Since the turn of the millennium, the face of manufacturing has changed. In the buildup to the Financial Crisis in 2008 and for a period afterward, technology played an important role in many businesses’ decision to outsource jobs overseas. Now, technology is helping to reshape manufacturing once again, both today and in the future.
Many of the changes have come within the last few years, trends that are starting to force the manufacturing industry to reevaluate its role the economy. Here are some of the major changes that are currently ongoing or will happen in the near future.
Outsourcing is Down
As the technology of emerging industrial nations like China and India improved, many companies chose to base parts or all of their manufacturing process overseas. This was devastating to many people in the United States and more than two million jobs were lost. This trend is slowly beginning to change, however, as companies begin to see the hidden costs that are associated with outsourcing.
The technology may still be there, but the saving aren’t necessarily with it. Production setbacks have become more common from miscommunication and the inability to solve problems quickly due to the vast distances between the countries. If the right person is not already in place, it could take nearly a day to get them to the problem and fix it.
Many times, the products that are produced overseas do not meet company or even governmental standards. Overseas manufacturers lure companies by providing cheaper alternatives than domestic production, and this translates to underpaid workers and sometimes shoddy production lines. Companies are now seeing that the savings they may earn do not compare to the headaches and problems with moving overseas.
Automation is Up
While some forms of automation in manufacturing have been around for decades — think: the mechanical arms that help build cars — the areas where automation is implemented increasing. This is due in large part to the cost, which has significantly dropped and has allowed manufacturers to invest in automated technologies.
Automation is a double-edged sword: it can drastically increase productivity, which in turn creates more revenue for expansion, but it means less jobs for humans as automated machines can do jobs more correctly and more efficiently. Sure, automation will create technical jobs for those who need to maintain the software and hardware of robots and design the next generation, but the actually blue-collar manufacturing jobs may be shrinking for good.
The automation process has even reached small businesses who used to be unable to afford it. Through companies like Macrofab, small business can have large orders of electrics automatically manufactured to their specification from their own computer, lower the high-costs that were once associated with bulk orders.
A New Employee/Employer Relationship
Because of the Financial Crisis and the unsure future of manufacturing jobs, employees now want a new relationship with the companies they work for.
After seeing jobs lost overseas or outright disappear in 2008, many manufacturing workers want assurances that their future is secure. They want continuing education and more information, This will help them prepare for the uncertain future and may allow them to advance far enough where their positions are secure from layoffs and automation.
Many employees also ask for more meaningful jobs and a clearer role in the development of the companies they work for. They don’t just want a job, but they want to feel like they are a part of the company, with new training opportunities and the possibilities to make a difference from within. If they are a bigger part of the company, then their jobs may be a little more safe.
The Future of Manufacturing
Technology never quits expanding, and there are some big advancements in manufacturing technology in the near future.
3D printing technology is on the rise, getting more efficient and more cost effective every day. This would allow companies to directly print their products from one machine rather than having to assemble products from a variety of sources — imagine a fully-functional microchip being printed from a machine.
Artificial intelligence is becoming closer to reality every year, and this will also play a role in manufacturing. Smart programs that can anticipate needs will help streamline production lines, control inventory and help organize multi-site manufacturing so it is more efficient and accurate.
The face of manufacturing has no doubt changed over the past decade, and it seems as if the changes will continue into the future.
About the author
Harriet Forster is a retired factory worker who now enjoys taking some time each month to write articles. Reflecting on her own life, she writes about the changes in business and day-to-day life plus other lifestyle related articles.