A bright future for America’s manufacturers

Advanced technologies are yielding enormous efficiencies that are reshaping the industry

Growth and Future Manufacturing reportA few thoughts on new technologies in the manufacturing industry, by Jeff French, National Managing Partner, Consumer and Industrial Products

The U.S. manufacturing industry is positioned for renewed growth and innovation. An industry-friendly political environment points to less regulation and lower taxes — and at manufacturing’s core, a digital and technological revolution is transforming business operations.

The internet of things creates a world of smart manufacturing that joins machines and humans to capture, exchange and analyze information for improved productivity. Robotics helps companies make products more quickly, efficiently and safely. Three-dimensional printing offers companies the flexibility of making complex products with reduced or no assembly, as well as making small-lot manufacturing more economical.

Together, these advances are revamping not only the factory floor but all of the company’s activities. The integration of information and machinery enables manufacturers to create new business models. The line between products and services fades, allowing more hybrid offerings. Manufacturers supply customized products faster and more efficiently. As mass customization replaces mass production, the need for marketing intermediaries declines or even disappears.

At the same time, however, the new technologies create new challenges:

  1. Entrants from technology sectors are attacking the entrenched position of long-time industry players.
  2. The largest manufacturers threaten to combine technological supremacy with financial wherewithal to achieve even greater industry dominance.
  3. The same functionality of advanced technologies that makes manufacturing more efficient also heightens the risks of cybersecurity and espionage.

Meanwhile, many producers still struggle with long-running problems of less-than-optimal cost controls and risks that challenge supply chains. And competition from emerging economies continues to get stronger, as challengers move up the value curve in an attempt to carve out share in more profitable markets.

The industry’s most significant roadblock, however, may well be domestic: Can the U.S. develop a workforce that will have the skills for next-generation manufacturing? Unlike much legacy manufacturing, new production processes will make science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, knowledge part and parcel of a worker’s skill set. The effort to train a new generation of manufacturing staff will be greatly enhanced if government officials, schools and manufacturers collaborate to provide the necessary training.

The combined effect of technological change — including the potential of artificial intelligence — and a more favorable political environment are stoking optimism throughout the manufacturing sector. The industry can look ahead to a new generation of leadership with the élan and ambition to move manufacturing forward. For a deeper look at the future these leaders will face, register to receive a copy of the Future of Growth in Manufacturing.

To discuss this topic further, please contact Jeff French.