Category Archives: automation/robotics

What Will America Make

What will America make in its new factories? Will we make TV’s like my father did? Will we make DVD players and recorders? Will we make automobiles? Well we may make automobiles somewhere in America but we won’t be making them in my home town. Will we be making steel, dry wall, paper, clothing, pharmaceuticals? All of these are businesses that left my state long ago and many have now left the United States. Have they left for good? Will they be coming back? Maybe they will be coming back to somewhere in the U.S., although experts say no, but I know they won’t be coming back to New York State any time soon.
Does that mean that we won’t have people working in manufacturing anymore? I asked the internet what kinds of things we would be manufacturing in America. I did not get many specifics. I got examples. Apparently we will manufacture things that have to be made to precisely engineered tolerances, such as the fuel injector discussed in the Atlantic article (link below). We will make things that need to be made nearby, things it does not make sense to build elsewhere and then transport to where they are needed. We will make things that can be turned out by machines as opposed to long lines of human workers. These machines will require a trained worker who can keep the complex machine operating properly and perhaps one or two unskilled workers, but we will not have the opportunities for large numbers of high school graduates to earn high salaries as we once had.
An article I found gave these points:
·         Automation has taken the place of unskilled factory jobs
·         The jobs available require more education and technical skills
·         The factories require far fewer workers
·         The jobs that unskilled workers used to have are the jobs that left.
·         Jobs that require up-to-date technology, strong quality assurance, and highly skilled workers stay in America
·         America will have the advantage in manufacturing precision products and products made in small batches.
An article from management fortune found on (link below)says:
Employers want to hire local, but to have the talent, they have to create the interest. While the headlines would suggest otherwise, manufacturing is a vital part of the U.S. economy, offering jobseekers the widest range of occupations, mobility, and earning potential.  U.S. manufacturers made a $1.8 trillion difference in the GDP last year, representing roughly 12% of total economic output. They paid higher wages than employers in other U.S. sectors, employed 11.5 million Americans, and supported almost 7 million jobs in other industries. The U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calculates that for every dollar of value created in manufacturing, $1.40 is created in other sectors.

Manufacturers account for nearly two-thirds of U.S. R&D expenditures and employ more engineers and scientists than any other private sector industry. The sector’s output makes up over half of U.S. exports and drives more net wealth creation than any other part of the nation’s economy

The article goes on to talk about manufacturing jobs that cannot be done elsewhere:

That’s why slippage in this sector is treacherous. Lacking talent and stuck in a sluggish economy, American manufacturing firms have focused on survival, satisfying shareholders, and the expedient answer to talent shortages: outsourcing or offshoring. While many firms remain at the forefront of technology, that lead is narrowing. The U.S. labor market lost 687,000 high-tech manufacturing jobs to overseas production — that’s a 28% decrease in the base of American talent capable of producing high-tech goods since 2000

Communicate the severity of the problem

We all have a stake. The dearth of skilled workers threatens national infrastructure and industrial competitiveness. The nation is severely short on operations and maintenance workers who create, run, and troubleshoot everything from storm sewers to nuclear reactors. Ditto for the utilities, transmission, and pipeline workers. 

Many of these shortages are in so-called “middle-skill” jobs: nuclear electricians, hydraulic engineers, and people who make and run what we use everyday — from life-saving tubing hook ups in hospital rooms to the bridges we cross. These are not jobs that can be off-shored. And despite the spending on highways and smart grids, building more infrastructure is questionable if the U.S. cannot even maintain and repair what it already has.

A close partnership between education and business is recommended:

Make friends with the education system

Manufacturers ought to find or help nurture vocationally oriented schools in their communities. Consider Tracy Learning Center in Tracy, Calif., which has 1,200 K-12 students wedged in a dilapidated one-story school, short on resources but long on creativity. Three-time California School Superintendent Keith Larick designed the team-based, inter-disciplinary school to turn out workforce-ready graduates.

The school’s dropout rate is zero. Most students graduate with community college and university credits, some with a full year under their belt. Graduates seek careers in trade fields, or more education, significantly in the STEM fields. The school requires 200 hours of internship experience and students work with mature mentors in their chosen “fields”  — in science labs, on factory floors, in design and engineering firms, with patent lawyers, in medical technology centers. Larick has heard from hundreds of other superintendents who want to try the model in their districts.

Mentorship and collaboration

Manufacturers can develop connections with future employees and sharpen their current workers’ tech and communications skills. They can ask county school superintendents and local school boards to award high school community service credit to students who train mature workers in technology. Students can teach their older counterparts how to create spreadsheets and use social media.

Firms can also offer supervised internships for high school graduates to connect with mentors. This could help boost completion rates for certificates and two and four-year degree programs.

A conference at MIT suggests that government can play a role but many important changes will come from within businesses themselves (link below).

A boost from government

“It’s very difficult to think about an innovation economy without manufacturing at the core of it,” said Daron Acemoglu, the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at MIT, whose work examines, among other things, the institutional conditions that encourage innovation. 

In that vein, a prime topic of discussion at the conference was how government can further encourage innovation; Bryson outlined a series of White House proposals to aid manufacturing. Many of these involve the tax code: tax credits that reduce moving expenses when companies bring jobs back to the United States; a permanent tax credit for R&D; and a reduction in the corporate tax rate.

MIT summed up the situation this way, “Thus while manufacturing is not in a state of terminal decline, as some think, it is still in a state of uncertainty.”

Did I get many answers about what we would be manufacturing? No, not really, but when I finished my reading I was not ready to give up on our manufacturing sector. However, I also left with the impression that we may never again have factories in our communities that employ large number of workers who begin work when they leave high school and continue working until they retire. This means that, although we will manufacture things, we probably will not experience that particular brand of reliable middle class security that manufacturing jobs gave us again.
This is where creativity and invention could tip the scale. If we invent a mag-lev transportation system or domes for areas where storms seem to be intensifying, or new media devices, or viable travel in space then the engine of manufacturing could fire up again. So tinker in those garages and cellars, design in those think tanks, and bring us our new prosperity and security. Anyone could come up with the next new thing but I think it needs to be bigger than a cell phone.