Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog from our friend Daniel Waldron with Armagard. In this article, Daniel investigates how the US can overtake China with manufacturing productivity.
According to the 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index – developed by Deloitte and the Council on Competitiveness – China leads the way as the world’s most competitive manufacturing nation.
However, the US is closing the gap and is expected to claim the crown by 2020, according to ‘The Made in America Movement’ – a non-partisan organization lobbying for American manufacturers. Yet, is there a way US manufacturing can claim the top spot before then? Armagard investigates…
The use of advanced manufacturing technologies is said to be fuelling America’s surge towards becoming the world’s most competitive manufacturing nation. That’s according to a survey of global CEOs and senior executives. Among those technologies are computers and software, integrated on manufacturing floors for the purposes of automation.
Millions of dollars have been invested by US manufacturing firms into transforming manufacturing floors into computerized environments to improve the country’s competitive position. Similar investments have been made by other manufacturing powerhouses such as Germany, Japan, and the UK.
US manufacturers rank computer technology alongside having the right staff as a crucial driver of the industry’s competitiveness, while productivity is not far behind. However, despite heavy investment in advanced technologies, China still leads the way in the manufacturing stakes, despite the Chinese economy suffering a recent slump.
What’s stopping the US taking advantage of this?
Armagard’s theory is that heavy investment in computerizing the US manufacturing floor has presented the industry with a new set of challenges. One of the key challenges is downtime, occurring as a result of computer failure.
With many manufacturing firms introducing computers to manufacturing environments to improve things such as big data collection or to tap into the Internet of Things (IoT), incidents of downtime are seriously impacting productivity.
However, the issues don’t stop there. The knock-on effects of computer downtime extend beyond reduced productivity. Suddenly, whole projects are thrown into chaos, with downtime resulting in increased lead times, customer dissatisfaction, reputational damage and ultimately, loss of market share having failed to deliver.
Worse still, there are the financial implications that manufacturing firms have to contend with. Computers brought in to improve manufacturing productivity actually end up hindering output, which could be one of the reasons why the US continues to lag behind China in the manufacturing competitive stakes.
Although the ‘Made in America Movement’ predicts that the US will come out on top by 2020, is this based on the assumption that China won’t do anything to improve its own manufacturing cycle?
We’re not saying that solving the problem of computer downtime is the only factor currently preventing the US from surpassing China’s dominance of the manufacturing sector. However, we are saying that tackling the issue would go some way to helping US manufacturers improve manufacturing productivity.
Tackling computer downtime on US manufacturing floors needs attention.
The issue here, in the battle to reign supreme in the manufacturing competitiveness stakes, is not ‘who can invest the most in advanced manufacturing technologies?’ It’s ‘who can perfect the use of advanced manufacturing technologies to improve manufacturing productivity?’ This, combined with recruiting the right staff, is the formula for success.
Marrying computer technology with manufacturing productivity
However, as we made reference to earlier, there appears to be a disconnection between technology and productivity… ‘US manufacturers rank computer technology and having the right staff as a crucial driver of the industry’s competitiveness, while productivity is not far behind…’
Technology and productivity are alluded to separately in this context, but why? Shouldn’t it be the case that technology is the catalyst for improving manufacturing productivity?
It’s our assumption that this disconnection has occurred because instances of downtime involving, let’s say computer technology, has planted ‘seeds of doubt’ that technology can play a part in better productivity across the manufacturing industry.
We could be way off the mark, but let’s say we’re not, hypothetically speaking. How can the computer technology used by US manufacturing firms be improved in order to improve manufacturing productivity and dethrone China as the world’s manufacturing kingpin?
The answer lies in computer downtime prevention. The emergence of what the manufacturing sector dubs ‘Industry 4.0’ continues to gather pace and shows no signs of slowing down.
As the scramble to computerize the manufacturing floor in the name of ‘remaining competitive’ reaches new heights, one key oversight is causing manufacturing floors to unravel, before computers can make a difference. The oversight in question is computer protection.
Computer protection on the manufacturing floor is often thought about after it’s too late.
Marrying computer technology to the manufacturing floor should not be undertaken if you’re not willing to protect your capital investment. The stark reality is that computers, in particular, are not built to last, and their lifespan is greatly diminished when they’re put to use in a manufacturing environment.
One of the key factors that will help US manufacturing to overhaul China, in an age where the race for manufacturing supremacy rests on perfecting computer-integrated manufacturing, rests on reliable computing.
To achieve reliable computing, protective environmental enclosures will play a role in shaping manufacturing floors of the future. Computer enclosures represent continuity on the manufacturing floor, minimizing the impact of damage threats that are lethal to shop floor computers.
Dust, dirt, powder and liquid damage are just some of the elements that enclosures shield computers against, but more than that, they are the difference between preventing downtime and a downtime disaster. An enclosure is as important an investment as the computer itself, except enclosures, give you the benefit of bringing technology and productivity together to sustain manufacturing continuity.
In the race to lead the way in manufacturing competitiveness, enclosures can give US manufacturers the edge, improving computer-integrated manufacturing productivity and bringing forward the date that US manufacturing will surpass the output of China.
The gap between computer technology and improved productivity can be closed by enclosures, and for US manufacturers, it needs to be. Computer use on the manufacturing floor isn’t going to go away, better to be prepared against downtime or face further setbacks that will leave US industry trailing behind China.