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SME Speaks: Manufacturing Forecast: Upbeat

 Tim Fausch

By Tim Fausch
Director/Group Publisher
Manufacturing Engineering Media
Society of Manufacturing Engineers 

It’s an old bit, but still funny. One guy stands bloodied and beaten to a pulp, but confidently says, “You should see the other guy.” Having spent many years in media supporting the construction market, that’s how I felt entering the manufacturing sector in late 2011. Yes, manufacturing took a beating during the Great Recession, but it has rebounded far faster and is much healthier than construction, which continues to lag. I’m extremely pleased to be a part of an industry that is mostly thriving.

Depending on your niche and competition, there’s a good chance your company has experienced a spike in productivity, orders, profits or some combination of the three. In fact, since I joined SME 17 months ago, several manufacturers have told me they’ve experienced record-setting production.

It’s no wonder manufacturing has captured the spotlight in Washington and many regions around the country. Manufacturing has been a bolt of sunshine in an otherwise foggy economic landscape, thus attracting the attention of leaders who see its potential.

There is more sunshine in the forecast. The Manufacturing Engineering editorial team recently completed a 2013 manufacturing trends report, “2013: A Turning Point for US Manufacturing,” that is very encouraging. You will find it added as a special bonus to our digital and mobile editions of this issue. Or, you can read it on our Web site

For those of you who enjoy the “coming attractions” before seeing the movie, here are a few of the report’s highlights.

Jobs and Employment. Manufacturing jobs continue to return to North America, and the US in particular. Manufacturing has contributed greatly to the US unemployment rate dropping from a high of 10% in 2009 to 7.8% at the end of 2012. The resurgence is fueled by clean, smart “advanced manufacturing,” a high-tech world driven by innovation, round-the-clock, lights-out operations controlled by smart leaders who manage their enterprise through a software cloud and integrate their technologies worldwide.

New Technologies. According to a 2012 report by the IDA, four promising technology areas will help drive growth—semiconductors, advanced materials, additive manufacturing and biomanufacturing.

Energy. Exciting things are happening in energy manufacturing. The International Energy Agency recently released its annual World Energy Outlook, which predicted that the US would overtake Saudi Arabia as the largest global oil producer by 2020. Oil fracking, natural gas and renewable energy manufacturing will continue to make headlines throughout 2013.

Motorized Vehicles. The comeback will continue. Americans purchased 14.5 million light vehicles in 2012, up 13% over 2011. While some pent-up demand has been satisfied, automakers are predicting more growth in 2013.

Software. Software advances are a key ingredient in manufacturing’s recent productivity gains. In some cases, newer manufacturing software is helping less-skilled workers operate complex machines.

More Encouraging Indicators

Within SME, we see positive trends indicating manufacturing will prosper for the remainder of 2013. For example, the number of exhibitors and attendees for our events is trending upward. SME’s Professional Development area continues to experience year-over-year growth. And ME Media is in the midst of four consecutive years of expanding audience engagement and advertising support, with the strongest growth coming in the last 12 months. My take is that manufacturing professionals are increasing their participation in events, training and media because they are more optimistic and confident. 

Challenging Indicators

There are a few storm clouds threatening to dampen our enthusiastic outlook. Boeing’s Dreamliner headaches have created some pause within the aerospace marketplace (see ME’s ongoing coverage at Cuts in the 2013 military spending could result in a cautious pace among defense industry manufacturers.

In medical manufacturing, new device taxes and a changing healthcare marketplace have created unevenness within the sector. And heavy construction manufacturing needs new, large-scale projects to stimulate growth.

Governmental regulations could slow, or help, manufacturing growth in 2013. During a recent visit to SME’s offices, NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons shared his organization’s concern that regulations, especially environmental rules, are hindering manufacturing productivity and planning. Conversely, our government could spur growth if it were to streamline regulations, while providing a clear economic roadmap.

“Generally speaking manufacturers are risk-takers, but they take that risk in a calculated way,” Timmons said. “They want to make sure that there is reward and that risk is something they can afford to take.”

Finally, the shortage of skilled workers won’t go away in 2013, thus threatening to stymie growth. The good news is that SME and other industry organizations are making the development of a stronger, deeper, more diverse and forward-looking workforce a top priority. ME

Conference to Explore Reshoring
and Advanced Manufacturing

SME's Silicon Valley Chapter 98 presents “The New Industrial Revolution – Reshoring and Advanced Manufacturing,” May 23 at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA. It is being held in conjunction with the Design-2-Part Show. While the “Made-in-America” mantra has always been popular, the “reshoring” of manufacturing processes is gaining momentum. This conference will explore a number of compelling reasons why manufacturers are deciding to bring production back to North America. Attendees will also learn about the success stories of using advanced technologies to design and produce highly regulated, complex products such as robotic medical devices.

The New Industrial Revolution – Reshoring and Advanced Manufacturing conference is designed to maximize interaction and learning with panel discussions and speakers from industry and workforce development programs. In addition, a hands-on, 3-D printing demonstration will be available. Attendees will also have time to tour the Design-2-Part trade show to connect with local and regional suppliers for materials, processes, prototyping and manufacturing. For more information, or to register to attend, please visit

Membership Activities at Your Fingertips
SME members do you want up-to-date information on the various membership activities taking place? Visit to learn more.


This article was first published in the April 2013 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF

Published Date : 4/1/2013

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