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Harnessing Automation in New Ways: The Future of Manufacturing Depends on It

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For dozens of years, automation has revolutionized manufacturing around the world. Companies leverage automation technology to increase productivity, eliminate variation in products, improve quality, increase speed and prevent injuries and accidents.

Manufacturing, in the U.S. and around the world, is poised for a change that will forever alter the way we produce goods and services.

Create a future

We live in a world that is constantly evolving, and the future of manufacturing rests on our ability to advance technology to keep pace with global demands. Rapid-fire development in robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning are giving us the opportunity to pair human capital with technology in new and exciting ways. While manufacturing was once a series of simple, repetitive tasks done by humans, automation has taken over those roles and allowed workers to advance their skills and develop more fulfilling, engaging professions. Productivity has skyrocketed, and quality has dramatically improved, which allows companies to stay competitive in the marketplace.

It is common to believe that these developments aren’t good for the thousands of manufacturing employees whose jobs have changed, and will continue to change, as we develop new technologies. It’s true that labor needs are very different today than they were 50 years ago, and those needs will continue to change with the times. That’s how human beings make progress across the centuries — by inventing, refining and leveraging new ideas to become more efficient and productive.

Infinite Opportunities

This new age of automation brings infinite opportunities. We can improve upon traditional control systems while maintaining the integrity, safety and security of operations; and we can leverage the Internet of Things to collect disparate data and correlate it to anticipate problems through predictive and preventive measures.

With each opportunity comes challenges to improve and maintain safety and cybersecurity within manufacturing operations. Critical applications and infrastructure, such as power and water, face increasingly difficult demands to harden their security and ensure the safety of their employees and the communities that they serve.

Organizations like the International Society of Automation (ISA) are bringing the brightest technical minds together from around the globe to create solutions to these technical challenges. As the developer of the world’s only consensus cybersecurity standard for industrial control systems, the organization is uniquely positioned to lead the conversation about improving safety and cybersecurity in our manufacturing industries.

Technical challenges aren’t the only hurdle to realizing our full potential in manufacturing. Automation has an aging workforce, and companies are facing rapidly increasing retirement rates and knowledge gaps. According to a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report entitled Preparing for an Aging Workforce: Manufacturing Industry Report, one-third of the U.S. labor force will be in the 50-plus age category as of 2016. The percentage of retired Baby Boomers has nearly doubled since 2010. In automation specifically, our research follows the same trends. Last year’s annual salary survey indicates that 36.4 percent of respondents are over the age of 48, and nearly 19 percent are over 53. Each industry will be affected by this shift in different but equally significant ways.

New Opportunities

That’s where we find the biggest opportunity of all. Young people looking for an inspired career or displaced workers looking for a new start don’t have to look far to see the tremendous opportunities that this new era of automation will bring. Problem solving, data gathering and interpretation, programming, engineering, design, and cybersecurity skills will be in higher demand than ever before, offering unlimited potential for individuals to succeed personally and spend their careers leaving a legacy for future generations. Organizations like ISA train hundreds of people each year to close the knowledge gap in dozens of different industries worldwide.

Our industries stand ready to teach and train the next generation of innovators who will work side-by-side with intelligent machines to create a future we can only dream of today.

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