Looking ahead

Walking the floor at ISPA EXPO 2018 in March in Charlotte, North Carolina, and talking with producers was an eye-opening experience.

Headshot of BedTimes Managing Editor Beth English

Beth English
Managing Editor

Several conversations with machinery makers centered on increasing automation and making production more comfortable for the human operators of machines.

In this month’s cover story, BedTimes contributor Gary James reports on a number of machinery innovations that are sure to make a difference on many factory floors. The advances are designed to make manufacturing faster, easier and more effective.

These mattress machine suppliers are responding to the needs of manufacturers. In addition to making equipment easier to program and operate, many machinery makers are creating tools that meet the need to roll pack beds quickly and efficiently. From infrared drying of adhesives to speedier packaging to stronger, clearer plastics, equipment producers are keeping the boxed-bed segment top of mind.

But let’s go back to the idea of automation. We saw machines that built trusses, changed sewing needles and separated foam layers for lamination. With such machines in place, product handling goes down and fewer operators are needed.

On page 9, we have a story about the New York City-based McKinsey Global Institute’s prediction about skills in the global workplace. The company forecasts that in the next 12 years the demand for physical and manual skills will decrease 14%. What will be in demand? Technical skills. Demand for workers who specialize in digital and advanced technology is anticipated to grow by a whopping 55%.

Interestingly, while demand for manual skills decreases, the U.S. public is more worried about automation than enthusiastic about it. A report published Oct. 4, 2017, by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center finds that adults are twice as likely to worry (72%) than be enthusiastic (33%) when it comes to a future when some jobs can be performed by robots and automation.

looking ahead machinery automation

Yet, automation has a role to play because of an aging workforce and a shrinking hiring pool.

A Sept. 14, 2017, opinion piece in Time magazine by Joe Kaeser, president and chief executive officer of Munich, Germany-based Siemens AG, addresses these fears. Kaeser notes our modern, industrial age is not asking businesses to make an either-or choice—robots or humans. “It has always been about combining the talents of both,” he writes. “Ultimately, it is the convergence of artificial and human intelligence that will enable manufacturers to achieve a new era of speed, flexibility, efficiency and connectivity in the 21st century. Machines have the ability to assemble things faster than any human ever could, but humans possess the analytics, domain expertise and valuable knowledge required to solve problems and optimize factory floor production.”

As the adage goes, change is one of the few constants in life. Machinery makers, suppliers and manufacturers certainly are stepping up to address changes as they come. With a focus on delivering what their customers need, these companies will evolve and continue to innovate. If the changes that have come in the past few years are any indication, it will be fascinating to see what comes next.

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