Despite the clear advantages, many companies in the United States are hesitating to make use of advanced manufacturing techniques in their processes. High costs and a shortage of appropriately skilled workers are among the reasons for this reluctance.

Advanced manufacturing techniques, i.e. using cutting-edge technologies to improve manufacturing processes and products, are becoming increasingly appealing to the US middle market – manufacturers and other companies with annual revenues of between $10 million and $1 billion. In fact there are an estimated 33,000 manufacturing firms in this bracket in the United States, which are likely to improve their profitability if they adopt innovative technologies. The report on Advanced Manufacturing Techniques contains the results of a survey that was designed and managed by the US National Center for the Middle Market in partnership with the National Association of Manufacturers, conducted among 200 C-suite executives and financial decision-makers. It also points up some of the obstacles they will have to overcome if they want to fully exploit the potential of various kinds of advanced technology.

Skills shortages and other drawbacks

Among the difficulties encountered in adopting advanced technology, executives surveyed cited the need to recruit people with better science-based qualifications, and the money and time that will have to be invested in training the existing workforce. Indeed, the challenges of incorporating advanced manufacturing techniques is driving 47% of companies that have not made the move to rely on temporary recruitment services to bridge the gap, and is forcing those who do adopt to create or extend internal training programmes (51% of those polled). In addition, 42% of respondents cited the need to collaborate on workforce training with technical schools and universities or with other teaching establishments (55%), and also to make use of the Internet (44%). Apart from higher costs, there are many other reasons for not adopting cutting-edge techniques, such as their basic unsuitability for the products in question, mentioned by 51% of the executives as a reason for holding back, while 49% said their current manufacturing processes are fully satisfactory. However, even though 97% of those quizzed acknowledge that they have had problems when implementing new technology, 89% say that they are basically satisfied with the results.

Every company has its own reason

Currently 47% of US middle market manufacturers state that they are already using techniques in at least one of the ‘advanced’ categories. In this context automation was mentioned by 68% of respondents, computer technologies by 62%, process technologies by 59%, and information technologies by 57% of those polled. However, the firms surveyed do not all use advanced techniques for the same reasons. Some 48% of those questioned explain that they use them to increase productivity, 47% to speed up production tasks and 38% to reduce losses. The findings reveal that 28% of those companies that have not yet adopted advanced manufacturing techniques are planning to do so in the next three to five years in order to automate processes (the figure is 41% for those already using them) while 24% will focus on stepping up their capability in the area of computer technologies, rising to 29% among firms that are already on the ‘advanced’ path.


By Kathleen Comte