Colliers International, the global property adviser behind the report, has revealed how consumer demand and advances in technology are driving a fast-approaching industrial revolution led by a society demanding mass-customisation.

As technological innovations like 3D printing, Collaborative Robots and Big-Data drive the era of mass customisation, 82 per cent of manufacturers now consider proximity to the end-customer as vital to their business model. According to the report, Getting Closer to Customers, this is leading to more diverse business locations and increasingly flexible supply chains to enable manufacturers to service their consumers better and faster, and add the required level of flexibility and efficiency to their manufacturing processes. 77 per cent of manufacturers believe flexibility of the supply chain is their main challenge posed by mass customisation.

As these technologies are increasingly adopted, they may also reduce the levels of storage and production space required by businesses, as growing automation and more flexible, less invasive robot machine impact the design and configuration of production and warehousing spaces. Less space is required for the same level of output.

Guy Douetil, Managing Director of EMEA Corporate Solutions, Colliers International said: “Technologies including 3D printing, Collaborative Robots and Big-Data are re-defining manufacturers’ supply chains and real estate criteria by reducing space requirements and providing opportunities to reduce the labour cost per unit.

“Consumer demand for speedy delivery of customised products, coupled with the rising labour costs in markets typically associated with mass production, has the potential to alter the global balance of power in manufacturing, as businesses increasingly bring their production facilities closer to their customers in growing domestic markets. This move towards decentralised production could lead to emerging economies, such as China, losing the status ‘factory of the world’.”

According to Colliers’ research, the effects of these shifts are already visible in the supply chain. A significant 62 per cent of manufacturing companies consider robots important in their production process, with 64 per cent looking to increase automation in the next three years. Of those manufacturers that repatriated in 2013, 83 per cent identified proximity to their consumers as a top three factor affecting their decision to re-shore.

Guy Douetil continued: “The applications of 3D printing now span multiple industries, the technology is already being utilised by companies such as Ideal Automotive and Hopi. As well as offering masses of potential for the spare parts industry, especially in terms of reducing warehousing space requirements, as the cost of 3D printers reduces, there is also potential for small and medium sized business to exploit the benefits of this technology.

“We expect more businesses to assume a ‘best-shoring’ approach to their supply chains, resulting in less demand for manufacturing facilities in foreign markets, the demand for space in local markets will be offset by the space-saving benefits provided by technological advances. It is likely, however, that as more automated manufacturing processes are adopted, fit-out requirements will become more rudimentary as companies make cost savings by reducing heating and lighting facilities in areas where processes are undertaken by robotics.”