Automation is the future for manufacturing growth

We can discuss the signs that manufacturing is picking up speed and gaining ground in America. There are plenty of numbers to point to. According to the National Council for Advanced Manufacturing on Federal Policies and National Trends in Manufacturing, 80% of large, and 79% of small manufacturers are eyeing a positive business outlook for the second quarter.
By Patrick Gouhin, ISA executive director and CEO November 15, 2007

We can discuss the signs that manufacturing is picking up speed and gaining ground in America. There are plenty of numbers to point to. According to the National Council for Advanced Manufacturing on Federal Policies and National Trends in Manufacturing, 80% of large, and 79% of small manufacturers are eyeing a positive business outlook for the second quarter. Manufacturing productivity rose 1.6% in the second quarter. Congress is set to add billions to FY2008 federal research and development funding.

The U.S. makes more manufactured goods today than at any time in history. We have less than 5% of the world’s population, but almost 25% of its manufacturing. This looks like great news for manufacturing. But there’s an important caveat to these positive trends. Numbers like these won’t continue to rise unless manufacturing embraces automation and uses technology to bring its operations into the future.

When manufacturing struggles, it struggles with efficiency and productivity, and automation increases both. Without automation, manufacturing cannot be efficient, cannot increase productivity and cannot survive.

On the darker side: manufacturing employment has consistently fallen; it’s at its lowest since 1950. According to the Washington Post, “a stark educational divide has emerged on the factory floor, as skills and training separate winners from losers.” North Carolina, ISA’s home, was the subject of the article. Between 2002 and 2005, the state lost 72,000 manufacturing jobs %%MDASSML%% about 75% in textiles, furniture making and electronics. At the same time, we’ve grown in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and sophisticated textiles.

In 2004, North Carolina set up Bionetwork, a training program design to prepare workers for the growing biotechnology sector. Many workers have taken advantage of the training and moved to biotech as lab technicians. Textile firms have incorporated customization, high-end machinery and technical expertise into their production to survive.

One North Carolina factory used to employ 225 people using manual production to make pantyhose. It now employs 156 workers who man computers that control robotic arms and bobbins producing yarn. The company is profitable, and even exports its products to China.

There is evidence that educated modern day workers can make 50% or more above what their less skilled traditional contemporaries made. What’s the moral of this story? The efficiency of automation has translated into increased efficiency, profit, growth and employee wages and benefits.

Automating your plant is imperative for your future. You can’t be competitive, lower costs or raise quality without using technology to make your plants more efficient. If you’re a displaced worker, or a young person looking at career options, automation holds promise for you. You’ll make more money and have more advancement potential than previous manufacturing careers. Twice as many companies are looking to hire automation professionals as those looking to downsize %%MDASSML%% you’ll be in demand. Automation is the wave of the future; many companies are already riding it.

The good news is that the media and the government are starting to pay attention to these trends. The America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education and Science Act was signed into law by President Bush.

Automation will ensure that manufacturers stay competitive, grow their market share and employ a strong workforce %%MDASSML%% if they can find the professionals they need. Many automation professionals fell into their career path. We can grow our profession into a recognized science with a body of knowledge and degree programs. We can create an environment where kids aspire to be automation professionals.

We can ensure that the automation career path is a destination, not an accident. We can excite prospective employees about the opportunities our field has to offer. They’re the people who are going to ensure profitability for companies around the world. We can market the automation profession so that manufacturers who want to succeed in today’s world will find a contingent of well-educated, well-trained professionals ready to lead them into the future.

At ISA, and at the Automation Federation, we’re taking this on as our responsibility to the profession and to the industry. We’re developing a curriculum for a four-year automation degree, in concert with companies, educators and experts. We’re developing our certification and training programs for employees who are already in the workforce and need to increase or prove their skills. We’re talking to Congress about the needs of automation professionals and companies, and we’re pulling people together to fight for the future of this profession.

We’re doing everything we can to make sure that the future of automation is a bright one %%MDASSML%% but we can’t do it without you.

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