The sluggish growth in the global manufacturing sector is finally showing a slight glimmer of hope. Yet amidst this, the massive, ever-changing beast isn’t really immune to challenges!
Global manufacturers of all sizes today attest to the presence of problems, some so huge that even the once mighty brands are slowly succumbing to. Forget about the typical highs and lows in profitability and production levels or the adverse effects technology has had on the industry, the real challenges are enormous.
Let’s highlight a couple of the most pressing challenges that bedevil this industry today, shall we?
The Massive Aging Workforce
This is perhaps the biggest threat facing the otherwise rising industry. Baby boomers who can be regarded as the majority workforce are nearing their exit in the service, which isn’t a good thing. The main concern with this is that this group will sadly be leaving with their invaluable skills and experience that the Generation X-ers and the early millennials do not have.
On average, there will be about 4.6 million manufacturing jobs over the next ten years, according to Deloitte. And out of this, approximately 2.4 million of them will be left unfilled because the incoming lot comprises those who grew up under the belief of education and merit instead of experience. This, of course, is presenting another issue to an industry that is already lacking a suitable workforce. It is indeed an immense struggle that not even the wave of automation and robotics will suitably solve altogether.
Sustaining the Environment
In the past, the vocal voices of environment sustainability advocates were nonexistent, a factor that significantly contributed to the rise of the then-manufacturing industry. However, things are entirely different today. The growth of environmental awareness has greatly changed the way manufacturing industries conduct themselves.
Sustaining the environment, in this regard, encompass pretty much anything made in an eco-friendly way. It could be a product made from recycled material or an industry that has done well in reducing carbon emission. Fuelled by the practice, fondly known as the shift to ethical products, there’s a relatively higher eco-friendliness in the industry.
Today, most of the massive millennial consumers prefer to consume a product whose production was in a sustainable or eco-friendly way, according to Nielsen. And because the millennial generation will certainly outnumber Baby Boomers in a couple of years, manufacturers who will stand are the eco-friendly ones.
The Terrific Rate of Technological Advancements
The manufacturing industry has always been adapting to new technologies. But the change in technology recently has adversely affected it. Most of the global manufacturing behemoths have had to keep up with the competition so that they remain afloat. And this has been a costly affair, especially when buying newer, better-performing systems for their manufacturing processes, training their staff and so forth.
Yet these substantial investments have always almost come to nothing because mostly, by the time the company breaks even, better technology is invented. The latest of these is the emergence of better systems in robotics, the growth of Artificial Intelligence and the use of vibrational detectors among other technologies. Those manufacturers who’ve found the right balance between new industry workers and technologies and the old skilled employees seemingly have survived.
Regulating the Entire Industry
There’s a wave of increased regulation and compliance across the global manufacturing industry. The rules involve a couple of factors, from health and safety, waste management or disposal, and quality assurance all the way to countless other factors. But much as this challenge can be regarded as a good thing and essential for the betterment of the whole sector, it has also proved to be a considerable burden for manufacturers.
Today, more than ever, these manufacturers have to exhibit total visibility throughout their supply chain. Manufacturers who majorly engage in the production of medical devices must pass the UDI (Universal Device Identification) regulation just like manufacturers of chemical products that rightly have to pass REAC (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restrictions of Chemicals) laws.
It is a measure aimed at ascertaining their compliance to quality standards and the industry norms. But the whole procedure is hectic and financially draining challenge for the industry players, although it’s totally unavoidable in some countries.
Maintaining a Balance between Production and Maintenance
Machine maintenance is an essential tradition that ensures that machines in any manufacturing facility keep their peak performance. It involves a whole list of procedures that includes replacing worn out cables and wires, oiling moving systems, and performing other types of maintenance works.
However, maintenance sometimes becomes a hindrance to the overall efficiency in the industry. In fact, it’s normal for companies to delay or postpone preventive maintenance or replace old, worn out components when their machines seem to be doing fine.
Nowadays, this is another massive challenge in the industry because it usually ends up creating unsafe working conditions and disasters in waiting. Some of the problems at stake when maintenance works aren’t performed are the risk of electrocution, unplanned or excessive downtime and machine ineptitudes. If only the manufacturer would address these challenges!
Regulating the Global Market
If the global manufacturing world were to combat all the other problems it’s currently facing, one issue that will be nearly impossible to solve will, however, be how to regulate the market. This is because, while the internet has greatly helped the sector grow, regulating the industry is proving to be a mirage.
Procuring goods from zones where there’s plenty of cheap labor and thus its products are relatively less expensive is a click away, thanks to the internet. But while there’s no problem with that, the impact it has had on the competitor manufacturers that are at a disadvantage is immense, yet nothing can be done.
The global market is unfairly leading to a tilt in the way commodities are sold. The phenomenon has led to devastating effects, including bankruptcy, employee reductions, bailouts, and other untold problems. And as it continues, the real issue remains how the market will be regulated so that there’s fairness in the way products are sold and shipped.
Patenting and Intellectual Theft
The harm that is attributed to the internet in the global manufacturing sector isn’t over without touching on the issue of intellectual theft. With just about any new invention published on the web and lots of modern processes tied up to computers, nothing is as hard as protecting one’s invention today.
On one end, manufacturers have to keep their most effective techniques a top secret and ensure their competitors never get to discover it. They consequently have to store their intellectual property away from hackers and ill-behaved employees. They know that if any of these gets in the wrong hands, their whole organization gets finished.
But as it a norm nowadays, somehow one of these two feared crimes happen. And when it happens, the losses incurred normally are in incongruous amounts, oftentimes, resulting in the death of the manufacturing company.
This has led to countless manufacturing companies going above and beyond to enhance the security of their patents and thwart information leaks. Some of the measures adopted involve having the details of every employee in the company’s database and ensuring they all sign non-disclosure agreements.
Automation vs. Human Workforce
In the wake of the technologies and inventions in the global manufacturing platform, the challenge is whether it would be wise to cut down on human workforce at the expense of automation. It even gets worse for humans because, while the aging majority population will soon exit and create space for millennials, mechanization is growing in demand as well.
The primary goal of nearly every manufacturer today is to remain competitive, keep operating costs low and keep growing. This, of course, has led to many companies choosing to invest in machines and lay off the unskilled workforce. But not all tasks can be digitized, and the human input is done away with altogether.
Those tasks that involve maintaining data and handling all-things logistics, procurement and fulfillment of orders are already machine-based. There are a lot of manufacturing procedures that are still in the piloting stage and are expected to replace human workers.
Overall, any move in favor of machines can prove way too costly even when some technologies haven’t been proven to work beyond any reasonable doubt. And this is a massive challenge in those companies that are wary of splurging millions or more investing in the same.
Apart from the aforementioned, the challenges that exist in manufacturing environments are immense. There exists a growing concern amongst manufacturers on the rising healthcare costs for their employees, especially in countries where quality services are expensive. Not only is it a challenge for the particular company, but also affects the uniformity on the global scale.
In spite of all these problems, however, there’s lots of optimism that the world’s manufacturing industry will keep growing. How it will handle the challenges remains a question for some other day!