Today’s smart factories bear little resemblance to the ones that initially spurred our nation’s economic growth and prosperity. The modern manufacturing plant combines production, information, and communication technologies.
There are many advantages to modern manufacturing technology, but to make the most of these gains, manufacturers need to excel in another crucial area: talent.
The Intersection of Manufacturing Talent and Technology
While some manufacturing jobs are disappearing or becoming automated, others are exploding. Advanced manufacturing, which is highly specialized and requires proficiency with computers, is rapidly expanding.
According to last year’s report from the White House’s National Science and Technology Council, manufacturers will need to fill 3.5 million skilled manufacturing jobs, such as engineers and scientists, in the next decade. Currently, there are 325,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs in the United States. However, the unemployment rate for the manufacturing sector is lower than the rate for the entire U.S. economy, at 4.2 percent.
America continues to make high-value products, such as medical devices, that would be difficult to manufacture overseas due to highly-regulated industries and constant updates. And yet, many Americans do not realize these positions for skilled and educated workers exist nor that U.S. manufacturing output has grown substantially in the last 30 years.
As a result of the advances in technology, manufacturing workers have become more productive. The value of the goods an average factory worker now produces is more than three times what it would have been in 1978. In addition, the average worker today makes $21 an hour, nearly three times the national minimum wage, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Manufacturing remains the largest and most dynamic sector of the U.S. economy, with gross output totaling $5.8 trillion in 2016. This is nearly double that of any other sectors, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In addition, manufacturing impacts the vitality of many other industries and professions. Products have to be transported. Marketing and sales teams help goods land in the hands of buyers. Research and development in America primarily happen within the manufacturing industry.
Manufacturing Automation is Changing American Factories
This changing landscape on the factory floor has helped manufacturers reduce costs and increase productivity. It has been a boon to small manufacturers as they narrow the gap on the economies of scale that their larger counterparts enjoy.
Advanced technologies enable management and measurement of all aspects of the manufacturing process while controlling labor costs. They reduce dependency on manual labor, increase the quality of end products, and make the factory floor run more efficiently.
Machines execute complex fabrications with minimal movement and energy. Longer production runs can be scheduled under the watchful eye of performance sensors that generate alerts when maintenance or production problems occur.
Factory automation allows employers to keep their workers safe. When robotics handle dangerous, toxic or unpleasant tasks under the supervision of skilled workers, accident rates fall and workers lower their health risks.
Examples of modern manufacturing technology include:
- Integrated software applications to address product lifecycle management, enterprise resource planning and manufacturing execution.
- Robotics, which perform routine, repetitive tasks with far greater speed and accuracy than human beings.
- The Internet of Things (IoT), which links intelligent devices to master controls (servers). This makes it possible to track activity (and take corrective action, as needed) across the whole manufacturing workflow.
- Automated measurement systems to assess performance proactively and report conditions that demand attention.
- Maintenance management software to record and track the factory’s maintenance needs (preventive, remedial, urgent) and manage them through a comprehensive work order scheduling and notification system.
- Data-driven analytics that pinpoints areas for improvement and ways to manage production runs to minimize downtime for retooling and resetting equipment.
- 3D printing, which can handle rapid prototyping and allows for “just in time” manufacturing, rather than placing bulk orders and wasting money on storage of products.
What’s Next for Manufacturing in America
The most sophisticated technology provides little benefit without the skilled workers who design the systems and processes, leverage the integrated tools, and keep everything in working order. The manual laborers of yesteryear have morphed into designers, engineers, technicians, and analysts whose expertise in manufacturing must be accompanied by competency in the tools and technologies that support it.
Education plays a critical role in the future of American manufacturing. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs throughout the country provide early exposure and training to our future workers and leaders. Many academic programs also partner with local manufacturers to provide internships that enhance the classroom learning experience while stimulating interest in this resurgent industry. These programs open doors to students who may have been unaware of the opportunities that await them in this field as technology creates new jobs for those who know how to use it.
Meet the Author
Chief Executive Officer
John Lauseng, CPA
Aldrich Group of Companies
John Lauseng is the Chief Executive Officer of Aldrich, a role he assumed on July 1, 2020. An Oregon native, John joined Aldrich in 2009 as an auditor in the accounting firm. He brought extensive experience with financial statement assurance, business consulting and financial due diligence to the Aldrich manufacturing niche and helped companies strengthen... Read more John Lauseng, CPA
- Certified Public Accountant
- Assurance and audit
- Professional services
- Closely-held businesses
- Manufacturing and distribution
- Food processing