Manufacturing made the US a world power in the 19th Century. Today we share the industrial stage, and experts disagree on our standing.
Amidst all the offshoring, onshoring and reshoring, one trend is clear: with wages converging globally, the supply of digital skills has a big say in what jobs are being created, and where.
As part of this trend, Industrial America is hiring armies of Big Data experts. A Forbes review of numbers from Wanted Analytics showed manufacturers listed 15% of Big Data related job openings at mid-year, compared with "professional, scientific and technical services" (25%), Information Technologies (17%), finance and insurance (9%) and retail trade (8%). Put differently: outside of IT itself, manufacturing is hiring more data gurus than any other single industry. Big Data positions include data analysts and scientists, solution architects, data platform engineers and Linux/Java/Hadoop/SQL engineers.
While pure size plays a role – one in six private-sector US employees works in manufacturing – there is no question that factories are punching above their historical weight when it comes to data. Here are three dimensions on which the science of digits is reshaping the business of things.
1. Process improvement.
Manufacturers have sought to sharpen factory precision ever since innovators like Eli Whitney and Samuel Colt advanced the concept of interchangeable parts in the early and mid-19th Century. Today sensor-sourced data continues to push the outer folds of the envelope, as a recent report from McKinsey explains. “Even within manufacturing operations that are considered best in class, the use of advanced analytics may reveal further opportunities to increase yield.”
The authors cite the case of an established European maker of functional and specialty chemicals for paper, detergents, metalworking and other industries. This firm used “neural-network techniques” that mimic human brain functions to compare the production impact of factors such as coolant pressures, temperatures, quantity, and carbon dioxide flow. These insights helped the firm tune its process to cut raw material waste 20% and energy costs 15%, improving yield. Data scientists will continue to find new efficiencies using “Internet of Things” applications like this.
2. Supply chain management.
SMART Modular Technologies, maker of DRAM and Flash-based components for OEM partners in IT, telecom, automotive and other industrial sectors, uses Attunity Replicate software to rapidly consolidate manufacturing and SAP ERP tables onto SQL Server. The result: a holistic, near-real time Qlikview dashboard showing what things are where. Smart Modular has reduced inventory risk and improved delivery times, and customers can check their shipment status on demand. This intelligence is making customers happy and bringing in new business.
3. Personalized production.
Additive manufacturing, also called 3D printing, promises to revolutionize certain sectors by enabling individuals to have products custom-made according to their personal specifications. The products themselves are created through successive layering of materials. A recent PwC survey shows 2 in 3 US manufacturers already are using 3D printing in some fashion. 3D printing also creates opportunities for new businesses.
A great example is Shapeways, which aims to empower a new generation of entrepreneurs by uploading their designs and building prototypes or finished products on demand. Three-dimensional modeling firm Speed 3D, meanwhile, has partnered with Shapeways and another 3D printer called iJet to convert customers’ self-portraits into 3D avatars (using algorithms on Amazon Web Services’ EC2) that are then printed into physical statues.
All of this hinges on rapid data integration and analysis, to build and process the specs, and monitor and improve building quality.