Can Manufacturers Keep Up with Their Own Growth?

Despite staggered schedules and disrupted supply chains, many manufacturers are experiencing growth spurts in the United States as they emerge from Covid restrictions. The bigger challenge for these businesses today is finding people to fill available positions. Most of those vacancies exist in small to medium sized businesses.

Many sectors are expecting increases in demand this year. The equipment manufacturing industry, for one, is anticipating growth as they emerge from lockdowns and staggered work hours. Many shops have been reduced to half-staff and alternating workdays while wearing masks all day and distancing themselves from co-workers. Owners who were previously hesitant to allow remote working were compelled to embrace the practice and implement cloud-based manufacturing software to manage operations.

At a time when growth exceeds the availability of working bodies, AI technology is on the cusp of implementation, just awaiting a big decision by a company CEO. Many larger manufacturers have already been using AI technology for a while now; for the smaller companies, the decision relies on cash flow availability or investor commitment.

AI Lowers Costs

When a business takes that step to add AI software to its manufacturing plan, it can lower labor costs and automate tasks to turn out product faster and, in some cases, continuously. Technology can play a role in managing product quality and predicting disruptions due to unexpected circumstances.Forecasting tools allow the business to receive and interpret data such as inclement weather that could delay shipment. Predictive data allows the business to react beforehand. Knowing what we know about the virus today, imagine if we could have taken steps weeks ahead of time to prepare.

Over 70% of manufacturers aren’t using any artificial intelligence currently but 2021 promises to be a year that lowers that percentage significantly. How small to medium size business will be able to afford the investment is another conversation.

Financing could come in the form of new government programs for manufacturers to help them expand to meet increased domestic growth and serve to bolster businesses facing supply chain challenges and increased raw materials costs. In the interim, while most businesses don’t have AI at their disposal, there is a need for support by the government, non-profit or educational institutions to step up and provide solutions for manufacturers to ensure success through these challenging times.

By offering training for students or individuals seeking career changes, these high paying openings can be filled by human beings who will contribute to economic growth for years to come. If incorporated into the infrastructure bill, similarly to the PPP loan program, the staffing challenge could be easily resolved.

Following a year of drastic changes spanning many industries, some businesses have persevered through innovation and others have hung on by a thread. No doubt, products such as disinfectants soared in demand this past year, driving some businesses to add sanitizers to their product lines to survive decreased demand of other products. When one ship stuck in the Red Sea can prevent the flow of billions of dollars’ worth of merchandise, it’s high time manufacturers become better planners for the unexpected circumstances.

Whether vaccine availability halts the Covid virus or not, its increased distribution raises confidence that we are closer to normality, albeit a new reality that aims to get ahead of health outbreaks and supply chain disruptions. But as we emerge from this difficult year, we can never assume the unlikely event will never happen. Continued growth depends on our ability to respond quickly to obstacles. Whether that plan comes in the form of more workers or AI, more business owners now know that the best plan accounts for the least likely event.

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