A recent survey shows manufacturers of all sizes are turning to automation to help boost them out of what Cliff Waldman calls a productivity malaise. “Eighty-three percent of the 402 respondents automated some aspect of their product-producing operations from 2010 to 2015, and more than three-quarters plan to do so in the next three years,” Waldman wrote recently for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Waldman is director of economic studies for MAPI, the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation. He’s a good friend of the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance and has spoken locally on the importance of technology integration.
In the Chamber piece, he says, “In the wake of the Great Recession, U.S. manufacturing growth has been slow. Indeed, factory output has yet to reach pre-recession levels. An underlying challenge has been persistently weakening productivity growth both in the U.S. economy as a whole and in U.S. manufacturing specifically.”
America’s productivity malaise could not have come at a worse time. More than ever, U.S. manufacturing needs competitive strength given the rapid globalization of manufacturing and sluggish economic growth worldwide. Globalization pressures costs and sluggish growth pressures revenues. Productivity strength is essential in meeting the demands of both.
Interestingly, this time of productivity challenge has also been a period of rapid process innovation, driven in part by an increasing supply of disruptive technologies. Such a wide range of new capabilities, from additive manufacturing to robotics to the internet of things, could fundamentally reshape both the physical reality and the economics of production.
Motivated by this unique moment of weak productivity, global economic stress, and disruptive technological innovation, I undertook a national survey of U.S. manufacturers that was designed to gather data on their automation investment behavior. My research project aimed to enhance understanding of the nature of today’s manufacturing productivity slowdown as well as the parameters of automation investment in manufacturing.
The survey shows a high rate of both actual and planned automation investment. Eighty-three percent of the 402 respondents automated some aspect of their product-producing operations from 2010 to 2015, and more than three-quarters plan to do so in the next three years.
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