Connecticut’s economy has always relied on manufacturing. Connecticut is host to thousands of factories and is a leader in industries such as aerospace, medical devices, and biotechnology. In fact, the state has more than 160,000 manufacturing jobs and hosts the headquarters for companies such as Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky, and Electric Boat. However, manufacturing has changed over the years, and smokestacks are being replaced by computerized processes and automated assembly lines. The challenge is finding the personnel needed to run today’s factories.
A report issued by the New England Council and Deloitte, Advanced to Advantageous: The Case for New England's Manufacturing Revolution, shows that manufacturing jobs are being reclassified as “advanced,” “advantaged,” “added-value,” and “accelerating.” Nearly 60 percent of New England manufacturing jobs and 72 percent of manufacturing jobs in Connecticut are now classified as “advanced.”
Advanced manufacturing is “a family of activities that (a) depend on the use and coordination of automation, computation, software, sensing, and networking and/or (b) make use of cutting-edge materials and emerging capabilities enabled by the physical and biological sciences—for example, nanotechnology, chemistry, and biology. This involves both new ways to manufacture existing products and especially the manufacture of new products emerging from new advanced technologies.”
Advanced manufacturing is expected to contribute $19.4 billion to the state’s economy, although Connecticut manufacturers are struggling to find the staff and resources needed to stay competitive. The two biggest challenges facing manufacturers are labor and automation.
Bridging the Skills and Technology Gaps
Hiring skilled workers is one of the greatest challenges, especially as Baby Boomer employees retire. Manufacturers are finding themselves paying aging employees to stay on longer and paying more to attract new workers, in addition to having to pay for training and apprenticeships.
The state is offering more educational and vocational support, and apprentices are coming into the marketplace earning from $35,000 to $40,000, while management and engineering positions are starting at $60,000 to $70,000.
And there’s the automation gap. In addition to skilled workers, advanced manufacturers are relying more on automation and computer systems. This requires both new hardware and software—and the expertise to manage them.
To bridge the automation gap, more manufacturers are using more technology to get more from their IT support team. Because skilled IT professionals are hard to find and expensive to hire, better workload management and scheduling tools are making it easier to manage automated manufacturing systems with fewer IT employees. This approach helps break down silos of responsibility and allows IT staff to manage multiple aspects of the operation more efficiently.
Automation and Computerization
Automation and computerization are bridging the resources gap for advanced manufacturers. In fact, automation is helping companies satisfy customer needs while reducing waste and creating predictable, consistent goods. Here are just a few of the ways that computerization is improving manufacturing:
Eliminating waste. Automated processors and programmed equipment operate within close tolerances, which means less waste; production can be stopped or adjusted if processes move too far from operational tolerances. And there is less wasted motion, because machines can perform multiple processes, delivering finished goods with little or no human intervention.
Controlling costs. Automation lessens the need for manual materials-handling. Machines work on their own and support human workers to streamline processes and enable agile production. Robots are facilitating skilled manufacturing processes, and ABI predicts that the market for collaborative robotics will hit $1 billion by 2020.
Monitoring systems using the Internet of Things (IoT). Computerized manufacturing connects equipment using IT technology, which makes it easier to monitor production status. IoT technology not only tracks production but provides statistics about operational efficiency, waste, and other metrics that can be analyzed to improve production efficiency and for inventory and accounting management.
Improving inventory management. Controlling inventory is one of the most vital aspects of manufacturing and can be the most wasteful. Automation minimizes lost or misplaced materials and makes it easier to predict inventory needs. It also decreases obsolescent parts and reduces spoilage.
Increasing safety. Automation reduces the need for employees to work with potentially dangerous equipment, except for hardware maintenance. The more automated the factory or warehouse, the less chance there is for injury.
Automating business processes. Automating manufacturing also supports computerized back-office processes, such as ordering and accounts payable. The data from the factory floor feed business processes to simplify ordering and shipment and eliminate unnecessary paperwork.
Even though more manufacturing processes are being computerized, it doesn’t necessarily mean fewer jobs. What it will mean is demand for jobs with a new skill set. Rather than low-level assembly jobs, the new automated factories are going to need more skilled workers with advanced degrees to go along with advanced manufacturing. College graduates and engineers are going to be called upon to manage the machines and the business processes that run the factories.
And with computerization comes a new requirement for computer systems support. As manufacturing becomes more automated, manufacturers are going to seek out third-party services to maintain systems, because service providers are going to prove to be more cost-effective than hiring in-house IT staff. Managed services providers such as NSI are going to be called on to preserve business-critical data and provide systems backup, systems monitoring, and on-site support for the computer systems that run the factory.