Can the steady free fall of the U.S.’s manufacturing industry be turned around by new technology like 3D printing?
Manufacturing in the U.S. has been on a steady decline for the past couple of decades. The rate of lost manufacturing jobs between 2000-2010 exceeded that of the Great Depression, credited as the country’s worst economic time in recent history
The drop in jobs can be attributed to a number of things. Other countries overseas can make goods cheaper: China produces 80 percent of the world’s air conditioners, 70 percent of its mobile phones, and 60 percent of its shoes.
Automation has replaced some jobs on the manufacturing floor, and the misconception that manufacturing is a “dirty” industry has driven away the potential for a booming younger workforce.
This misconception is perhaps the most damaging of all. There’s a huge skills gap on the horizon for the industry, and in actuality it’s already experiencing some of the effects now. But current and future technology being made available to a marketplace which is pretty much only known for its hard labor could send a whole new message to those looking for careers.
Changing the Industry Perception
Education is playing a huge part in the move to attract a larger and more skilled workforce to the industry. Although automation is replacing some jobs on the manufacturing floor, more skilled workers are needed to run and program these machines. Jobs haven’t been lost to machines—the type of job has changed.
Students from Putnam County schools in Ohio learned this first hand with a tour of local company BK Tool and Design.
“It seems like students think of manufacturing as this dirty, greasy, slinging a sledgehammer-type job,” said Kevin Kahle, General Manager of BK Tool and Design, “but the reality is that it’s all very technical and requires a high skill set.
“Companies are automating like crazy because, as a society, we realized we had to work smarter, not harder. If young people show focus in the skills needed to operate these machines, there seems to be an unlimited opportunity for jobs.
3D Printing and Mobile Business
Innovations like 3D printing have been slowly changing the landscape of manufacturing. From design, prototyping, testing, and refining the final product, 3D printing is accelerating the pre-production process.
This technology calls for tech-savvy operators—something the millennial generation can certainly offer.
Currently smaller businesses and startups can profit the most from 3D printing because many production constraints can be reduced or eliminated. With the flexibility this tech offers production, and with its appeal to younger workers, 3D printing could be a huge force in attracting new workers to the manufacturing industry.
The size and ease of use of this technology also allows flexibility on where products can be conceptualized and made. This could mean smaller shops spread out over an area conducive to a company’s supply chain, creating solutions for customers and a wider net to attract a potential workforce.
Both of these strategies for manufacturing even out the playing field in an industry where bigger has usually meant better.
Advantages like low labor costs overseas or large established facilities matter less, and the type of technology being utilized in these smaller manufacturing houses means the industry can attract more talent.
Cheryl Beebe says
I like that you point out that jobs haven’t been lost to machines and that instead, the type of job has changed. Skilled human workers will always be needed in manufacturing. And technology has opened the doors for new kinds of positions.
Laura Close says
Thanks, Cheryl! I think that’s why so many people are afraid of automation: they don’t realize the job is just changing, not disappearing forever.