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Are we at the cusp of a new Manufacturing boom or a bust?

Read Hillary Clinton's answer to Is bringing manufacturing jobs back to the US a realistic venture, given that manufacturing is so much cheaper elsewhere? on Quora

So, now Hillary wants you to "Make It in America", Modi wants you to "Make in India" and China has already built factories to make the whole world's output inside its borders. If all of them succeed, at best manufacturing capacities will meet the same fate as undersea Fibre optic networks, which subsidized the second wave of the Internet by providing cheap communication infrastructure at the cost of bankrupt companies who laid those cables in the first place.

But chances are that all of them will fail and the world will rise to a post manufacturing world as Alvin Toffler predicted. There are 3 major trends which will determine the future of manufacturing in a post globalization world (note that a post globalization world is where the rules of globalization such as manufacture where it is cheapest will NOT apply!).
  1. Rise of robotics - it will become cheaper to manufacture goods in fully automated robotics plants rather than sweatshops or mega-structures where cheap human labor performs an assembly line of jobs
  2. High degree of Customization - A related collateral advantage of production by robots will be ability to customize each and every product; in fact a Tesla already comes with that option.

    You would have already deduced that the traditional low cost human labour based manufacturing hubs will not be able to compete with robotics based manufacturing even if they were cheaper because of their inability to produce such customized output.  
  3. 3D Printing - There are two kinds of products manufactured; the first are appliances or valuable goods such as cars, scooters, microwave ovens, dishwashers, refrigerators etc, which not only are physically manufactured but also have moving parts, electronics controls and other decision making paraphernalia. The second are physical objects which have few or no moving parts or electronics - combs, screwdrivers, clips, knives, spoons, plates, furniture or even toiletries.

    As 3D printing technology improves several of these can be printed as per your custom choice or colors and shapes either at home but more likely at a e-commerce store's warehouse outside your city or may be in a corner shop in the local market.

    Where you get it printed will depend on the size of 'your market' i.e. how many people desire the same goods in your locality and how big your locality is. Printing at home is more likely in say Scandinavian countryside with a low population density; in central Europe local stores are more likely to print such goods while in large US cities or in India, with a high population density, an e-commerce portal will set up printing hubs outside cities inside their current fulfillment centers. 
The above has many other connotations for jobs - which, and not national pride or economy - is the real target for politicians like Hillary and Modi alike. Firstly, if robots are taking over rapidly from cheap manual labour, the hope that manufacturing will produce jobs in high numbers is a myth.

Second, with customization means that all these new age manufacturing factories need more software engineers than mere workers. STEM and Coding education is the future for any and every society. While some - those with skills in AI or Machine Learning - will rule the roost, but there could be several more who will be able to seek employment as software testers, UI / UX jobs etc.  Plus a sea of jobs like Social Media Marketers which have emerged from the Internet will continue to exist and won't be wiped off, in fact will only increase as we buy and sell more online.

In fact, Hillary will do better following the approach of encouraging technological innovation  than paying lip service to Manufacturing growth. She describes all the necessary steps of doing this - education and training, providing broadband to every household, - herself in another answer on Quora.

Last, if local production will move from manual labour based manufacturing to 3D printing, it'll mean setting up of local supply chains, delivery boys, truck drivers. The local manufacturing hubs like warehouses will also need to employ workers to run the 3D printers, configure them, do quality checks etc. While, none of these jobs will require unskilled workers, but the demand for semi-skilled workers will rise

Caveat: All this will not happen overnight or in the next decade alone. In fact, even after 50 years, we may still have some countries or societies manufacturing goods with manual labour, or there may be certain goods, say wrenches or screwdrivers which have little aesthetic aspect - still being manufactured the old way. But this is no different than the fact that even today, there are hunter gatherer tribes in some deep pockets of Africa or that agriculture is still done the traditional way in some parts of the world.

However, what is inevitable is politicians' promises to drive job growth through manufacturing centric policies failing fair and square. May be these politicians themselves know this and what they say is merely a ploy to garner more votes or may be they are indeed blind sided or may be I am wrong!

What do you think about this?


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