ROCKWELL REPORT: Automation, technology seen as manufacturing assets

The overall need for a more pervasive use of automation and technology was not just the subject of show floor discussions, but also the topic for a research study released at Automation Fair by Rockwell Automation, the Fair’s sponsor, and the Opinion Research Corporation.


There were new automation systems and new technologies everywhere in Orlando this month at the 2010 Automation Fair. The overall need for a more pervasive use of automation and technology was not just the subject of show floor discussions, but also the topic for a research study released at Automation Fair by Rockwell Automation, the Fair’s sponsor, and the Opinion Research Corporation, which conducted a study of more than 1,000 adults about their attitudes toward manufacturing, automation, technology and public policy.

The study found a strong support among the American people for increasing incentives to build more automated factories, both as an economic driver and as a way to create jobs. “Despite the economic downturn, support remains strong (and unchanged from the 2008 survey) for federal, state or local programs that would pay an incentive to U.S. companies that invest in technology and automation to stay competitive and keep manufacturing operations in this country,” the survey reported, and noted that 79% of respondents said the government should provide such incentives. 

At the same time, the survey noted less than half of the people surveyed believe the U.S. has lost its competitive advantage in manufacturing. Yet regaining that competitive edge will take an emphasis on more than just technology.

“Improving environmental sustainability, competitive position, and product quality are the top

reasons Americans believe US manufacturers need to invest in automating and modernizing their factories,” the survey noted. “When determining their support for a federal stimulus package that improves U.S. manufacturing operations, Americans noted product safety, quality and availability as their most important considerations.”

There is a high level of support for energy-driven efforts in manufacturing. “More than nine in 10 think this action should be taken to use energy, raw materials or natural resources more efficiently (93%) and 89% think this type of investment must happen to remain competitive and grow,” the survey found. “Eight in 10 agree that U.S. companies should invest in factory technology and automation to minimize waste and other environmental impacts (86%), provide safer, high quality products or to respond more quickly to customer demands (both 85%). A similar percentage agrees we should invest in factory technology to provide a safer workplace (83%).”


Competitive advantages

The issue of America’s competitiveness in the global manufacturing landscape was the one area where there was not a consensus of opinion. Only 42% of respondents thought U.S manufacturing was less competitive in 2010, though that was down from 47% in 2008, the last time the survey was conducted. But just 18% think U.S. manufacturing is ahead of the rest of the world, down from 20% in 2008.

The split remained along demographic lines as well, accord to the survey. “Men are more likely than women to think that our manufacturing sector is ahead of the rest of the world (22% vs. 15%.),” it reported. “Those age 65 and over are a lot more likely to think our manufacturing sector is ahead of the rest of the world (28%) than are respondents age 18-44 (13%).”

Other demographic groups were just as divided on the topic. The survey found:


·         Those in the Midwest are the least likely to think we have gotten more competitive in the last 10 years (26%) compared to the rest of the country (35%).

·         Respondents in households with less than $35,000 in annual income are less likely to think that the U.S. manufacturing sector has gotten less competitive than are those in households with incomes of $100,000 or more (35% vs. 54%).

·         Those with less than a high school education are also less likely to think the sector has gotten less competitive than those with some college or more education (31% vs. 49%).

And while Americans decry the loss of manufacturing jobs to other countries, they believe a strong automation and emphasis for manufacturing will help attracts jobs from other countries to come to the U.S. Of the respondents, 73% said the investment in automation and technology would lure foreign manufacturers to the U.S., almost on a par with the 2008 data.

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Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

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