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U.S. Manufacturing can be revived, but it will look different

June 18, 2018

In March we had our first $1 million month. It was the culmination of recent growth that has included a hiring spree in which we brought 24 people, including 2 new engineers, into the IRD family. As it turns out, we aren’t an exception; U.S. manufacturing is on the rebound. Challenges remain, but the future looks bright. This blog will explore the relationship between manufacturing and automation and explore the amazing opportunities in robotics, for both companies and their employees.

A Snapshot of U.S. Manufacturing in 2018

It’s true: there are 5 million fewer manufacturing jobs in the U.S. today than there were in 2000; just 8% of employees have manufacturing jobs, compared to around 40% in the 1960s. There are a host of reasons for this, chief among them the emergence of China as a manufacturing powerhouse. With its low labor costs and its undervalued exchange rate, it has been difficult for American companies to compete. But the game is changing now.

China has been transitioning to consumer-driven economy. Wages have risen there and, naturally, so too has the cost of manufacturing there. No other China-like country is prepared to step in and undercut China the way China did the United States in the 2000s.

That’s because the nature of manufacturing is changing; having an edge in manufacturing today has less to do with cheap labor than it does with having the best technology and the most highly trained workforce — two areas where U.S. manufacturing has always been competitive.

The Promise of Robotics

The U.S. has been outpacing other developed countries — a group that includes most European countries, South Korea, Japan, and Mexico — in manufacturing output since 1997. In 2017, the economy added 196,000 manufacturing jobs, the most in any year since 2014, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Two ingredients are needed to continue and accelerate this trend: robots and skills.

According to the International Federation of Robotics, the U.S. is lagging behind South Korea, Germany, Japan and Sweden in the number of industrial robots installed per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry since 2016. To cement the United States’ leadership position in manufacturing, it won’t be enough to simply have robots manufacturing our products. Everyone will be doing that.

“The really long-term play,” according to economist Ricardo Hausmann, “is for the U.S. to be the source of the machinery that will power the coming global manufacturing revolution.” To create the robots that do the manufacturing, in other words.

About IRD Glass

For over 33 years, IRD Glass has done things that virtually no one else has with glass and ceramics. We create precision sapphire components, ceramic components, infrared components, and glass components, including medical glass, prisms, and much more.

We incorporate lean principles into the R&D process and use a unique cell-based manufacturing approach with small, dedicated teams work on individual client projects. With this manufacturing approach, IRD Glass has become a sole-source provider to both large and small corporations across the planet. We were also recently awarded a Certificate for Exceptional Quality Performance by Honeywell after we achieved zero parts-per-million defects in the last 12 months.

To learn more about our many precision glass, ceramic and optical components, please visit our homepage today!