Today’s manufacturing environment is evolving rapidly, with advanced manufacturing techniques and strategies altering everything from the initial design of a product to the final touches during production. Organizations determined to remain competitive must explore ways to adapt to those changes or face the prospect of losing business to the competitors who are already utilizing advanced manufacturing technology.
Throughout most of the 20th century, workers clamored for high-paying, stable factory jobs. Employees viewed these jobs as highly-coveted permanent positions because of their perceived stability. However, those days–and those jobs–are mostly gone.
“As these jobs have increasingly moved offshore in search of lower-wage labor, a new kind of manufacturing job must take their place,” Jack Karsten and Darrell M. West shared, referring to advanced manufacturing strategies revolving around robotics, automation, and 3D printing.
New Technologies Require a New Way of Thinking
Phrases like “thinking outside the box” sound trite when discussing advanced manufacturing and how it’s applied today. In most cases, it’s a good idea to forget about the box altogether, as STEM practices today are completely reshaping the manufacturing landscape by abandoning many older technologies for some startling advances.
Stereotypical ideas of what manufacturing facilities look like are quickly going by the wayside as additive manufacturing capabilities supplant outdated strategies.
The Faces of Factory Workers Are Changing
Traditional manufacturing required little in the way of advanced education. Workers completed on-the-job training; continuing role education was necessary only as changes in line machinery occurred.
The Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University (CBER) uncovered that while “traditional blue-collar jobs in industry are on the decline in Indiana and nationwide, the numbers of white-collar and STEM-related occupations are rising.”
Although the perception of manufacturing jobs hasn’t changed dramatically over the years, the reality of the day-to-day role has.
Sanitized facilities, where workers rarely find themselves getting dirty, are replacing grimy factories. An increasing number of college graduates, including architects and engineers, now make up the workforces of modern manufacturing facilities.
The revolution in manufacturing is far from over. Techniques like 3D printing and additive manufacturing will continue to create upheavals. Advanced composites manufacturing will, likewise, create opportunities for manufacturing engineering jobs to take advantage of the evolving techniques for specific applications.
A Skills Gap Will Hamper Manufacturers
While the demand for manufacturing engineering jobs is expanding, there is currently a shortage of qualified candidates for available positions.
“Computers and robotics are prominent in America’s factories today,” Resource MFG shared. “Companies are turning to STEM students to take on high-level tech roles to create, operate, and maintain these vital applications.”
Younger workers are likely to become the norm in manufacturing settings as they will, hopefully, attain the education levels needed to understand advanced manufacturing innovations. However, before that happens, their perceptions of manufacturing environments will have to change, and that may hamper some industries exploring and applying new technologies.
Manufacturing and the Nation’s Economic Growth
Traditionally, manufacturing has been a significant component driving economic growth. That hasn’t changed, but how the nation’s organizations go about the growing has. Robotics have been a part of the equation for years, but the growth of their use and their complexity continues to alter production. Automation, too, is evolving as the power of computers makes it possible for machines to operate independently.
Arguably the most exciting development in manufacturing is 3D printing. Additive manufacturing is positioned to alter dramatically the way companies produce products in the future, but having talented, STEM-trained personnel will certainly play a role in how successful the move to 3D printing will be.
For example, 3D printing could significantly reduce production costs and make it possible to create incredibly complex products without having to outsource the manufacturing to other countries.
There is no doubt the face of manufacturing is rapidly evolving. The question will be, are organizations going to be able to take advantage of new technologies?
While encouraging more students to consider STEM careers is a significant step in the right direction, changing their perceptions of the field of manufacturing itself will also be important if manufacturing companies are going to succeed in tomorrow’s business world.