Public Perceptions of Manufacturing

Public Perceptions of Manufacturing

Experts using scare tactics in order to drive page views and notoriety get daily publicity talking about “robots” taking manufacturing jobs away from people. They never even dig deeply enough even to find the broader “automation” that they really mean.

I’ve written a couple of recent posts about this including a response from Jeff Burnstein of the Association for Advancing Automation.

Digging deeper, here is a new survey by Leading2Lean that measured public perception and understanding of the manufacturing as a whole – from its economic impact to awareness of job opportunities. It found stark differences between older generations (Gen X, Baby Boomers) and Millennials.

Given a greater variety of jobs and careers today compared to when I (boomer) entered the workforce, I’d have to say the results are not dire. But they do reveal a failure of our leaders to get the word out about the importance of manufacturing to our society and the great careers that are available for people with many different levels of education and training.

A recent Manufacturing Index survey by Leading2Lean, a manufacturing software technology company and creator of CloudDISPATCH software, found that generation-affiliation significantly affected how Americans view manufacturing careers, the role of manufacturing in the U.S. economy, and the industry’s growth.

Respondents were asked if they agreed or disagreed that manufacturing jobs are important to the U.S. economy. Older generations, particularly those born between 1946 and 1964 (Baby Boomers), and those born between 1965 and 1980 (Generation X), appeared better informed about the significance of these jobs to the U.S.

Eighty-six percent of Baby Boomers and Gen X respondents agreed that manufacturing jobs are important to the economy, while only 68% of Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1998, agreed.

“We were surprised by how the responses varied by generation,” said Keith Barr, CEO and President of Leading2Lean. “We are seeing some of the highest demand for skilled manufacturing jobs in recent history, yet it seems the industry has failed to keep younger generations informed about the skills gap or availability of great jobs.”

This difference in generational perspective was also reflected in a question about whether respondents agreed that manufacturing offers fulfilling careers. Only 49% of Millennials agreed, while 59% of both Baby Boomers and Generation X agreed. This underscores that Millennials are less convinced that manufacturing offers desirable career paths.

It is estimated that approximately 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled over the next ten years, and 2 million of those jobs will go unfilled, according to recent data from The Manufacturing Institute. Despite this urgent industry need, half of Millennials indicated that they do not believe there is a shortage of skilled workers in the U.S. In comparison, 63% of Gen X and 60% of Baby Boomers indicated that they did understand there is a current shortage of skilled workers.

“We see from this data that we need to do better as an industry to show the younger generation how the industry has changed,” said Barr. “Manufacturing is more dynamic than ever before. Jobs in the industry involve complex problem solving and interesting technology. They’re not mind-numbing jobs that take place at dilapidated factories. And they offer competitive pay, benefits and opportunities for advancement.”

Millennials may not be aware that manufacturing jobs pay on average nearly three times the federal minimum wage for production and nonsupervisory employees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For managerial roles, manufacturing offers pay competitive with tech sector jobs, according to 2018 data from Glassdoor.

Leading2Lean commissioned survey provider ENGINE to conduct the national survey at a 95% confidence level, surveying 1,002 respondents representative of U.S. demographics.

Autonomous Vehicle Technology Advances

Autonomous Vehicle Technology Advances

A couple of interesting items came my way regarding autonomous vehicle technology. Every year sees better applications and more powerful tech. Then note in the releases X-as-a-Service applications. This idea just keeps expanding into more useful areas.

AI-capable “Supercomputer”—ZF ProAI.

ZF unveiled the latest model of its automotive supercomputer ZF ProAI just before the start of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The ZF ProAI RoboThink central control unit offers the highest performance of its kind in the industry according to the release. Vehicle manufacturers and mobility service providers additionally benefit from the system’s modularity and scalability. Today’s four models in the ZF ProAI product family can be optimally configured for any application – from a basic ADAS function right up to fully autonomous cars, commercial vehicles and industrial applications.

Customers can also specify their favorite software architecture. In the wake of booming services such as ride hailing, ZF also premiered its own software stack for new mobility concepts at the CES. This stack together with the latest ZF Pro AI and the company’s comprehensive sensor set represent a fully integrated system for driverless vehicles that can be easily adopted by the new players in the field of mobility services.

NVIDIA has named ZF one of its preferred partners for the launch of the new Level2+ NVIDIA DRIVE AutoPilot. Since ZF’s new product’s volume production starts within the next 12 months it is the only automotive grade AI capable supercomputer that can meet NIVIDIA’s ambitious timeline for the launch of their DRIVE AutoPilot from the beginning.

ZF’s CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider explained, “We are taking advantage of the fact that only ZF offers a supercomputer that is ready for volume production. Our open, flexible, modular and scalable ZF ProAI product family allows for just the right configuration of any application – for a variety of industries, and across all levels of automated driving.”

“We’re thrilled with the results of our collaboration with ZF. Their agility and system expertise has resulted in the incredibly rapid development of the ProAI platform enabling L2+ through L4/L5 robotaxi vehicles, leveraging NVIDIA’s DRIVE Xavier processors and DRIVE software,” said Rob Csongor, Vice President of Autonomous Machines, at NVIDIA. “ZF is now able to deliver to car makers advanced L2+ self-driving solutions for production starting in 2020 and the ability to quickly scale to higher levels of autonomy.”

“The unique selling proposition of the AI-capable ZF ProAI RoboThink is its modular hardware concept and open software architecture. Our aim is to provide the widest possible range of functions in the field of autonomous driving,” explained Torsten Gollewski, head of ZF Advanced Engineering and general manager of Zukunft Ventures GmbH.

Robo-taxis and autonomous people or cargo-movers are accelerating the development of central control units with much higher computing power. This is because powerful domain computers used in Mobility-as-a-Service applications not only manage the complex calculation of the surroundings based on a fusion of camera, radar and LIDAR data, they also integrate user data via the Cloud, payment systems and above all optimal route planning and implementation. Complex algorithms calculate these from the mobility and transport requirements of people or goods and can compare them in real time with the current traffic situation.

“The computing power of central computers in robo-taxis and autonomous people or cargo-movers will be significantly higher than for automated-driving passenger cars,” says Torsten Gollewski. “The demand from ride-hailing service providers for even more computing power has arisen much sooner than predicted. Today, the autonomous-driving market is being driven more by new mobility service providers than by established vehicle manufacturers.”

Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) Nearly Tripled Sales for the Second Year in a Row

Mobile Industrial Robots, the first mover and market leader in autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), announced a second year of 160 percent revenue growth in 2018, a target the company established after accomplishing the same growth rate in 2017. The company’s success results, in large part, from MIR’s multinational customers, including Toyota Motor Corporation that is investing in fleets of mobile robots to optimize internal logistics and to gain competitive advantages in the production and supply chain. Thirty percent of MiR’s 2018 sales come from the Americas (27 percent in the United States and 3 percent in Latin America).

“Large multinational organizations, who are happy with the benefits they’ve received after trying one of our robots, are now investing in fleets spread across more of their plants, with some purchasing as many as 15 to 25 MiR robots at a time,” said Thomas Visti, CEO of MiR. “Our robots make it easy for these companies to follow the increasing shift to a mass-customization model, where they manufacture a higher number of customized products in smaller batches, requiring an agile production facility with flexible and easily adaptable logistics. Our user-friendly technology fits this model well.”

Growth from new products and new “robots as a service” offering to help more companies benefit

In addition to increased sales of multiple robots to companies like Toyota, which already uses MiR robots to optimize logistics in plants in the U.S. and Asia, the company’s growth in 2018 also came from the launch of the MiR500. Forty percent of sales of the MiR500, which can pick-up, transport, and deliver pallets, have come from U.S. companies. The continuous growth worldwide means that MiR expects 2019 will bring even more new products, along with 100 new employees and new offices in the U.S., China, and Japan. According to Visti, the company also expects to increase revenue as much, if not more, over the next year, while expanding the types of companies that can benefit from autonomous mobile robots.

The Future of Work

The Future of Work

Mechanization, automation, and eventually digitalization have improved the labor experience of humans for millennia.

The first voices raising an alarm about the future was work was the rebellion against centralizing production–moving it from the craftsman’s shed or seamstress’s room to production lines governed by piecework and forced labor. That was in the mid-1800s.

Research I started in grad school before I got a “real” job began with an essay by the early Karl Marx complaining about the alienation of humans and the product of their labor. This was written around 1848.

People began to notice the dehumanizing capability of the Industrial Age. Check out Charlie Chaplin movies or even the famous Lucille Ball skit wrapping candy on a production line.

Today’s critics rail about automation and robots.

Those people are missing the changes that have occurred during the past 20 years with the aid of machines, robotics, and automation.

Imagine the bodies saved from chronic back problems through the use of robotics picking and placing heavy loads continuously for shift after shift.

Or, removing humans from hazardous locations–say welding lines or spray paint booths–once again through the use of robotics and automation.

Visit a modern manufacturing facility (as I have many times) and see collaborative teamwork as people use their brains as well as their hands to solve safety and production problems.

The last several years have featured advances on ways for automation to supplement humans. Collaborative robots. Exoskeleton robots. Better information and advice for troubleshooting and fixing processes before they break.

As professionals in this industry, we need to call Foul on all the misinformation masquerading as news in places like The New York Times.

True Role of Automation and Jobs

True Role of Automation and Jobs

When I read something in major mainstream media about manufacturing, production, automation, robots, or jobs, I’m prepared to cringe. Often the author has a journalism or economics degree who never worked inside a plant.

Jeff Burnstein, President of the Association for Advancing Automation, took on an opinion column by Thomas B. Edsall in The New York Times. The column is another one of those unsubstantiated, macro-level treatises on job losses and politics.

I’ll leave the politics to those who care. What I don’t like are the swipes at manufacturing, production, and automation that are popular at the national level. (Would it be cynical, or a reflection of the times, to say that negative articles generate page views?)

Burnstein writes, “Robots don’t take away jobs. When companies lose to their competition, that’s when workers lose jobs.”

My view is that job losses tie back to management—bad decisions, inferior leadership, ego, whatever.

Burnstein again, “Over the last 25 years, many American manufacturers found themselves unable to compete with the lower costs and higher productivity of foreign manufacturers. They closed their doors or moved their operations. Those jobs left for another country. They weren’t taken away by machines.

“In actuality, robots and automation have saved and created jobs – and will continue to do so. Businesses that used automation to lower costs and increase productivity were able to compete with foreign suppliers and keep their doors open. Workers stayed on the job at those facilities, and their communities didn’t suffer the traumatic loss of another local employer.

“Companies that embraced automation had the opportunity to grow and ultimately make more hires. Ask Marlin Steel in Baltimore or Vickers Engineering in New Troy, Mich., how their businesses were transformed – while providing safer, better, higher-paying jobs.”

Burnstein cites two crises on the horizon. First, there aren’t enough workers. And the second crisis: We lack the engineers, the technicians, AI specialists, and workers with trade skills to help companies deploy automation solutions.

In the automation age, the range of opportunities is huge — and promising. Entry-level, automation-age manufacturing jobs can start at $20 per hour with just a high school diploma and a few months of training and professional certification. Highly technical positions can pay far more.

“We need to prepare for change and embrace it. Not stand it in its way – because our global competitors are not standing still.”

Check out the competition

Under its “Made in China 2025” initiative, the Chinese will invest $300 billion in their manufacturing and automation technologies. China wants to dominate the fields of robotics, artificial intelligence, 5G and quantum computing.

The rest of the world is also spending big. Under its Industry 4.0 initiative, Germany will invest more than 200 million euros in research and development funding for advanced manufacturing. Japan and South Korea are both investing heavily in industrial R&D as automation becomes even more essential to improving their competitiveness. The United Kingdom is stepping up its R&D efforts – including targeting funds at electric vehicle batteries and robotics – to help stimulate its economy.

The United States is just 16th in the world in robot adoption rate – a metric that track how fast a company is expected to automate based on economic factors. We are behind China, Japan and Mexico – and even Italy and Sweden.

He nails it. It’s a crisis of vision and leadership. Not a crisis of robots stealing jobs.

Value Investing and Company Analysis

Value Investing and Company Analysis

I have never been a fan-boy of Jack Welch. And the more we learn in retrospect, we see why he is not necessarily a genius to emulate. As a friend used to say, “You got your smoke; you got your mirrors.” It was growth by acquisition and using deft accounting.

Vitaliy Katsenelson is CEO of an investment company. His newsletter is on my list of informative and entertaining reads. (Plus he kicks in as a bonus a selection of classical music.)

This week’s essay—Welch vs Bezos.

Here are a few snippets to whet your appetite.

“Welch built a company with a “beat this quarter” culture. Welch’s GE was not in the business of building moats and investing for the long run; he was in the business of beating quarters. In his book, Welch raved that from the early 2000s GE always beat Wall Street estimates. He was proud of how managers of one division were able to “come up with” a few more cents of earnings if another division fell short of its forecast. I kid you not — reread that sentence, three times. If I was at the SEC I’d investigating GE’s accounting.”

Once upon a time I worked for a division of a conglomerate. For a while before collapsing it was Fortune 50. It had very few corporate staff. Executives wanted steady, reliable income for reporting to Wall Street. It invested in cyclical businesses. Go figure. Anyway, take this comment about GE:

“He was proud of how managers of one division were able to “come up with” a few more cents of earnings if another division fell short of its forecast. I kid you not — reread that sentence, three times. If I was at the SEC I’d be investigating GE’s accounting.“

Contrast with Bezos:

“Welch is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Jeff Bezos, CEO of Bezos doesn’t even know how to spell quarterly earnings. Amazon’s founder once explained that Amazon makes decisions years out. So the current quarter’s report reflects decisions Amazon made several years ago.”

Investor viewpoint:

“There is another lesson here. As an investor, simplicity and transparency from a company is key. If a company’s business is complex and opaque, move on. One of the most important things in investing is what you do in-between buying or selling a stock. After you buy it is just a matter of time before your initial assumptions come under fire. Maintaining rationality throughout your ownership of the company is paramount, and to do that you need to understand the business well. That’s why I have no opinion on GE shares now.”

And your takeaway:

“Above all, never make a decision based solely on someone else’s research; use it as a starting point for your own investigation.”

Podcast 182 Companies on the Move Winners and Losers

Another Podcast. Sponsored by Ignition from Inductive Automation and the 23rd Industry Forum from ARC Advisory Group. (See banners.) Stuff happening. Siemens (cyber security, growing digitally). Emerson (growing and acquisitions). GE (divesting Digital). ABB (divesting power grid). Rockwell (new product with PTC). Keep an eye on IT companies with powerful compute packages for OT–Dell Technologies and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.


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