Can Technology Revive American Manufacturing?

Can Technology Revive American Manufacturing?

June 23, 2016 | U.S. Manufacturing

After years of notoriously sluggish performance, it would seem America's manufacturing industry is beginning to make a comeback. Many experts cite technological advancement and innovation in analyzing the surprising shift in manufacturing's fortunes.

The truth is, America's greatness has always been most readily found in the ingenuity, intelligence and pioneering spirit of its inhabitants. This country may not be able to compete dollar for dollar when it comes to bottom-of-the-barrel overseas wage practices, but our country of entrepreneurs has not yet met its match when it comes to industry-shaping innovation. But can advancements in technology help to revive America's manufacturing industry without killing manufacturing jobs?

Automation is a Cost-Saver

In recent years, automation has begun to show its face en force in domestic manufacturing facilities. From self-serve automation to smart robots, after recouping investment costs, the introduction of automation is showing itself to be a win-win in terms of bringing product costs down to a level where worker wages cannot follow.

In other words, if you can't beat 'em one way, beat 'em in another way!

Why the Manufacturing Industry is Still Worth Investing In

In recent years, a variety of introduced myths have continued to gather steam, mostly due to efforts by various politicians to garner fear-factor votes. However, even amidst the public relations hubbub that manufacturing as an industry has ground to a standstill, manufacturing itself has quietly continued to gather strength.

As of this past quarter, the manufacturing industry fought back with a bit of PR of its own, posting record gains to the tun of a 47 percent increase in product output - the highest the industry has yet achieved.

Where there may be some honest confusion is in comparing the overall viability of the manufacturing industry and the number of American jobs it is generating. In this area, the numbers do legitimately continue to decline. While the number of smart robots increase, the number of human workers decreases.

But this is no cause to doubt the strength of American manufacturing itself. Nor is there any legitimate way to achieve economies of sale without the introduction of new technologies to lower overall materials, manufacturing and labor costs.

Why Robotics Won't Increase Layoffs

One of the main reasons why layoffs continue in the manufacturing industry is the outsourcing of jobs to countries where wages are lower. As such, a move away from international outsourcing and towards robotics and automation will not impact layoffs any more severely than they have already been impacted.

Rather, the use of robotics will keep the full complement of the manufacturing process stateside while lowering product prices to rates competitive with international providers. This keeps more American dollars in this country to fuel the economy, boost the manufacturing industry's profits and fuel a strengthened economy with room to grow on.

In time, it can also put America back on the map as a competitor in being able to profitably export manufacturing products to other countries as well.

Where the Jobs are Headed

In fact, not only is the American economy alive and well (and robustly innovative, to hear the manufacturing industry tell it), but in the grander scheme of employment, the numbers support the theory that American jobs are being shifted internally from one industry to another rather than eradicated.

For example, while the number of jobs available in manufacturing-related fields is projected to continue to fall overall, the number of available jobs in professional services and healthcare fields is expected to grow exponentially. This shift points to an overall change in the needs of Americans and reflects that sweeping changes taking place in our country's healthcare system and in the population itself (in terms of aging and longevity in particular).

The Bright Light at the Tunnel's End

The challenge facing the manufacturing industry today is one of excellence. It is clear that, in innovating to develop and adopt new technologies, including automation and robotics, the industry is staying true to its founders' legacy.

By tackling new opportunities, embracing emerging technologies and becoming part of the next wave of profitable change, manufacturing is setting a positive example for similarly affected industries.