According to Forbes, 40% of all technology spending in 2019 went toward digital transformation, and nearly 70% of companies had a digital transformation strategy in place. Driven by changes in the population demographics, Covid-driven shifts in the workforce, and an explosion in big data analytics, manufacturers are embracing new technologies that are forever shifting the way companies think about labor.
The U.S. population is now on the cusp of a wave of baby-boomer retirement that has dramatically impacted the workforce. Boomers, who grew up in a post-war environment that embraced traditional manufacturing jobs, are rapidly leaving manufacturing positions open to a next generation that doesn’t fully embrace them. Manufacturing, unfortunately, has suffered a PR problem among post-boomers, who see jobs in industry as dirty, dangerous, low-paying , and unfulfilling. This has created worker shortages that have been further exacerbated by Covid’s impact on the workforce. While assumptions about the nature of manufacturing work are largely erroneous, negative perceptions continue to have an impact on applications.
The labor gap has been filled in part by the rise of automation. Big data analytics have created technologies that are integrating all aspects of manufacturing through cutting-edge digitization. The Internet of Things (IOT), for example, which is the network of interconnected digital devices that can communicate with each other through sensors and wireless technology, has streamlined operational efficiency, improved supply chain management, allowed for predictive maintenance, reduced overhead, and saved resources.
IOT used in tandem with robotics has had an impact on everything from customer management to production and warehousing. Robotics not only reduce product defects and increase productivity, but they lessen the potential for costly workplace accidents. A trending area of robotic automation is in the field of additive materials, also known as 3D printing. The additive manufacturing process reduces material waste because products are literally built up layer by layer from nothing rather than subtracted from existing materials. 3D has also changed the face of centralized manufacturing. Rather than create a stockpile of product on a manufacturing line that must be warehoused until needed, additive manufacturers can build computerized prototypes at a central location that are then sent to decentralized printers close to the customer and printed on demand thus reducing waste and lessening storage and transport costs.
While this may sound like technology is taking the place of humans, analysts suggest that technology will actually create more jobs than it replaces. Today’s manufacturing laborer requires a new skill set, largely relying on digital tools. Rather than the manual and repetitive tasks of the past, today’s worker needs “soft skills,” such as creativity, people management, critical thinking, and a willingness to learn new technology. And this new world of technology opens up the possibility of working manufacturing jobs remotely, which also allows businesses to tap a much wider labor pool–a win both for workers and their employers.
Ivan Young is a writer from Happy Writers, Co. in partnership with online faxing service, Faxage.