Elizabeth Modic Editor | emodic@gie.net

Today manufacturing accounts for about 12 million U.S. jobs, down from the high of 19 million in 1979, which then dropped to around 17 million throughout the ’80s and ’90s. By 2001 another 3 million jobs were lost, followed by 2 million more during the Great Recession. Since then, the return of jobs has been moderate, to the say the least.

Although the job growth is not what many would like to see, U.S. manufacturing is not in bad shape, it’s merely morphed into a new phase – changing from a low-skilled labor, entry-level job – catching up technologically with the world now. At the peak of manufacturing, in 1979, nearly one-third of the workforce didn’t hold a high school diploma while three-quarters had no formal school past 12th grade. Today, technology has completely changed this. Workers must be skilled, educated, and technologically curious. There are no entry-level jobs that past generations saw, which offered the ability to enter a factory floor fresh from high school to learn, grow from within, and advance through company tiers.

All aspects of manufacturing differ from our grandparents’ and parents’ era – from the factory floor to the top-floor office. I’m sure you see this in your companies; if you don’t, I suggest you re-evaluate today if you want to talk about your company tomorrow. Anyone visiting today’s factories instantly knows that gone are the images of back-breaking, dangerous, dirty work. Facilities are spotless, more than half of the employees on factory floors possess some degree of post-secondary education, machines are viewed as masterpieces of technology, and automation abounds. A great example of this is found on page 10, where you can read about how Elos Medtech’s investment in Mobile Industrial Robots’ MiR100 reduced production lead time, and played a role in growing personnel from 116 to 145 in two years.

Continually pursuing advanced manufacturing technology is paramount to remaining competitive. Today, China ranks first as the most competitive manufacturing nation, but according to the 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index from Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd., analysts expect them to slip to second with the U.S. rising to the top before the end of the decade. To achieve this requires the commitment and foresight of today’s convergence of the digital and physical worlds. Executives that responded to this research indicate the best path to manufacturing competitiveness is through advanced technologies – where they rank predictive analytics, the Internet of Things – smart product and smart factories via Industry 4.0 – and advanced materials as critical to future competitiveness.

Technology has been a major reason U.S. manufacturing is as competitive as it today – and why the stage is set for it to garner the top spot. ~ Elizabeth