Innovations often come with laggards’ warning labels. Why would we use motor vehicles when horses are reliable? What’s the point of a digital photograph when film works? Who would want a computer in their home?
So, it’s no surprise that automation and related AI innovations are greeted with similar skepticism. However, as history has repeatedly proven, progress continues, and how we adopt and adapt determines our own success.
In our research, we’ve found incredible opportunities for automation in the manufacturing sector that support more sustainable, safer, and healthier growth.
People as a Priority
Building a strong, reliable, skilled manufacturing workforce in the US is becoming increasingly difficult. Automation can help.
A recent study found that “the U.S. manufacturing skills gap could result in 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030, ultimately costing the U.S. economy up to $1 trillion.”[i] At the same time, people continue to leave jobs voluntarily at higher rates than lay-offs, indicating a high workforce churn that has critical implications for efficiency and margins.[ii]
Companies are turning to smart technology to fill gaps, engage younger workers, and supplement their workforce in dangerous, repetitive, or undesirable positions.
For example, a factory in Germany bought and implemented a ‘collaborative welding arm’ designed to be operated by welders (not robotics professionals).[iii] The firm manager noted that this ‘arm’ attracts young, skilled talent, improves safety measures, and reduces the need for repetitive welding tasks.
When companies employ automation to improve employee well-being, they can create a more efficient industry that provides high-quality output without sacrificing worker health and safety.
Embedding Sustainability and Efficiency
Manufacturing is broad. From building cars to sewing garments, there are a wide range of challenges across different corners of the industry. Issues like excessive scrap filling landfills, chemicals leaching into water tables, or large plants drawing excessive power and electricity.
However, many of the challenges of these diverse sub-industries can be addressed through automation efficiencies. Companies can, for example, integrate Internet-of-things (IoT) sensors and monitor and evaluate risks and opportunities to design solutions that better use heat, electricity, and other utilities.
As the industry evolves, good governance and smart innovation will help create a more resilient and sustainable manufacturing industry.
A Safer Workplace
In 2021, the US recorded 5,100 fatalities and over 2.6 million cases of workplace nonfatal injuries and illnesses in the private industry. The economic cost alone of the injuries was $167 billion.[iv]
To effectively employ automation to address safety issues in manufacturing, companies need to look at what tasks and environments are labor-intensive and repetitive. Once these instances are recognized, they can implement systems and sensors to help detect, manage, and analyze potential dangers.
For example, various cutting-edge sensors can detect hazards and even trigger safety protocols if certain conditions like high temperatures, pressure, humidity, or radiation are met. Implementing these advanced technologies also allows companies to gather more detailed and specific data that can be analyzed to address potential future issues proactively.
According to McKinsey & Company, roughly 50% of companies were already using AI in at least part of their business in 2022, and the industry is expected to grow by over 37% annually between 2023 and 2030.[v]
Companies have an incredible opportunity to thoughtfully deploy automation and related AI tasks to improve their manufacturing process across employee well-being, sustainability, and safety measures.
DISCLOSURE: This material is proprietary and may not be reproduced or transmitted to any third party without the prior, written consent of Reynders, McVeigh Capital Management, LLC (“RMCM”). This material is educational in nature and does not constitute investment advice or a recommendation to transact in a particular sector or in a particular manner. Statements regarding potential events or outcomes in the future are not guarantees of future performance, and actual results or developments may differ materially from those statements.
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[i] “Sustainability 2021,” Rockwell Automation, https://www.rockwellautomation.com/en-us/company/about-us/sustainability/report.html
[ii] “2023 manufacturing industry outlook,” Deloitte, https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/energy-and-resources/articles/manufacturing-industry-outlook.html
[iii] “Automation Isn’t the Biggest Threat to US Factory Jobs,” Wired, May 1, 2022, https://www.wired.com/story/robots-automation-jobs-manufacturing-labor-germany-us/
[v] Rania Gihleb, Osea Giuntella, Luca Stella, and Tianyi Wang, “Keeping workers safe in the automation revolution,” Brookings, September 12, 2023, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/keeping-workers-safe-in-the-automation-revolution/