In the 20th Century, with quality becoming commoditized, manufacturing competitiveness was all about labor costs. Jobs fled from the high-cost West to low-cost developing nations, mainly in the East.
Now that great swing is reversing. A combination of technologies has changed the face of manufacturing, and in turn, the face of business.
Some are calling it the “Third Industrial Revolution” – but it’s a far cry from great factories with huge teams of blue-collar workers. Manufacturing, like so much else in our world, has been transformed by technology.
New materials, nano-technology, smart software, robotics, biomimicry, and 3D printing are the order of the day. And the impact on jobs has been profound.
Low-skill menial workers are simply needed less and less. The demand now is for skilled technocrats with computer savvy and great collaboration abilities… exactly the kind of people who grew up playing computer games and thriving in social networks.
Today’s winners include the US and Europe, while in the East the winners are in high-skilled China and India. The old ‘developing nations’ are losing out in the race for manufacturing relevance.
As mass production shifts to mass customization, new production facilities – small, clean and automated – have moved close to their markets. Only a handful of skilled technicians are required to run the plants, and designers can be anywhere in the world, connected through the Net.
Local logistics are proving to be a winner, as customized goods are delivered to customers within hours of ordering. A big trend is in-home 3D printing, where consumers can order goods from a vast range of online catalogs and print them, right there at home.