The secret to the recent success in U.S. manufacturing can be traced back to the adaptability of American companies to leverage the latest in cutting-edge technology. According to a new report from ThomasNet, new technology is permeating every aspect of manufacturing, “from design engineering to the factory floor, and from sales and marketing to business operations,” all in an effort to achieve strategic business advantages in the global marketplace.
In its annual Industry Market Barometer poll (see “Technology Transforms Manufacturing Into a Hotbed of Innovation”), the ThomasNet researchers concluded that high-tech retooling “is also powering up America’s manufacturing sector as an engine for wealth creation.” The report notes that manufacturing accounted for about $1.9 trillion, or about 12 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, in 2012.
That level of activity could only have been achieved by enormous investments in new equipment and information technology by American firms. For example, according to the report, U.S. manufacturers increasingly are:
• Boosting productivity with more advanced CAD software, CNC equipment, and cloud computing.
• Making custom products through additive manufacturing.
• Relying on “visual boards” for top-line views of their plants.
• Using smartphones and tablets to monitor inventory for stocking and pricing.
One manufacturer noted, “Our company has transformed from a small manual welding shop to a national supplier of trailer hitches, agricultural, and job shop products and processes by embracing technology to increase worker productivity.”
The report found that manufacturers are making investments in their operations to support growth, which “signals a growing confidence in the market and a willingness to make capital investments.” About half of the survey’s respondents said that innovation in new products and services was responsible for their improved competitiveness. The manufacturers polled also said that they have “realized cost savings and better supply control by bringing previously outsourced processes in-house (e.g., metal stampings, molded components) or by adopting solar energy panels, upgraded energy-efficient lighting and company-wide recycling.”
Companies are also giving special attention to technology to improve sales, and more than half (62 percent) say their websites are their most effective business-building tactic. “Our company is doing exceptionally well, and with our website as our primary marketing tool, we have doubled our online sales,” said Karen Norheim, vice president of marketing and information technology with American Crane and Equipment Corp. in Philadelphia.