5 Reasons 2022 Can Be A Game Changer For American Manufacturing – Forbes

After decades of roller-coaster dips and upturns, American manufacturing is at a pivotal point. Can 2022 be the year the industry reclaims global leadership status, despite all the curves the pandemic has thrown at us?
Yes. If manufacturers make bold investments in talent, technology, and innovation.
To paraphrase Albert Einstein, every crisis contains great opportunity. The global upheaval of the past two years has upended the board. But for manufacturers ready to make the right moves, grabbing those airborne pieces can lead to significant, long-term wins.
Here are the top five game-changing opportunities for American manufacturers.
1. Taking Back the Supply Chain
Is anyone not talking about the supply chain? A few years ago, you might only see those two words in trade publications. Now, you hear about “the supply chain” everywhere: the grocery store, kids’ birthday parties — you name it. The broken supply chain is the new Big Bad Wolf.
So where is the opportunity in all this supply chain pain? A strategic combination of technology and innovation can help manufacturers navigate massive disruptions — or even find new business.
Think about the incredible pivots thousands of manufacturers made during the pandemic’s early days to produce masks, ventilators, and PPE. In Ohio, hundreds of factories put existing technology to use making these newly in-demand products. As a result, we made things in Ohio that hadn’t been manufactured here in decades. ROE Dental Laboratory, for example, shifted its 3D printing capacity from making dentures to manufacturing face shields and nasal swabs.  
This lightning-fast switch was enabled by the company’s pre-existing technology investments and training programs. The call for technology transformation is not new, but such changes are no longer a “should” but a “must.” The same 3D printers used to make PPE, for example, could now be used to bridge supply-chain gaps. Automation technology can free up workers to support reshoring tasks.
Innovative manufacturing leaders are finding multiple ways to solve supply-chain woes by putting technology to work in new and exciting ways.
2. Riding the Wave of Post-Pandemic Innovation
From accessible telehealth to delivery robots, examples of innovation have abounded since the pandemic turned our world upside down. And that’s no surprise. After every global crisis there’s a spike in innovation, start-ups, and patent filings. The Great Depression gave us the photocopier and the Polaroid camera. The SARS pandemic helped Alibaba become an e-commerce giant. The global financial crisis helped create Airbnb. COVID caused massive shifts in consumer behavior, and there will be a huge wave of post-pandemic innovation. A wave the manufacturing industry can ride to growth.
But to be successful, we need to overcome our industry’s innate conservatism and rethink our entire approach to risk. The real solution is not to avoid it, but to de-risk the process of innovation. And, as I’ve written about before, that starts with asking the right questions, four of them to be exact. One, are you solving a real problem? Two, does your product actually solve the problem? Three, are you the right person to deliver this solution? And four, can you sell it? These questions may seem rudimentary, but 42% of startups fail because they offer something the market doesn’t need in the first place.
In this moment of opportunity, the stakes are incredibly high for manufacturing to get innovation right. To state it bluntly, there is no American manufacturing revival without innovation. Our future depends on investing in big ideas that use smart manufacturing to solve real-world problems.
3. Investing in the Factory of the Future
Fortunately, the market is flush with cash and there’s plenty of money ready to be invested. That’s all positive on the innovation side. But it also means we’re seeing a lot of manufacturing companies being bought up as investments. This poses some risk — none of us wants to see companies stripped for parts. However, new ownership can also lead to fresh insights and much-needed modernization.
To catch up to China, we desperately need more hi-tech, smart factories. And that requires fast-tracking Industry 4.0, the so-called “4th Industrial Revolution,” and deliver what Bernard Marr calls “the combination of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things and the Internet of Systems.” In real words: we need to modernize production with all things digital, connected, and automated.
The good news is the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of these new manufacturing technologies. It’s a smart investment because Industry 4.0 can increase supply chain resilience, boost profitability, and provide a roadmap for reshoring production. With so much capital available, now is the time to build the factories of the future.
4. Automating to Offset Talent Shortages
For most manufacturers, automation is the first step. That’s what helped GOJO, MAKERS OF PURELL™, the family business in Northeast Ohio that invented hand sanitizer, triple its production almost overnight to meet pandemic demand. The company was ready because it had been investing in Industry 4.0 technology for years. “It allowed us to get more product out in the market quicker than we would have if we didn’t have those things in place,” said Stephanie Onderko, automation and systems director for supply chain at GOJO. “It helps with the flexibility and agile manufacturing that are so critical.”
Despite its sometimes-negative reputation, automation usually isn’t about replacing people. For example, GOJO hired 500 new employees in 2020. Automation most often takes over the repetitive tasks and frees people up to do more value-added, technology work – like programming and running the machines. That’s actually a big selling feature that can help attract desperately needed workers to manufacturing, along with reevaluating wages and mapping out attractive career paths. Such steps are a must in an industry that pre-pandemic already rated hiring challenges as a threat to growth and now competes for workers with the likes of Amazon, which boosted starting pay to $18 an hour, and Target, which offers free tuition for qualified staff.
As The Great Resignation continues, growing talent shortages will continue to threaten manufacturing’s recovery and increase wage pressures. Manufacturers can release some of the pressure with automation, but they must also make lasting changes in workplace culture, compensation, and training to make themselves more attractive places to work.
5. Capturing the Infrastructure Boost
The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law in November is a bit of a wildcard for US manufacturing. On one hand, investments in transportation and public safety will be a boon to the manufacturers who make items to power a national overhaul. On the other, the threat of rising inflation and interest rates are tempering the excitement.
As I’ve written about before, the bill is likely to bring huge spikes in demand in sectors like steel and transportation suppliers; it will provide hundreds of millions of dollars for training; it comes with $17 billion to repair and reimagine port infrastructure and waterways to help fix the bottlenecked supply chain; and it will encourage domestic manufacturing and procurement. A trillion dollars in extra spending is always welcome, but government contracts aren’t easy to capture or navigate. And the specter of inflation is hanging heavy over everything in the year ahead.
Manufacturers who lived and worked through the inflation-rampant 1970s are likely feeling a sense of deja vu. One lesson we can take from that era: Evaluate margins to provide a buffer against the unknown. Another: Make sure you have the technology and talent in place to manage a production surge as projects get underway and demand ramps up. Otherwise, you will miss the infrastructure boost altogether.
Exiting the Rollercoaster
US manufacturers are in a prime position to come out of the upheaval of the pandemic stronger than ever. The past two years have spotlighted gaps that were once too easy to ignore and necessary changes that were too easy to delay. From producing life-saving equipment to mitigating supply-chain woes to shoring up our infrastructure and building stronger communities, American manufacturers can use this moment to reclaim global leadership. And that starts with making the right moves in innovation, technology, and talent. If we do this right, 2022 can be the year we finally get manufacturing off the roller coaster and launch into lasting growth.


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