Metalworking Lo Down part 2: Is there a disconnect from the rest of manufacturing?

Published June 17, 2015 1:42 pm by Sean Griffin
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This is part 2 of our Metalworking Lo Down series. Read part 1 here.

As I reflected on what I heard recently at The Big M Conference in Detroit—from the buzz-worthy topics discussed in the halls to the presentations and heavy-hitting panel discussions—I wondered if the results from our Metalworking Trends Survey were in line with the viewpoints shared by those in other sectors of manufacturing.

With conference participants running the gamut—from global behemoths including Siemens, GE and Gardner Denver to family shops and educational organizations—the fury of discussion offered great perspective on the momentum affecting broader manufacturing. Here’s a rundown of two of the most discussed ideas and how metalworking fits in.

The third industrial revolution is already happening, with or without you
Smart manufacturing, industry 4.0, the digital thread, the third industrial revolution, the Internet of things … all phrases heard over and over during my time in Detroit. They all essentially refer to the same thing: data-driven factories and automated processes. The concept is here to stay—and the most sophisticated companies in the world have already fully adopted it. Karen Kerr, the head of GE’s ventures group, quoted her CEO Jeff Immelt: “If you went to bed last night an industrial company, you’ll wake up tomorrow a software company.”

Judging by the responses to our survey, software and CAD/CAM upgrades are having a positive impact on metalworking companies (see below). But this result also indicates that automation/unmanned operations seem to be falling behind that of the best and brightest at The Big M.

Metalworking survey chart page 18


With the problems diagnosed, efforts are being made to attract young workers
The disappearance of shop classes, our country’s love affair with four-year university degrees and the misconception that factories still resemble our grandfather’s dark, dirty and dangerous workplace all drive millennials’ hesitance to join the field. Several companies described the creative tactics they have used to attract workers, including creating their own pipelines with training programs and apprenticeships and partnering with local high schools to identify the right kind of students for positions.

On a larger scale, grassroots education organizations like Vocademy are trying to spread the word and expose youth to manufacturing. Touting what he calls the Maker Movement, Vocademy’s founder Gene Sherman said in his keynote that the silver tsunami of retiring engineers and operators is coming; to fill those positions we have to make it cool to make things again. The revival of the Battlebots TV show and popular competitions like National Robotics League are seen as engaging and fun ways to start the conversation.

According to the result below, no other challenge facing metalworking companies even comes close to finding good employees. Competition for the next wave of talent will be fierce, and finding and inspiring qualified employees is top of mind in metalworking as with others in manufacturing.

Metalworking survey chart page 17

So, is the metalworking industry disconnected from the rest of manufacturing? The answer is yes and no. There isn’t a significant disconnect between metalworking and other manufacturers on many of the topics of the day. Some sectors of metalworking, however, may be a bit behind the automation trends that were all the rage in the exhibit hall in Detroit.

See what others are saying and join the discussion about these and other survey results on the Practical Machinist web forum.

Sean Griffin, PR Manager/Technical Writer