Not Your Father’s Manufacturing - 4 Trends Revolutionizing the Business of Making Things Today - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Not Your Father’s Manufacturing – 4 Trends Revolutionizing the Business of Making Things Today

If you didn’t grow up in a factory town or spend holidays with blue-collar relatives, you might be forgiven for harboring some outdated notions about the business of making things. 

You’d be forgiven for possessing the false assumption that manufacturing was a dirty, smelly process that left workers soot- and grease-stained at day’s end.

You’d be forgiven for imagining that manufacturing was a dangerous, low-class occupation best performed by workers not suited to any other lines of work.

This litany of outdated, harmful stereotypes about manufacturing could (and does) go on. There’s no point in recounting any others because only one thing is true about them: They’re wrong.

Manufacturing Is Nothing Like It Was

Since the late 20th century, the manufacturing industry has undergone a slew of changes affecting everyone involved in the design, production, and distribution of physical goods — from top executives to green-around-the-ears line workers. 

These changes have many causes. Let’s take a closer look at four of the most consequential.

1. Computer Aided Design

Computer aided design (CAD), a visualization technology that’s far superior to even the most faithful hand sketches, is the bedrock of modern manufacturing design. Using tools equipped with computer numeric control (CNC) routers, machinists translate CAD files into physical parts at far tighter tolerances than the steadiest hand can achieve by sight.

2. Synthetic Materials

Synthetics aren’t a recent innovation, to be sure, but the pace of change has definitely picked up since the late 20th century. Though the bulk of synthetic polymers in use today are derived from petroleum, the emerging field of bioplastics holds tremendous promise.

3. Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)

Setting aside the hype around additive manufacturing, the universe of uses for 3D printing technology is surprisingly broad — and growing every year. Already, 3D printing is cost-competitive with traditional “subtractive” manufacturing processes for prototyping and low-volume production runs.

4. People-Centric Workplaces

This is one set of innovations that has little to do with technological leaps. Since the turn of the 21st century, manufacturing HR has undergone a sea change, with forward-thinking executives deploying people-centric protocols that empower associates to reach their full potential — not just collect a paycheck for a few decades until they’re ready to hang up their hard hats. The rise of employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) is particularly exciting for family-owned businesses looking askance at the next generation.

What’s Next for the American Manufacturing Industry?

The American manufacturing industry has undergone unprecedented change over the past few decades. As impressive as those changes may seem, though, it’s likely that they’re just an appetizer for what’s to come.

With ongoing improvements in robotics, artificial intelligence, synthetic materials, and revolutionary processes like additive manufacturing, tomorrow’s manufacturing industry is virtually certain to look very different from today’s. For those involved in this business, that’s an exciting prospect — though, to be fair, one that demands sharp skills and constant vigilance.

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