In the spring of 2021, IMEC, Illinois Manufacturers Association (IMA), Technology & Manufacturing Association (TMA), and Valley Industrial Association (VIA) partnered with the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research to survey manufacturers about their adoption of Advanced Manufacturing Technologies and processes, achieving a phenomenal 87% response rate.
The survey yielded ten important insights:
- Advanced Manufacturing Technologies helped with pandemic resilience – Manufacturers with higher levels of technology adoption and digitalization were better at keeping their and workers productive and rehiring furloughed and laid off employees.
- Two -thirds of manufacturers have made modest to minimal progress in technology adoption — While manufacturers see the value of advanced manufacturing, they have been slow to implement it; this may reflect the complexity of the challenge for smaller manufacturers.
- Size matters —Larger, more established manufacturers have made more progress than their smaller counterparts, primarily due to ability to afford such investments.
- Workforce issues are both drivers and barriers to adoption—Almost half of manufacturers said they are adopting advanced manufacturing technologies because of trouble finding qualified production workers. However, this solution creates a new challenge: recruiting skilled workers needed in more technology advanced facilities.
- Strategy matters—It drives tactics. Manufacturers using an innovation strategy are 2.5 times more likely to invest heavily in advanced manufacturing technologies than their peers, most of whom prioritize quality and specialization.
- Technology to meet mix and volume— Advanced manufacturing technologies is not a “one size fits all” solution – manufacturers are choosing the technologies that suits their production process in order to realize a competitive advantage.
- Process first, technology second – The distinction between technology and processes is important. Manufacturers are more likely to invest in advanced manufacturing processes than technology, arguably because most are in the beginning stage of adoption, when appropriate processes need to be in place in order to create the environment for advanced manufacturing technologies. On average, respondents said they have implemented an average of five processes vs. only two technologies.
- Digital technologies are the great equalizer for small manufacturers – Compared to larger manufacturers, smaller manufacturers were more likely to perform physical tasks in the production process manually. However, when it came to digitalization or cognitive automation with technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, there was no difference between small and large manufacturers.
- Short term financial uncertainty prevents manufacturers from realizing long term productivity gains –All manufacturers (those who do – and do not – intend to invest in advanced manufacturing technologies or processes) cited high financial investments as the top obstacle to adopting.
- There is much to learn and many ways to do it — The second most popular reason for not implementing advanced manufacturing technologies or processes was lack of familiarity. 20% of the respondents that did not intend to adopt new technologies said they needed more information first. Most manufacturers (88.8% of those surveyed) reported familiarity with advanced technologies through news articles, attending presentations/discussions, conducting individual research, participating in industry group discussions, and others by actively using the technologies.