The art of running a successful manufacturing company, once thought doomed to history, is experiencing a revival — but not the revival the industry expected.
From Steel to Rust
America’s “Steel Belt” used to be a point of pride for the country. Manufacturing towns in the northeast churned out “Made in the U.S.A.” products with both quality and efficiency, and consumers were happy to buy them. Eventually, the Steel Belt degraded and became the Rust Belt as manufacturing jobs and companies moved overseas.
Common belief says the fall of the Rust Belt happened during the late 1970s and 1980s, but the roots of the region’s issues go back much further. Jobs in the Rust Belt began to decline in the 1950s, long before the economic turmoil of later years would bring manufacturing communities crashing down. Labor pressures from new industries drew talent that formerly went to manufacturing jobs, companies moved overseas, and factories closed shop.
Since then, members of manufacturing communities have desperately searched for revival. President Trump won votes in Rust Belt states in 2016 by declaring that he would bring jobs back to the region. Actual results have been mixed, however, with Rust Belt States showing initial gains in the first few years of Trump’s term but losing more than 25,000 manufacturing jobs from January to September last year.
Taken at face value, manufacturing appears to be in a continuous decline that began 70 years ago. Beneath the surface, though, the manufacturing industry has quietly joined the revolution of technology and entrepreneurship that has catapulted the global economy into a new era. Manufacturing has found its renaissance in a place no one thought to look.
Examining the Rise of the New Manufacturing Sector
Despite its reputation as an old-school industry, manufacturing has grown into something that workers from the Rust Belt’s 1980s struggles would barely recognize.
Research from Deloitte’s 2020 Manufacturing Industry Outlook reveals an industry consumed by disruption. According to Deloitte, manufacturers will contend with a variety of monetary and policy challenges this year and in the decade to come, but new avenues of innovation will provide new opportunities for growth.
Resilience and flexibility will be key drivers of that success. Corporate social responsibility and environmental conscientiousness, once opponents of all things manufacturing, now empower manufacturers to enjoy both the goodwill of the masses and the perks of more regulatory-insulated operations. Digital solutions, including smarter supply chains and employment assistance, create new partnership opportunities.
The most agile manufacturing companies will rise above the rest over the next decade, and the trend has already begun. Manufacturing today creates millions of indirect jobs adjacent to the industry. Modern manufacturing success means looking beyond the constraints of the past and imagining what the future of manufacturing can be.
How Can Manufacturing Companies Thrive?
As manufacturers explore unfamiliar territory, several companies adjacent to and within the industry are helping them navigate.
Employee communications can be a huge struggle in the manufacturing industry. Workers are hesitant to give employers too much access to their personal phones, and rightly so. To help combat that issue, TeamSense uses a text-based solution to make employee communication easier than ever. Their platform allows for secure messaging without employees needing to download an application to their personal phones. While TeamSense was originally created to be a Covid symptom screening tool, they’re evolving with the times and moving on to help solve the important issue of communicating more efficiently in the manufacturing industry.
Manufacturers cannot thrive without effective supply chain management. Chicago-based FourKites understands this problem and uses modern tools like machine learning to help manufacturers reduce operating costs and increase efficiency. Since FourKites opened its doors in 2014, the company has raised more than $100 million in funding. In the next year, FourKites plans to double its customer base, add 100 new employees, and attract more technical talent to bring efficiency and transparency to the manufacturing industry.
In the manufacturing world, automation puts people on guard. No one who works in the industry wants to hear about machines taking human jobs, especially the workers at the heart of manufacturing operations. Fortunately, Drishti Technologies envisions a different sort of automated future. Founded by Prasad Akella, a man who led GM’s collaborative robotics efforts in the 1990s, Drishti uses a combination of machine learning and computer vision to help production lines spot errors early. With tech like this, manufacturers can limit mistakes and keep more of their revenues by spending less on replacing and repairing products.
The manufacturing industry has dealt with struggles that would have crippled other industries years ago. Despite all the challenges, though, manufacturing remains an essential component of a functioning society. Top manufacturers and new entrants into the manufacturing industry recognize that today’s volatility is not a sign of decay but the first step toward an exciting future.