Please wait while the search results are loading...

Introduction to the Manufacturing and Robotics Industry, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

The manufacturing and robotics sectors have become tightly intertwined in recent years, thanks to the rapidly growing importance of factory automation.  On factory floors ranging from relatively small machine shops to giant automobile plants and electronics factories, computer-driven equipment plays a vital role in manufacturing worldwide.  The sophistication of the equipment ranges from simple computer-aided machinery that cuts fabric prior to it being sewn into final garments, to robots that make highly accurate and sophisticated welds in car factories, to robots that can rapidly assemble tiny electronics components and solder them in place with blazing speed and great accuracy.

The First Industrial Robot
The first industrial robot to be installed in a major manufacturing plant was probably a machine named Unimate #0001, utilized at a General Motors diecasting plant in Trenton, NJ beginning in 1959.  The primary force behind the Unimate was an American named Joseph Engelberger (sometimes referred to as the “father of robotics”) of the Consolidated Controls Corp. of Bethel, CT.  These efforts led to the establishment of a related firm, Unimation, Inc.  By the late 1960s, automobile manufacturers were racing to install robotic units such as automated welders in their plants worldwide.  As the decades went by, Japanese and German firms grew to be world leaders in factory automation equipment and robotics.  This trend was directly tied to the growing dominance of Japanese and German automobiles, and the decline of the American auto industry.
Meanwhile, China has official hopes to be a world leader in factory automation technologies by 2025, and it is investing accordingly under its “Made in China 2025” plan.  America is attempting to improve its global stance in industrial robotics and automation through the establishment of “Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Innovation” centers, which have attracted backing from both government and corporate funds.

     The ever-growing drive for efficiency and quality, both at the factory and in the supply chain, will make automation technologies more and more vital.  Robotics and automation assist manufacturing in a wide variety of ways, far beyond final assembly.  Robots can control the warehouse, delivering parts to the factory floor on an as-needed basis.  The fact that robots can assist or even replace humans, makes it easier to keep workers spaced further apart during pandemics or flu season.  Computers and sophisticated software help to design, model and test products prior to their actual manufacture, and then upload final instructions to computer-driven factory equipment.  The design of components and sub-assemblies are, to a dominant degree, conducted through computer-aided design tools (often called CAD-CAM) that can be tightly coordinated with the factory floor.
Global Manufacturing:  The worldwide manufacturing sector was estimated by the World Bank at $16.35 trillion (in terms of value added) for 2022.  In manufacturing, value added is the increase in the price (value) that a company adds during the manufacturing process.  For example, a window manufacturer may purchase sheets of glass, raw aluminum, plastics and paints from its suppliers. It fabricates and combines these materials to create a finished window.  The value added is the difference between the cost of the raw materials and the price of the finished window.  Value added is a common measure of manufacturing output.
Manufacturing Revenues and Employment in the United States:  In the U.S., analysts, executives and government can clearly see that manufacturing is on the upswing.  A bigger question, however, is whether or not American manufacturing is perhaps entering a period of renaissance.  The answer is both yes and no.  Manufacturing employment in America has increased modestly in recent years.  There were approximately 12.95 million people employed in manufacturing in the U.S. as of mid-2023, down dramatically from 19 million in 1980.
The American manufacturing sector will benefit over the long-term from a broad range of trends, including changes in global trade, low natural gas prices and energy prices (relative to energy costs in most other major nations), a growing U.S. population, and strength in certain key industries, including machinery, pharmaceuticals, health technology, software, chemicals, petroleum products, aerospace and equipment for transportation and construction.  However, advances in factory productivity, including growing investment in robotics, will dampen job creation in manufacturing plants.  In other words, factory output can increase faster than factory employment due to growing investment in robotics and factory automation.  Improved supply chain practices and technologies will also aid manufacturing.

In Developed Nations, including the U.S., These Factors Will Lead to New and Advanced Products over the Mid- to Long-Term, Creating Additional Demand for Manufacturing:
1)     A substantial research & development (R&D) base
2)     Engineering and scientific expertise
        a)  A substantial base in higher education
3)     Regional manufacturing centers
        a)  Logistics and supply chain support and
4)     A substantial base in advanced technologies, including:
        a)  Robotics and factory automation
        b)  Advanced, high-speed IT networks
        c)  Additive manufacturing (3-D Printing)
        d)  Artificial intelligence and machine learning
Source: Plunkett Research, Ltd.

     Today, the growing use of robotics as well as the rising wages and other costs in offshore manufacturing centers, particularly China, is fueling intense debate about the future of global manufacturing in general.  Supply chain managers on the corporate side, along with analysts and planners on the government and economic side, are attempting to develop strategies for dealing with the evolving manufacturing segment on a nation-by-nation basis.  To begin with, costs are clearly rising substantially in China, which has long been the world’s manufacturing growth engine.  Wages there have been rising steadily, over a period of several years.
At the same time, demographic changes are having a significant effect.  Due to China’s lengthy history of “one child per family” regulations, the Chinese workforce began shrinking in number in 2011, while the senior segment of the population is growing at a rapid clip.  Put another way, China is facing a massive aging problem (far more challenging than the aging population in the U.S.), while the number of young workers available to fill the factory ranks is tipping into serious decline.  
Due to the development of a large network of universities across China, a growing percentage of young people are obtaining college degrees.  These better-educated people, upon entering the workforce, generally do not want to work on the manufacturing floor, which they feel is beneath them.  Many Chinese manufacturers are struggling to find enough workers. 
At the same time, due to geopolitical tensions, as well as supply chain difficulties experienced during the Coronavirus pandemic, many global firms have adopted the attitude that they have been too dependent by utilizing primarily only one offshored manufacturing base: China.  This has caused some companies to seek additional nations in which to manufacture, including a significant reshoring of operations to North America.
These trends are having multiple effects on manufacturers in China.  1) As discussed above, firms are paying much higher wages than they did in the recent past; 2) There is a national emphasis on increased investment in robotics and factory automation, in order to reduce China’s reliance on human workers; 3) The bigger companies are becoming more multinational in nature, moving much of their basic manufacturing to lower-wage nations such as Vietnam and Bangladesh; and 4) Chinese manufacturers are moving up-market, where the manufacture of technically-advanced products such as aircraft creates the ability to pay higher wages while taking advantage of the growing cadre of engineers who are graduating from China’s universities.  The Chinese government has an official strategy of boosting investment in high-value technology-based manufacturing industries, including aerospace, semiconductors, automobiles, pharmaceuticals and robotics.
While China struggles to adapt to its changing costs and demographics, manufacturing has been booming elsewhere, in many lesser developed nations that offer lower costs for real estate and hourly wages.  Competition for offshore manufacturing market share is intense, and China’s share of all U.S. imports has fallen from nearly 22% in 2016 to about 17% in 2022.  Such manufacturing competition is coming from Asia, including India, The Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Vietnam.  However, Africa, over the long term, is likely to become one of the world’s basic manufacturing hubs for unsophisticated items such as apparel.  Africa offers an abundance of raw materials, one of the world’s largest supplies of young workers, a rapidly growing population, a geographic location well positioned to serve markets in Europe, Asia and the Americas, as well as extremely low costs compared to much of the rest of the world.  However, Africa faces daunting, long-term challenges in improving education, as well as infrastructure such as ports, highways and electricity supplies.
In Asia’s more developed nations, particularly Thailand, Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore, manufacturing of high value items has grown at a soaring rate over the long-term, including automobiles, electronics and pharmaceuticals.  India is often thought of as a center for business processes outsourcing, but it also has a significant and growing manufacturing base.  To a large extent, this manufacturing is in heavy industries, such as steel and petroleum products.  However, the manufacture of sophisticated products, such as pharmaceuticals, electronics and automobiles, has become significant.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of China’s rising costs is Mexico.  Mexico’s manufacturing sector has been perfectly positioned to grow, thanks to a) its proximity to U.S. markets; b) a detailed, recent trade agreement with the U.S. and Canada; c) existing low-cost transportation infrastructure for shipments to and from the U.S.; and d) the relative ease of doing business between U.S. and Mexican companies.  
Reshoring and Nearshoring:  Mexico is positioned perfectly to grow with the recent trends of reshoring and nearshoring, where many U.S. companies want their manufacturing plants and suppliers to be closer to home.  Recently, the Mexican manufacturing sector has also been boosted by the availability of shale natural gas that can be imported from the U.S. at relatively low prices.  Gas exports from the U.S. to Mexico increased dramatically along with rising gas production from American shale wells.  Mexico also enjoys a high-quality highway system for transport of goods.
Robotics and Factory AutomationThe International Federation of Robotics (IFR) estimated the total, worldwide base of operational industrial robots at the end of 2022 would be about 3.0 million.  Orders for robots in the U.S. rose 28% in 2021 over 2020 to almost 40,000 units according to the Association for Advancing Automation.

A Representative List of Organizations that Have Used our Research and Products:


I’m amazed at how much information is available and the various ways to access it. This will be a major resource for our serious job seekers.

Career Services, Penn State University

Plunkett Research Online provides a great ‘one stop shop’ for us to quickly come up to speed on major industries. It provides us with an overall analysis of the market, key statistics, and overviews of the major players in the industry in an online service that is fast, easy to navigate, and reliable.

Wendy Stotts, Manager, Carlson Companies

I really appreciate the depth you were able to get to so quickly (for our project). The team has looked through the material and are very happy with the data you pulled together.

Hilton Worldwide, Marketing Manager

We are especially trying to push Plunkett since all of our students have to do so much industry research and your interface is so easy to use.

Library Services, St. John’s College

We are especially trying to push Plunkett’s since all of our students have to do so much industry research and your interface is so easy to use.

Gary White, Business Materials Selector, Penn State University

Your tool is very comprehensive and immensely useful. The vertical marketing tool is very helpful, for it assists us in that venue, as well as targeting customers’ competition for new sales…The comprehensive material is absolutely fabulous. I am very impressed, I have to say!

Tammy Dalton, National Account Manager, MCI

The more I get into the database, the happier I am that we’ll have it–REALLY happy!!! Between the quality and affordability of your product, its appeal to and value for our users, and the inestimably ethical and loyalty-guaranteeing conduct of your business, I will always have more than sufficient praises to sing for Plunkett Research.

Michael Oppenheim, Collections & Reference Services, UCLA

Plunkett Research Online is an excellent resource…the database contains a wealth of useful data on sectors and companies, which is easy to search and well presented. Help and advice on how to conduct, export and save searches is available at all stages.

Penny Crossland, Editor, VIP Magazine
Real Time Web Analytics