Over the course of the last century, the manufacturing industry has undergone many changes thanks to a variety of factors such as evolving workplace regulations, business process innovations, new technological advances and more. Technology has been particularly influential in this evolution. The role of manufacturers and their workers is now drastically different than it was one hundred years ago.
Here’s how manufacturing has evolved over the last century.
Ford and the Assembly Line
The genius of Henry Ford has been described time and time again, and with good reason. When he introduced the Auto Assembly Line to the world in 1913, he sparked the beginnings of a new era of manufacturing. Ford designed a vehicle that could be made of interchangeable parts – ones that could be cheaply manufactured in mass quantities. Workers could then be trained to deal with specific parts while others could be hired to simply bring parts to these skilled assemblymen in record time. All of this took place along a 150-foot chain conveyor system, enabling production times to go down and profit margins to go up.
Ford wasn’t the only one to profit from this model. Workers also gained some major benefits. Shockingly, Ford cut working shifts from nine to eight hours a day in order to facilitate a three-shift workday model, so that workers could be hired to work the assembly line 24-hours a day. He did this without forcing labourers to take a pay cut. In fact, Ford doubled daily wages to $5 in order to enable his workers to purchase the very products they spend the day manufacturing.
A century later, the assembly line model is still alive and kicking, with some modifications, of course. But the basis – the use of subdivided labour and fluid movement – is still in place despite a century’s worth of technological innovations, and have led to its continued success to this very day. This is not limited to the world of automobile manufacturing, but across different industries worldwide.
The Rise of Electronics
A half-century or so after Ford and invention of the assembly line, another industrial age rose out of the ashes of the Second World War. By the late 1960s, advances in nuclear technology had brought along with it the birth of a new generation of electronics. The world began to send men into space, thanks to strides great strides in telecommunications, computers and biotechnology. Down on earth, automation technology was beginning to cause a frenzy in more than one boardroom; the invention of PLCs – programmable logic controllers – and industrial robots were going to change the world of manufacturing forever.
Between the 1960s and the 1980s, manufacturing plants began to automate their production processes in order to increase productivity, reduce costs and to keep up with competitors springing up across Europe and Asia. Deindustrialization was on the tip of everyone’s tongues as the number of labourers in North American manufacturing plants began to dwindle. Simply put, fewer workers were needed to undertake tasks that had undergone factory automation, driven by a boom in the US technology sector and impressive changes in manufacturing technology.
Flexible Manufacturing with Advanced Connectivity
It’s been about another half century or so since the introduction of electronics into factory floors. Though North American manufacturing has gone through a series of uphill battles, technology has once again begun to transform its landscape. Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology is already having an impact on modern-day manufacturing. Things are already looking safer, more flexible and much more productive. Furthermore, the need for skilled employees with robotics and automation education is already staggering.
The future of modern manufacturing lies in the knowledge economy. Factory robotics are becoming ubiquitous, requiring employees who are skilled enough to interact with new technology and able to keep themselves up to date with the latest and the greatest on a regular basis. As manufacturers move to align the latest technology with the most efficient processes, the demand for highly trained employees continues to go up. Continuous iteration is the name of the game – and this applies to both the technology and the people. The modern factory worker must boast strong computer skills and the ability to operate, monitor, maintain and optimize increasingly sophisticated technology.
The Future is Bright for North American Manufacturers
It’s clear that there’s a new boom coming for North American manufacturers after a series of tough years. Electronics, robotics and automation will play a key role in the years to come, but the time to seek talent is now. Manufacturers will need as much good talent as they can get these next few years if they want to take advantage of this pivotal moment that is the birth of a new industrial revolution.