The way ahead for American manufacturers in 2017: 4 industry leaders weigh in

Jan. 5, 2017
What are manufacturing's imperatives for the year ahead?


2017 brings the U.S. a new president, a new Cabinet, and a new Congress – and in tandem with these, a host of questions for American manufacturers about policy priorities and the regulatory environment in the next two to four years.

How much of a protectionist approach to trade might we see? How might the education landscape change, and how could that potentially shape the path for the next-generation workforce?

Of more importance, in a time of significant change for industry – from a workforce, technological, and marketplace perspective – what do savvy manufacturers need to do to position themselves for success regardless of what does or doesn't happen in Washington?

Plant Services asked several industry leaders to weigh in on these topics and offer their thoughts on progress made in the past year and where industry needs to move in the year ahead. Following, their responses.

1. How do you think the outcome of the presidential election might affect the U.S. manufacturing industry?

Thomas McDermott, interim executive director, Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute: "Support for American manufacturing is not a Democratic or Republican issue; it’s an economic imperative, comprising 12% of U.S. GDP and 10% of the American workforce. The presidential election shined a spotlight on manufacturing as a topic that citizens care about deeply, and we expect continued attention and investment that helps position the United States as a global manufacturing leader. I believe that continued investment in advanced manufacturing and the manufacturing workforce is in the interest of all Americans. I am confident that policymakers will continue to support that investment."

(See Plant Services' coverage of the 2016 DMDII Smart Factory World Symposium.)

Ken Warden, dean, College of Applied Science and Technology at University of Arkansas – Fort Smith: "Recent involvement by the president-elect with U.S. company retention bodes well for domestic manufacturing, as does the market response to the election outcome. Corporate confidence appears to be high. However, hearsay of import tariffs and other potential restrictive efforts spearheaded by the new president could potentially limit offshore production by domestic and international companies. It should be interesting to watch."

(Read our Big Picture Interview with Ken Warden, "How automation is changing the jobs outlook: An educator's perspective.")

2. Were you surprised or encouraged by any developments for industry in 2016?

Jose Rivera, CEO, Control System Integrators Association: "There have been important transformations happening all around us. They have quietly been making their way to the industry. End users want to replicate their consumer experience at their industrial sites. This also includes the transformation of business models that have been enabled by the current technology revolution (e.g., Uber for personal transportation or Airbnb for lodging). Several of these business models create significant value – for example, by maximizing capacity utilization of expensive machines (e.g., sophisticated CNCs) through flexible pricing and an efficient "capacity clearance" application. ... There will be innovation along business models and this may create opportunities and challenges for our system integration industry."

(Watch our video interview with Jose Rivera: "New CSIA CEO on the future of global, smart manufacturing.")

Marie Getsug, PMP, CMRP, CRL: "The way the ISO 55000 asset management standards are being communicated, driven, and applied is a bit of a surprise to me in that there still does not appear to be a heavy driver of these standards. The insurance companies, industries that buy components for the equipment they build, and executive order federal agencies that are supposed to adopt consensus ISO standards have only dabbled in the ISO 55000 standards."

(Check out Marie Getsug and Stephen Holland's "Design for reliability: How to help OEMs help you," from Plant Services' January 2016 issue.)

Ken Warden, UAFS: "I have been moderately encouraged by what I believe is a changing tide in the last few years when it comes to onshoring jobs and retaining the ones we have. Early indications of the incoming presidential administration appear to be positive."

3. What do manufacturers need to do better in 2017 than they have in the past?

Jose Rivera, CSIA: "Industry needs to change its image of 'smokestacks' and make itself a desirable place to work and thrive. We can't afford to have our younger generations not view STEM careers and industry jobs as highly desirable. Our world has changed, and so has industry. We need to communicate this more effectively."

Marie Getsug, CMRP: "I have built several design-for-reliability programs for corporations, and yet on a recent webinar, I asked how many of the attendees had a formal DfR program, and only 2% responded 'yes.' This data point tells me that this continues to be a key area of need in 2017 and beyond. With the renewed interest in infrastructure, DfR must become core to any capital engineering process and be led by the project management offices that will have to incorporate these elements into their capital engineering governance process."

Ken Warden, UAFS: "While some companies have made great investments in their human capital, I still think the manufacturing industry as a whole has much room to improve when it comes to investing in noncredit education as well as academic credential attainment of their incumbent workers. When individuals engage in the process of higher education, it enables them to see things from different angles. When incumbent workers engage in the process, they use these new perspectives to impact the world they know, and they typically find ways to improve their working environment.

"I work daily to strengthen ties with and proactively involve industry partners. ... I’m not sure that all manufacturers think of their local universities before they think of external consultants. With advances in automation and technology, demand for workforce training and development will continue to be at the center of companies’ concerns/considerations. I would hope that training and development would evolve to the point that the manufacturing sector as a whole would see the local institutions of higher education as their best and greatest resource for workforce training and development."

Thomas McDermott, DMDII: "The U.S. manufacturing industry needs to continue to invest in advanced manufacturing technology R&D to lead the world in the development and deployment of innovative solutions and capabilities. Industry should focus on incorporating value-creating digital technologies into their manufacturing processes and recognize that the workforce, both existing and future, will need investment in their capabilities to manage these new tools. This is true for both the largest OEM and the smallest manufacturer.

"It’s also essential to look to the future of how roles are changing in the digital era. We’re working with our partners at ManpowerGroup, a workforce solutions provider, to develop a jobs taxonomy that maps the new roles emerging in digital manufacturing and design, and the skills needed to fill those jobs. The work is part of a broader national initiative overseen by the Department of Defense and other federal agencies to fuel the development of next-generation production capabilities and bring jobs back to the United States."

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