Perhaps the primary challenge for manufacturing in the immediate future is the capital investment required to keep up with new, disruptive technologies. Interconnected appliances (the “internet-of-things”) and self-driving vehicles are current examples.
The automotive industry is the vanguard of this manufacturing change. Although automobile technology has steadily progressed, automobile manufacturing as a process has generally followed the same basic formula over the years. That is quickly changing. Automobiles have become technology hubs, and customers expect shortened model years embodying the latest tech. The rapid advent of self-driving vehicles is accelerating this trend. The imperative need of automobile manufacturers to keep up with technology is causing exciting new alliances with industry leaders in technology and the “sharing” industry that would have been thought fantastic a few mere years ago. General Motors has aligned with Uber, and this week rumors of an alliance between Fiat Chrysler and Uber were circulated. Google has a short-term partnership with Fiat Chrysler. Tesla is rapidly moving forward. For thoughts on where the industry is headed, see, for example: Disruptive Trends that will Transform the auto industry.
However, the effect of those technologies pale in comparison to the disruptions that will be caused by the widespread availability of 3D printing, robotics and artificial intelligence. 3D printing keeps getting easier to use. Amazon fulfillment services is poised to serve these DIY (“do it yourself”) trends. Will the ease of production lessen the demand for Chinese contract manufacturers?
Deep-learning algorithms and easy reproduction will cause those technologies to affect nearly every facet of life. See for example: Pedro Domingos, The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World (2015). Less well-known technologies, such as that underlying the blockchain, may be a behind-the-scenes disruptor. See, for example: Don Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Money, and the World (2016).
These disruptions will also have an effect on the growing importance of protecting the international supply chain. For one author’s view, see: Parag Khanna, Connectivity: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization (2016).
Congress has begun studying how such technologies will ripple through our society. In June 2016, the Swiss rejected a basic income proposal, but the basic income theme, in response to deal with anticipated widespread job displacement, was even raised in The Wall Street Journal this month.
We do, indeed, live in interesting times.
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