Assembly Line

Can Robots Fix Inflation, Supply Chain and Labor Issues? Singapore Thinks So

Delivering the US manufacturing renaissance


Topics: Reshoring

Organizations: McKinsey

A strong manufacturing economy unlocks important employment and advancement opportunities—a factor set to grow in significance if current job market pressures ease. Manufacturing is the main economic engine and primary employer in around 500 US counties today, and in those communities, the industry employs a broader-than-average swath of the overall population and does so more inclusively. In most cases, employees don’t need four-year degrees, and they can earn twice as much as those holding equivalent service-sector jobs, as employers invest in upskilling and reskilling their current workers by offering expanded learning opportunities. Our analysis suggests that reviving manufacturing could add up to 1.5 million jobs, particularly among middle-skill workers, which would help recalibrate the US labor market and bolster the middle class.

Any reinvigoration of US manufacturing will also require reinvention. Around the world, companies are taking a fresh look at the paradigms that have dominated the industry’s evolution for decades, with the aim of making manufacturing more sustainable, more digital, more skilled, and more resilient.

Read more at McKinsey Operations Insights

How Singapore Got Its Manufacturing Mojo Back


Topics: Reshoring

In courting factories like this, Singapore has become a rare wealthy country to reverse its manufacturing downturn. The city-state had faced industrial decline, with World Bank figures showing manufacturing falling to 18% of gross domestic product in 2013, from 27% in 2005. Then manufacturing made a comeback in Singapore, rising to 21% of GDP in 2020, according to the World Bank’s latest figures. Singapore government data shows manufacturing made up 22% of its GDP in 2021.

Read more at Wall Street Journal (Paid)

Right to re-print: What role could 3D printing have in right to repair?


Author: Laura Griffiths

Topics: Additive Manufacturing, 3D Printing, Reshoring

Where the volumes are right or a redesign beneficial, the case for AM can be made but for many parts, traditional methods of manufacture are still the way to go. Reeves recalls a visit to the warehouse of one of Europe’s largest white goods spare parts suppliers almost a decade ago. An analysis of the millions of SKUs on-hand was conducted but Reeves concluded “you could literally count on one hand the ones that were viable 3D prints.”

“The ‘right to repair’ legislation is likely to cause logistical headaches for manufacturers globally who face having to stock hundreds of thousands of spare parts,” Dickin said. “However, the law could also finally move the dial in reversing the “throwaway society” trend of the last 60 years by creating goods that last longer - producing savings for both the consumer and environment.

Read more at TCT Magazine

Regional vs. global manufacturing

A French Sneaker Maker Grapples With How to Bring Production Home


Author: Trefor Moss

Topics: Reshoring

Vertical: Apparel

Organizations: Salomon

After 15 years of manufacturing entirely in Asia, French sportswear firm Salomon SAS, eager to cut emissions and reduce bottlenecks, decided it was time to start making its signature sports shoes at home. The challenge, in a country where shoemaking died out years ago, was how to build the necessary supply chain.

Read more at Wall Street Journal (Paid)

The Changing Geopolitics Of Manufacturing And Its Supply Chains


Author: Trond Arne Undheim

Topics: Reshoring

Manufacturing is many things. Producing advanced electronics is not the same as making shoes. Nonetheless, whenever something is produced, infrastructure of some kind is involved. Hard infrastructure, such as factory networks requiring sunk cost investments in high technology takes too long to develop. Soft infrastructure like supplier relationships may look easy to reproduce, but these can be tricky to evolve as they form organically. For example, try competing with the fashion production chain in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region (the subject of the 1984 book The Second Industrial Divide, which argued we should abolish standardized mass production for a system of flexible specialization.)

Regionally dense supplier networks have always been a good idea. Collaboration is better face-to-face, or geographically proximate because skills tend to develop in clusters. Whatever the top skill in a region is becoming the priority for young talent. Consequently, this creates a positive feedback loop, and it is also more practical. Whether it is Northern Italy, the auto industry in the US upper midwest (see Automation Alley), New England’s high tech manufacturing hub, or Shenzhen’s hardware production networks, Shanghai’s automotive sector, or emerging Chengdu in southwestern China, which now deserves to be known for far more than “producing” Pandas, manufacturing tends to concentrate geographically. Disruptions are not the only reasons they are back in the big leagues.

Reshoring can be argued logically based on total cost of ownership. The reshoring movement also has an obvious nationalist rationale. Nation-states compete for attention and resources, but within their own borders, they redistribute (somewhat) fairly. Manufacturing is a source of great pride, so globalization has always been limited in scope and theory. Globalization, on the contrary, has no democratic infrastructure. Fairness is therefore up for grabs.

Read more at Forbes

Smart factories drive Korea SMEs to reshore overseas plants


Authors: Dae-Kyu Ahn, Gyeong-Jin Min

Topics: Reshoring

Organizations: Aju Steel, Hwashin Precision

The digitalized facility cut production costs by an average of 15.5%, raising productivity and quality by 28.5% and 42.5%, respectively, according to the Ministry of SMEs and Startups. Companies with the plants added 2.6 employees on average and reduced industrial accidents by 6.2%.

“It is urgent to increase productivity per capita by upgrading to smart factories since the falling working-age population is weakening the manufacturing sector’s competitiveness in the mid to long term,” said Noh Min-sun, a research fellow at the Korea Small Business Institute. Local SMEs see the system as a solution to cope with risks from the global supply disruption, the COVID-19, surging commodity prices.

Read more at Korea Economic Daily

Mexican manufacturing: so far from EU, so close to US


Topics: Reshoring

Vertical: Pharmaceutical

Kearney’s US Reshoring Index (April 2021) shows that many US manufacturing executives perceive nearshoring to Mexico or Canada as even more advantageous than reshoring to the US. The index also noted that US manufacturers will specifically strive to reduce dependence on China for manufacturing, another positive sign for nearshoring operations to Mexico. Since 2020, Covid-19 related supply chain disruptions have caused many US companies to take steps to bring some of their manufacturing closer to home.

The US pharma market is the largest worldwide. There is a great incentive for North American countries to trade with each other (and promote nearshoring, given lower overhead costs) since the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a free trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the US, came into force in July 2020. At the same time, the US has had trade disputes with a major pharma exporter, China, in recent years. Many of the world’s largest pharma companies already operate facilities in Mexico, and nearshoring could increase international investment further.

Read more at Pharmaceutical Technology

Why Robots Can’t Sew Your T-Shirt


Author: Harris Quinn

Topics: Glocalization, reshoring

Vertical: Apparel, Textiles

Organizations: SoftWear Automation, Sewbo

But sewing has been notoriously difficult to automate, because textiles bunch and stretch as they’re worked with. Human hands are adept at keeping fabric organized as it passes through a sewing machine. Robots typically are not deft enough to handle the task.

SoftWear’s robots overcame those hurdles. They can make a T-shirt. But making them as cheaply as human workers do in places like China or Guatemala, where workers earn a fraction of what they might make in the US, will be a challenge, says Sheng Lu, a professor of fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware.

SoftWear calls its robotic systems Sewbots. They are basically elaborate work tables that pair sewing machines with complex sensors. The company zealously guards the details of how they work, but here are the basics: Fabric is cut into pieces that will become parts of the shirt: the front, the back, and the sleeves. Those pieces are loaded into a work line where, instead of a person pushing the fabric through a sewing machine, a complicated vacuum system stretches and moves the material. Cameras track the threads in each panel, allowing the system to make adjustments while the garment is being constructed.

Read more at WIRED

COVID-19 Drives Industry 4.0 — and Reshoring


Author: Harry Moser

Topics: COVID-19, reshoring

Resiliency concerns revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic are driving both reshoring and digital transformation. A realignment of priorities towards risk mitigation, agility, responsiveness and faster time-to-market are encouraging companies to shorten supply chains and reshore; 47 percent of small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) are reevaluating supply chains.

To be cost-competitive, domestic manufacturers are looking to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies to close the labor price gap. New technologies are a game changer in achieving U.S. competitiveness and reshoring.

Read more at SME