Is Skilled-Labor Doomed?

welding-spatterIn a previous post we discussed what 3D printing is and how its emergence into the world of manufacturing may possibly affect various business models. While most people agree that it will send massive waves of change through the manufacturing and industrial world it’s not entirely clear if certain sectors will remain untouched.

While 3D printing can potentially replace a lot of machinists and their machines, and even those who make the machines, a lot of work is done outside the controlled confines of a factory or shop. There are many tasks that cannot be completed in this setting and instead must be done on-site, like the construction of real estate, from something as small as a house all the way to large buildings. Sure, you can use some pre-fabricated pieces, but until the day where houses and building are completely modular, on-site work such as welding, plumbing, and electrical work will be needed.

3D printers will themselves need to be manufactured. It is plausible that eventually larger more sophisticated mother 3Dprinters with be all that is needed to replicate the individual units that make up smaller ones, but until that day arrives traditional manufacturing will be the only way to create one. There is also the need for hand-on repairs to both old and new equipment, and there are no indications that will be going away any time soon.

Overall, it is very possible that with an increase in size, speed and quality 3D printing machines will vastly change the current landscape of the manufacturing world. It is almost certainly revolutionize the industry. One thing that it cannot and will not replace however is skilled labor. In the foreseeable future they won’t be able to replace on-site labor either. They are great at producing an item in a controlled setting, but they fail to have the ability to work in tight spaces, make on-site repairs, and work with large sophisticated projects. They will be a useful tool in the future, but they are just that, a tool. Every tool needs and operator, and every tool has limits.

Role Reversal: from the West to the East

While manufacturing a product in China to sell to western economies is becoming more and more enticing to many small and large businesses alike, the product and supply chain are only part of the equation. Marketing and branding is still incredibly important, and many companies are choosing the Internet as where they are expanding their marketing efforts.

What many people have started to very recently discover is that due to a whole new generation of Chinese consumers with substantial disposable incomes and more easily accessible Chinese Internet marketplaces, many western economies have begun to reverse the above mentioned business model. That is, they are manufacturing products in the west to sell to these new Chinese consumers with plenty of money to spend.

Although the Chinese government would love to keep all of China’s new wealth within its own economy, Chinese consumers have shown that they are more than willing to spend their money on overseas luxuries. Even high luxury tariffs have not stopped the inflow of western products, and there does not seem to be any indication that western goods will lose their attractiveness in China any time soon.

Those looking to sell to China however face similar problems as to those moving goods from China to sell to the west. While breaking into the Chinese market is much easier now than in the past, it is largely reliant on establishing and maintaining a significant Internet presence. China digital marketing is a booming industry full of opportunity for everyone from western manufacturers to SEO firms looking for new revenue streams.

As individual economies grow and shrink the need for manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and service providers to adjust their business models is extremely important. While a missed step could cause a business a lot of financial burden, it’s important to remember that this change also brings many new opportunities with it.

Will 3D Printing Eliminate the Need for Traditional Fabrication Methods?

seal-setThe plastic and rubber fabrication industry is at a crossroads. The demand for custom sized and shaped plastic and rubber is incredibly strong, but the shift from traditional fabrication methods to newer technologies such as 3D printing is leading many manufacturers into a situation where they will have to make some hard choices on how the will advance into the future. They must not only plan for the future but also maintain smooth supply lines today in order to keep their customers’ needs met.

Most people agree that 3D printing is going to have an incredible impact in the world of industry and manufacturing. Some questions however are when will that time arrive, and when it does will it destroy traditional methods? Currently the scale at which traditional methods can produce product is one of its benefits. Also, it is much more versatile in regards to materials that can be fabricated into customized products. A further benefit is that while making rubber and plastic items that are bound to other materials, like how the rubber and metal are bound together during the manufacturing process of vee packing rubber seals.

Something that 3D printing has on its side though is the lack of  initial investment needed to produce custom molds for each new product or size. Once the designer has created the blueprint with whatever 3D printing software that is required, it’s much cheaper and easier to maintain, modify, and use. When working with a product that has a wide range of sizes, this is extremely useful and cost efficient.

While 3D printing is only in its infancy, it has already started to works its way into custom plastic and rubber fabrication services. It’s functionality and cost efficiency is something that traditional fabrication will have a hard time competing with, especially as the technology grows and evolves. It’s safe to say, 3D printing is here to stay. How it changes the rubber and plastic industry however is yet to be determined.

People in the Age of Tech

A lot of what we read about and push ourselves to learn more about these days, especially in the word of business, industry, and manufacturing revolves around computers and technology. In a very short time we have went from using email instead of snail mail, online video interviews instead of face-to-face meets, and complex computer programs that analyze our financials so that we can try to maximize our profits and minimize our spending to the utmost extreme. While this may be beneficial to the bottom line, it may eventually be toxic to business in the long run.

The core of business, no matter if you are a small retail shop owner or a large manufacturer, is people. We buy raw materials or wholesale products from people. We create new products and sell them to people. Even in B2B networks, there is a person or group of people behind the companies making deals. The more invasive and the more responsibility that technology assumes, the less interaction we have as people.

A major problem with this trend is that relationships can not easily be built in this manner. Although it can be misconstrued as a buzzword, the concept of synergy is real. A spreadsheet or automated analysis can not provide accurate information on whether or not two businesses or business owners will work well together. On paper, they may have what each other needs, but in reality, the relationship may prove disastrous.

Take the movie Moneyball as an analogy. Sheer math could only take Oakland so far. To this day, while Billy Beane’s teams have measurable success, they cannot go all the way. Aside from having math on your side, to succeed in the long run, you need real relationships, partnerships, and shared visions.

Technology is a tremendous asset. It has inarguably led to growth and innovation that would have never been possible without it. However, at the end of the day, people still do business with people, and while tech can and should be used as a valuable tool, relying solely on it as a decision maker takes a large part of what makes many  business interactions successful, and the is people.