirty and dangerous tasks that are so difficult to fill. We expect to see robot and automation sales increase as more of these facilities open.

 4. AI is advancing, bringing new robot and vision applications

Large manufacturers have long been on board the AI/smart automation train but continued advancements in AI are bringing solutions for nearly every pressing manufacturing issue. Robots communicating with one another to work more efficiently on the fly, AMRs buzzing around factory floors alongside human workers, and vision systems flagging a single irregular item among a huge batch of manufactured goods are now available and humanoid robots from companies such as Boston Dynamics and Agility Robotics aren’t too far away. But how valuable these humanoid robots will really be is still in question, but that’s a discussion for another article.

5. The discussion on robotics becomes increasingly positive

The business world appears to be looking at automation and robotics in a more positive light, as stories continue to emerge about how companies big and small are succeeding in a competitive market because they have used robots to automate certain tasks. Robots are being seen as a key strategy for overcoming labor shortages and increase productivity, and less on fears that robots might take jobs.  Many businesses even notice improved morale and health among human workers who have moved to more value-added tasks. This positive outlook is even more clear as we see higher registrations than ever before for our upcoming Automate 2024 show in Chicago in May.

Print this page


Story continue below