U.S. Public Perception of Industrial Manufacturing
Driven by the shortage of suitably qualified workers, the trend toward adopting extended reality technology will continue, as manufacturers increasingly look to tap into a global virtual worker base. This will be coupled with a growing trend to use nanotechnology to do both predictive and preventative maintenance on plant and equipment, due to the cost efficiencies and productivity gains.
Global Virtual Workforce
- With manufacturing technology becoming more advanced, many employers have found it increasingly difficult to find employees who have the necessary background in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to staff their production lines.
- US schools report that only 16% of students graduating are interested in pursuing a career in STEM. This impacts the manufacturing industry. Its impact should not be underestimated. There have already been initiatives to combat the problem. The Obama administration launched "Innovate to Educate," in an attempt to alleviate the problem and get students interested in STEM careers again.
- Computer-generated environments are used to combine the real world with audio and visual aids. A trend toward extended reality (XR) is gathering speed, with the merging of virtual and augmented reality and the real world. The icing on the cake will be the global connectivity that comes with it.
- Over the next decade, there will be an increasing trend toward skilled workers being hired on a freelance basis to design, consult, operate, and maintain manufacturing machines and equipment virtually through XR. There will be virtual production lines and shop floors.
- The ability to find a qualified workforce anywhere in the world will negate the US STEM worker shortage, which is why manufacturers will consider it an aspirin for the constant headache this shortage has created.
- XR technology has already resulted in productivity gains, better quality control, and better safety records. The technology is advancing rapidly, and the need to find a solution to the STEM worker shortage is one of the reasons this trend is here to stay.
- Field repairs, assembling aircraft, and vehicle inspections, by XR equipped employees, are just three examples of how XR is already changing the manufacturing landscape.
Examples — Global Virtual Workforce
- Companies are already jumping onboard with this technology. Volkswagen is the first car manufacturer to throw its hat in the ring, with VR technology now training all its employees globally.
- Linde North America, UPS, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and Walmart, although not manufacturing businesses, are all moving toward XR in lieu of lectures and presentations, during training.
Nano-Based Preventative Maintenance
- Quantum physicists have joined forces with digital specialists to develop nanobots. The possibilities are seemingly endless. There are several uses for this technology in the manufacturing industry. One of the key areas is in the maintenance of the machinery.
- The nanotechnology will be combined with AI to maximize the potential of the technology. Data from sensors will be analyzed to predict when the machine is likely to have issues, with the nanotechnology deployed to resolve the problems.
- Using this technology will become imperative for companies to remain competitive. Nanotechnology will allow maintenance to be carried out before there are issues, which will reduce the down-time and long-term improve productivity.
- The developments in nanotechnology are already impacting on manufacturing by nanocoating gear and reconditioning bearings while the machine is fully functioning. The increased efficiency and cost savings to be made with preventative maintenance are too significant to be ignored. This will see the trend gain momentum rapidly.
- When the technology is employed to its full potential, manufacturers will be able to use the characteristics of faults and their frequency to determine the remaining life of the machine. This will enable better budgeting and financial control over capital expenditure.
Examples — Nano-Based Preventative Maintenance
- Rolls Royce has been using 10mm diameter miniature robots for predictive maintenance of its engine's combustion chamber. Although they are bigger than nanotechnology, it illustrates this trend toward adopting this type of technology in manufacturing. Preventative maintenance will allow product flaws to be detected and equipment repaired before it breaks down.
Impact of Increased Trade War on Manufacturing
- The manufacturing industry saw an adverse effect for the fifth straight month in December with the Institute for Supply Management's Purchasing Management Index, reaching its lowest level in ten years. This is in direct response to ongoing tensions internationally.
- Recent research is now suggesting that the tariffs of imported goods have a much more significant effect than previously thought. The industry showed growth through 2017 and 2018, but with the imposition of the first tariffs in the growth started to slow. The increased production costs but have not had the desired impact on either employment or output.
- The effect of tariffs is now starting to have the full impact on manufacturing, so the problem is set to worsen. The response from the US administration has been to blame the strong US dollar, comparative to the currencies of the US' trading partners.
- One US food, beverage, and tobacco executive said, "Chinese tariffs going up are hurting our business. Most of the materials are not made in the US and made only in China." In a letter to clients, Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakely Advisory Group, said, "We have now tariffed our way into a manufacturing recession in the US and globally."
- While Chinese manufacturers are also feeling the pinch of the trade war, the data to date suggests that the US manufacturing industry has been affected more, with the Chinese equivalent showing some resilience.
Statistics showing Impact of Trade War
- In response to the announcement of figures showing the contraction of factory activity in September the Dow Jones fell 1.3% or nearly 350 points.
- The impact of the trade war is not just affecting the US manufacturing industry, growth in the Chinese manufacturing industry fell from 5.8% in September to 4.7% in October, a drop of 1.1%.
- The weakest growth on record was also recorded in respect of investment on new plant and equipment in China, with growth of 5.2% to October 2019, against expected growth of 5.4%. Records began in 1996, and this is the weakest growth rate since then.
- Manufacturing has recorded a 1.4% drop in employment, with the positive effects of the tariffs, estimated at 0.3%, being more than offset by the adverse effects.
We reviewed a range of industry publications, expert opinions, media articles, and press releases to determine the current trends in the manufacturing industry. Several trends were identified. Something was identified as a trend by on the discussion of experts, media coverage, and illustrations that companies were adopting it.