Manufacturers largely agree that technology will help workers, not displace them, speakers said at the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s recent virtual event, “M2030 Visions of the Future: Reflections on New Orleans.”
New Orleans readout: The webinar, which featured a panel of technology experts, was a recap of highlights from the MLC’s December 2021 Manufacturing in 2030 project event in New Orleans, which hundreds of manufacturers attended.
What the future holds: The recent online discussion was primarily about future technological trends in manufacturing, and three major themes emerged: Completely “lights-out” manufacturing (i.e., totally automated) is not a likely near-term reality for manufacturing; upskilling and reskilling will be crucial in attaining syncopation between employees and robots; and most manufacturers have some ways to go to achieve digital maturity.
Lights out? Try lights dimmed: There is a misconception that robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning will replace human employees on the shop floor. The reality is that they all do best together.
- “I view it more as a ‘dimmer switch’ than ‘lights out,’ and the level to which you can dim depends on the kind of manufacturing you do,” said West Monroe Senior Manager of Consumer and Industrial Practice Alex Jay. Particularly when it comes to “complex materials, [manufacturers will] need a nuanced touch,” which will require more, not less, human interaction.
- “There will be a dimmer switch, a natural limit to how far you would automate,” said Infor Senior Vice President of International Strategy Andrew Kinder. “In the next eight years, we will see more use of technology on the plant floor. Is this a concern for employment? I think the World Economic Forum put that to bed when they said … technology will create 12 million more jobs than it will ever destroy.”
- EY Principal of Strategy and Transactions Rosco Newsom agreed. “[Manufacturers] don’t see ‘lights out’ happening in the near future.”
Upskilling and reskilling: The increased use of Manufacturing 4.0 technologies on the shop floor will only increase the need for skilled talent, the panelists agreed.
- First, “there is reskilling and upskilling required even to make those ‘lights out’” changes, said NTT Data Senior Director of Manufacturing Industry Solutions Baskar Radhakrishnan.
- Complex materials that need nuanced touch and geometric dimensioning and tolerancing “will need more human interaction,” not less, Jay said.
Maturity not yet reached: As was evidenced by questions from the webinar audience and comments from manufacturers during the New Orleans event, many manufacturers could use guidance when it comes to using more technology.
- For smaller manufacturers wondering where to start implementing Manufacturing 4.0, look to “labor-intensive, repetitive tasks,” Radhakrishnan said. “That’s where you start.”
The last word: Robotics aren’t going to put anyone out of a job. As Kinder said, “Tech seems to be a driver rather than a ‘retirer’ of employment.”
Manufacturing businesses have long been proponents of equality in the workplace. As legislation to codify protections for LGBT individuals passes through the House of Representatives, the National Association of Manufacturers joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, and other members of the business community in advocating its passage, forging coalitions and providing congressional testimony.
Introduced with bipartisan support in the U.S. House and Senate in March, the Equality Act includes federal protections for individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity under the existing framework of the Civil Rights Act, which already provides protection against discrimination on the basis of religion, national origin, race, color or sex. The goal of the legislation is to ensure that no person can face legal discrimination based on their gender or sexual orientation, setting a clear federal standard to enable individuals to succeed based on their abilities and qualifications to perform a job.
“Employers understand the importance of creating an environment in which the very best people can succeed based on merit,” Patrick Hedren, NAM vice president, labor, legal and regulatory policy, said. “At the same time, manufacturers know that discrimination in any form is antithetical to the values that we work to uphold every day: equality of opportunity, individual liberty, free enterprise and competitiveness.”
In March, more than 40 other industry associations rallied to support the Equality Act, providing an important boost for the groundbreaking legislation. In the weeks since, manufacturing representatives have testified before the House Education and Labor Committee and signed a coalition letter to the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services calling for the Act’s passage. As Congress considers the way forward, manufacturers have made clear that they intend to advocate forcefully on behalf of the legislation and uphold their commitment to workers of every gender identity and sexual orientation.
“The Equality Act creates a clear federal standard that matches the sentiments manufacturers already share: gender identity and sexual orientation have no impact on an employee’s abilities and discrimination is not welcome on the manufacturing floor,” Hedren said. “We look forward to working with Congress as this important legislation moves ahead.”
Washington, D.C. – National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) President and CEO Jay Timmons released the following statement after the Department of Labor (DOL) rescinded the 2016 Persuader Rule:
Manufacturers have fought for this victory for many years in the courts, in Congress and with two administrations, using the full weight of our policy, government relations and legal teams, said Timmons. The NAM’s Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action was able to halt the rule in court in 2016.And in 2017, the Trump administration, as part of its broader regulatory relief agenda, thankfully began the process of unwinding the rule. This overreaching rule threatened to impose serious burdens on manufacturers and upend employee–employer communications. Now manufacturers are relieved that this threat to workplace communications is finally and officially off the books. Commonsense steps like this to rein in onerous regulations are a major reason why manufacturers are reporting record-high business optimism.
The Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action (MCLA) is the leading voice of manufacturers in the courts and engages in a range of activities, including direct party litigation and operating a robust amicus program, as well as educating manufacturers about emerging legal trends. The MCLA is led by NAM Senior Vice President and General Counsel Linda Kelly and NAM Vice President of Litigation and Deputy General Counsel Peter Tolsdorf. More information on the MCLA can be found here.
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) is the largest manufacturing association in the United States, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. Manufacturing employs more than 12 million men and women, contributes $2.25 trillion to the U.S. economy annually, has the largest economic impact of any major sector and accounts for more than three-quarters of private-sector research and development. The NAM is the powerful voice of the manufacturing community and the leading advocate for a policy agenda that helps manufacturers compete in the global economy and create jobs across the United States. For more information about the Manufacturers or to follow us on Shopfloor, Twitter and Facebook, please visit www.nam.org.