7 Trends Driving the Future of Consumer Electronics Manufacturing

By Protolabs


The pace of change in consumer electronics has always been fast which poses its own challenges for manufacturers. Here we take a look at 7 trends that will shape the future of product development and manufacturing in the industry…



1. Internet of things

Not surprisingly the industry has been embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) for years and this big trend is set to grow in importance.  By interconnecting equipment and appliances manufacturers have collected data to increase device efficiency, improve safety and cut costs.

The development of 5G networks, smaller sensors and cloud computing makes it easier than ever to connect devices quickly and easily.  This allows businesses to make informed decisions based on real time data to drive better decisions both in the short term and for the longer term.



2. VR and AR

Many product designers are turning to virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to help design products, particularly as you can integrate VR with computer aided design.

The technology allows designers to make changes to a product before it is even prototyped allowing them to make modifications to products quickly and save development time and cost.


consumer electronics production

3. Rapid prototyping and production

While VR and AR are helping develop product designs it is still necessary to have physical models to check the concept and test for form, fit and function.  In response to the need to launch more quickly than the opposition, rapid prototyping has evolved to become even faster, with delivery times possible in as short as a day after you upload your CAD.

One key technology that is driving rapid prototyping is 3D printing, which can now produce parts across a wide range of plastics, metals and other materials.  There is no tooling or set up so you can get the part back quickly and cost effectively.  This also allows you to produce products on demand so that you can experiment with more designs before committing any significant investment.

For small volumes 3D printing can also print geometries and shapes that are simply not possible using other manufacturing technology to meet a growing demand by customers for customisation.

While 3D printing is evolving rapidly, don’t overlook other rapid manufacturing technologies. CNC machining can also produce parts in as little as a day after uploading your CAD and rapid injection moulding can turn round multiple parts in as little as 10 to 12 days.

The latter is ideal for medium production runs of a few hundred up to several thousand.  By using aluminium tooling instead of steel, the speed of delivery is far faster and it is more cost effective per part for smaller volumes. We find that many businesses use it for test marketing or to meet a need for mass customisation by producing more options in smaller volumes.


consumer electronics

4. ERP Systems

Enterprise resource planning keeps a company competitive and lean.  It allows you to automate and optimise your processes using real time information to help reduce operational costs and prevent choke points.  While recent advances of IOT across all operations provides real time information, ERP systems allow companies to optimise and automate the use of this data faster.


5. Leveraging the supply chain

Recent events have underlined the importance of securing your supply chain for future operations. 

But beyond this by working more closely with suppliers you can take advantage of their expertise and skills. A big benefit of digitisation is that you have far more visibility of your supply chain than ever before.

At Protolabs for example, you can control the entire prototyping and production of parts from one online platform. You can choose how many parts you need and when you need them delivered, you can even explore how the cost of those parts will vary by changing the material specification and or the delivery date. 

While digitisation brings more visibility, it is also worthwhile tapping into the expertise that your supply chain can offer.  With a shortage of engineers and talent available it’s well worth leveraging the expertise that they have.  At Protolabs, for example, we can help bridge the gap between design, prototyping and final production, it’s something that our application engineers do on a daily basis.


consumer electronic devices

6. Moving from B2B to B2B2C

As we all move towards a more connected future, consumer electronics manufacturers are also examining how they can get closer to their customers.  Accessing better and more consumer data allows you to develop better products even faster. 

It also allows you to cut out retailers.  People are far more used to e-commerce and dealing direct now, especially after the pandemic.  It does means that businesses will have to leverage their existing e-commerce platforms and logistics capabilities.

To illustrate this interconnectivity, imagine a sensor on a mobile phone detecting a fault and relaying this direct to the manufacturer which will then contact the customer directly with a suggested fix. This already happens with software and it’s not that far off for hardware as well.


7. Sustainability

While the past has been dominated by incremental increases in performance the nature of consumer demand is shifting.

In addition to performance, customers are now demanding more sustainable solutions.  Those who step up and deliver such solutions, will benefit while many of those who don’t could be left behind.  For an industry where a lot of product development has been based on obsolescence and replacement this is a major change in thinking.

Solutions will cover material selection but will go beyond this by exploring a product’s life cycle, opting for replacing and upgrading parts rather than supplying an entire new product.  It could change the way that many consumer electronics businesses operate – watch this space.


While many of these changes relate to consumer electronics manufacturing and efficiency gains, as an industry we can’t ignore society’s wider trends such as sustainability that will affect our future.  The good news is that access to more information from your customers, within your own organisation and from your supply chain, will give you the tools to find the right answers.