Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Future of manufacturing?
Article Type: Viewpoint From: Assembly Automation, Volume 28, Issue 3
Have you heard of ManuFuture? If yes, then you will know that this term was formed from the words manufacturing and future and designates a European Technology Platform that is concerned about the European future of manufacturing. If not, then I am happy to take a few moments of your time and tell you a little bit about my dreams.
Looking at the scene of manufacturing in Europe you will easily recognize the traces of outsourcing and globalization. In some sectors the situation is rather scary and it needs a close look to understand some important interconnections. Globalization is definitely a fact of our time. It very often means that certain groups of people work together who probably did not even know each others’ existence before. Many of them were able to increase their individual standard of living. In other cases globalization is just a synonym for maximizing the profit of some individuals not caring for the consequences for the people involved.
The starting point of ManuFuture was the question, how to design future research programs at a European level so that the results would be sustainable for European societies. One third of all jobs in Europe is directly related to manufacturing. If you include the service jobs that work directly for manufacturing you will find that two thirds of all jobs are related to manufacturing. A change from this situation to a service-oriented society as another model of sustaining Europe’s society is a myth because one job in manufacturing is prerequisite for two jobs in service. So, if we want to change the trend of manufacturing leaving Europe, we as a society need to do something (quickly!) for manufacturing.
As you can find quite a bit of information about ManuFuture in the internet, I will make a longer story short at this point (see for instance: www.manufuture.org/or www.manufuture.de/english). The key findings can be summarized as follows. We have to stop competing by cost only but we have to come to “value adding” as a new paradigm, a result that was widely accepted from different industrial representatives. We have to approach research programs not only from a technological angle. Technology and the advancement of technology are of course, important but also as a society we have to put high demands on the implementation of the results - an aspect that was likely to be neglected in the past. The gap between an industrial and an academic approach to this question has to be closed. An innovation in this context is a product with some kind of new features - sold on the market, not paperwork. There has to be and there will be a balance between basic and applied research. If one looks at the amount of debts most European countries have one has to seek means to come to return on invest for public money that is spent on research. This shifts the emphasis in research programs and requires a new type of evaluation.
My dream? My dream is a wider recognition of the main result of ManuFuture. Manufacturing has to be strengthened. This has to be and can be done by taking an analysis into account that goes beyond mere technological aspects. We do not live in countries with high wages (which force production to leave), no we live in countries with extreme high costs for infrastructure. This is a completely different political dimension. There are many examples that prove that one can run a factory including local production very successfully in Europe. These success stories show of course, an excellent use of technology but at the same time it is quickly revealed that their work is based on a consciously chosen ethic that includes and values the employees, that is not profit maximising at any costs and that will seek solutions with the employees in economically difficult times.
From numerical mathematics we know that, it is possible to not find a solution if you chose the initial value wrongly - even though a solution exists. Werner von Siemens is reported to have said “I don’t have the means for a short range strategy.” The above mentioned successful companies are characterized by having at least a midterm strategy with the clear focus of keeping the business in their hands. We learn from these examples that outsourcing or outplacing production is in many cases not the answer to the problem. We observe companies coming back to Europe after experience somewhere else.
Why would I write this in Assembly Automation? I write this because I am convinced that, we have to understand these interdependencies in order to provide and work for the right solutions in automation. We have the technology. We have many solutions but we have to go through the hard work to apply this at an industrial level. Companies that may not be high tech will be satisfied with solutions that from an academic point of view are “state of the art” but which will sustain employees and families. The growth rates may not be above 10 percent but still they guarantee a living. Each of the readers easily will remember instances in which millions of Euros were recently lost because of mismanagement and often because of (in my view) wrong understanding of globalization. So I think we have to reconsider our priorities.
Christoph Hanischbased at the Head of Future Technologies Research and Innovation, Festo AG & Co., Esslingen, Germany