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Manufacturing's Present and Future

By APICS CEO Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE | 0 | 0 | November 08, 2013
Supply chain management has been a major driver of cheaper prices for manufactured goods in the past 30 years. Automation is another. Experts expect these trends in manufacturing’s advancement to continue. This week, the team was struck by two articles, which together illustrate manufacturing’s growth and continuing potential. First, in “Are You Paying More than Your Parents,” CNNMoney explored how advances in manufacturing, including better supply chain management, are enabling cheaper manufactured goods. Next, the Economist’s “The Factory of the Future” examines manufacturing’s shift from production to a suite of activities.

“We’ve experienced the ‘miracle of manufacturing’ of the last 50–60 years,” says Mark Perry, a University of Michigan economist, in the CNNMoney article. “Anything that is manufactured has become cheaper and cheaper over time.”

Supply chain management is one driver of cheaper prices. Automation is another. Experts expect these trends in manufacturing’s advancement to continue.

That leads us in to the Economist article, which highlights a British government report finding: “Manufacturing is no longer just about production. Production is now the core of a much wider set of activities.” Those activities encompass a wide range of services. For example, the article describes how Rolls-Royce now leases jet engines to airlines and ARM designs chips produced and used by smartphone manufacturers.

Another activity predicted to gain traction is remanufacturing, an industrial process in which used products are restored to like-new condition. “In the future, companies will not be able to afford to throw things away,” says study leader Sir Richard Lapthorne, a British industrialist.

In summary, while technology means that manufacturing will continue to need fewer workers, a wider view of manufacturing and its related services can actually boost employment. Government leaders need to work to understand these more complex value chains in order to aid manufacturing.

Are you ready for the future?

The APICS Operations Management Body of Knowledge Framework features an entire chapter dedicated to advanced manufacturing and service technology. It includes a definition for flexible manufacturing systems, which “can respond quickly and easily to predicted and unpredicted changes. This flexibility generally falls into one of two categories: machine and routing. Machine flexibility reflects a system’s ability to change and produce new product types and its ability to change the order of operations executed on the part. Routing flexibility reflects the ability to use multiple machines to perform the same operations on a part as well as the ability to absorb large-scale changes, such as in volume capacity or capability.”

The articles mentioned previously are full of complex ideas like flexible manufacturing systems. Manufacturers everywhere are going to need employees who are knowledgeable and can continue to maximize supply chain and operations management. Are you ready for manufacturing’s future? APICS provides a wide variety of educational options—from one-day seminars to intensive certification programs—all designed to give professionals what they need to succeed in the intricate, global business environment. Visit apics.org/education to learn how you can enhance your career with APICS.


What do you think are the major factors accounting for the differences in product prices over the past 30 years? How does supply chain contribute?
Considering your expertise as a supply chain or operations management professional, how will automation influence manufacturing and value chain employment in the long run?



  • Time Travelers
    By John P. Collins, CFPIM, CSCP, and Eric P. Jack, PhD, CFPIM, CSCP
    July/August 2013, APICS magazine