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“Sayonara” or “2.0” for Manufacturing in the US?

Posted on March 21st, 2016 by in Chemical Manufacturing Excellence


[Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

There’s nothing quite like a presidential election cycle to dredge up old wounds and throw in some salt – this time, it’s manufacturing jobs.

While all the candidates are somehow promising a return of high paying manufacturing jobs, there is evidence supporting a recent return of manufacturing – but without the jobs. An interesting article entitled, “Manufacturing Jobs Are Never Coming Back” published on FiveThirtyEight by Ben Casselman approaches the topic from the political angle, but does a great job of framing the argument of whether manufacturing jobs are ever returning. Supported with compelling evidence from the Federal Reserve, Mr. Casselman makes a convincing argument that while manufacturing production is on the rise – up more the 20% since the end of the most recent recession, manufacturing jobs have not equally rebounded – growing at only 6%. Although manufacturers have found cost effective ways to return their plants to the US, they are turning to technology and automation to run their plants instead of a human workforce.

As a citizen of this country, I’m troubled by the loss of good paying manufacturing jobs. As an engineers though, I see it more as an opportunity for “Manufacturing 2.0” to borrow a term from the software industry. Innovation in assembly line robotics may be replacing human workers, but the efficiency, repeatability, quality, and economy provided by this technological advancement is bringing back the need for highly skilled and trained workers. The numbers are fewer, but the pay is higher.

The difference between Henry Ford’s revolutionary assembly line and a modern automotive production line couldn’t be more striking. First, check out this historic footage from the folks at CarData Video entitled “Ford Model T – 100 Years Later”:

Then contrast that with a video on “How the Tesla Model S is Made” by the folks over at WIRED:

Regardless of the promises of any presidential candidates, I agree with Mr. Casselman that the volume of manufacturing assembly line jobs are gone forever in the US. Robotics and automation have replaced human beings, but machines are a long way from reasoning and taking care of themselves. Highly skilled workers are still required and these are the careers that will propel the US economy forward. For engineers and inventors, trade regulations like NAFTA are just another variable requiring resolution in the optimization of manufacturing production lines.

Where is your company’s assembly line in the spectrum between Henry Ford and Tesla? Tell us about your quest for unconventional knowledge and what it could mean for the future of your products or companies. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.


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