Research shows technology is transforming manufacturing

September 18, 2013

At a time when technological innovations offer new growth opportunities for the manufacturing sector, a lack of talent from rising generations threatens its future vitality, according to Industry Market Barometer® (IMB) research from®, New York City.

The annual survey of more than 1,200 U.S. manufacturers paints a picture of an industry that is thriving and reinventing itself every day, but is in danger of slowing down if it doesn’t replenish its talent pool. Most of these respondents are from small and midsize manufacturing companies, representative of their sector.

Currently the future is bright for these companies: Fifty-five percent grew in 2012, and 63 percent expect to grow in 2013. They credit their people, brands, technology, and innovation as the assets that are helping them to compete. Sixty-seven percent plan to introduce new products or services this year.

A closer look at the findings, however, reveals a disconnect between the growth of these manufacturers and their lack of urgency when it comes to bringing in fresh talent to carry them forward. The survey respondents mirror today’s manufacturing workforce, which is heavily populated by employees who are 45 and older. With Generation Y projected to make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, manufacturers need a collective succession plan to maintain their momentum. Yet, eight out of 10 respondents report that this generation represents a small fraction of their employee base, and most don’t see that changing soon. In short, despite more opportunity ahead, manufacturing’s “biological clock” is silently ticking away.

"As a foundation of our economy, the manufacturing sector remains vibrant, but cracks are coming to the surface. Changes in the workforce demographics and old attitudes about manufacturing as a career threaten the industry's expansion. It's time for those who love American manufacturing to double their efforts to engage the next generation," said Eileen Markowitz, president of ThomasNet.

From the back office to the factory floor, technologies are making manufacturing a hotbed of innovation, improving companies’ operations and increasing their growth. For example, manufacturers are boosting productivity with more advanced CAD software, CNC equipment, and cloud computing. They are making custom products through additive manufacturing. They are relying on visual boards for top-line views of their plants and using smartphones and tablets to monitor inventory for stocking and pricing. More than half say their websites are their most effective business-building tactic.

A report on the findings can be downloaded at

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