A cornerstone of the President-Elect’s promise to the United States, both before and after the election, is to bring the bulk of manufacturing jobs back to America. Whether or not it’s possible is a topic of major controversy, but it is a sobering reminder of just how much manufacturing has changed in the world. You would have a hard time finding a good product not made in America through most of the 20th century, but today China and the Asian Pacific make a large portion of the things we use.
But just as manufacturing changed in the last 20th century, it will certain change in the early 21st — and more drastically than every. Here are three ways new manufacturing trends will change the global economy in the years to come.
Automation isn’t a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. The world will reach a point where we no longer need human beings to drive our trucks, fly our planes or work our assembly lines. So if President-Elect Trump does manage to bring back manufacturing to the U.S., there’s no guarantee the jobs will come with it.
Elon Musk’s Tesla is already doing this at its Gigafactory in Nevada. While Tesla is hailed as a great American company (and it certainly is), it already set itself on the path to automation when it acquired a German automation company in November. Even as the world’s most popular electric car maker, Tesla is well on its way past human labor in its biggest factory.
3-D printers (known professionally as additive manufacturing) are doing amazing things on both the industrial and consumer level. Anyone can buy a base-model 3-D printer for a few thousand dollars and build virtually anything the mind creates, but what’s happening on the industrial level is changing the way we buy mass-produced goods.
The more you can produce of the same item, the better the profit margins, but this also leaves no room for customization. This is where Apple Rubber is using 3-D printing to get the best of both worlds. The new technology lets them produce on a massive scale while also giving custom options, thanks to the variability of 3-D printing; this keeps options high and prices low.
The future 45th President, despite progression in automation, might get his wish to bring back a large chunk of manufacturing to the United States, even if it doesn’t create the jobs he wants. The one caveat of manufacturing in China is that shipping across the world is still an enormous feat. Even with the rates of labor in Asia, shipping is a major piece of the pie in total costs of goods.
Automation, combined with 3-D printing, could create manufacturing “hubs” all around the world. Instead of mass-producing every product and shipping across the world, production would be spread across the world so that shipping could stay within a certain radius. The cost of human labor would have little effect since automation would take care of most of the process. Since the United States is so large and geographically diverse, you could certainly count on several of those hubs existing right here in America — and producing at least some new jobs to maintain each center.