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5 for Friday: A CES Preview, a Manufacturing Slump and the Future of the Future

Jan. 6, 2023
A look at the week past, and a look ahead to the issues facing the design and manufacturing sector.

1. Initial Reactions at CES

Back in the days when it was the wordier Consumer Electronics Show, I was working in my father’s warehouse at JVC when they debuted the first VHS system. I may have been the first person to unpack a VHS unit in America, and that day we looked upon the machine as if we were seeing fire for the first time.

Time have changed, the VHS unit is an example of how technology can turn from groundbreaking to quaint in a generation, and the show itself now is simply called CES, but the impact for the year’s first major show is no less dramatic. In its first full year in a post-COVID world, CES is still recovering a bit of its luster, but there is plenty to consider—and to be awestruck by.

Our Endeavor Business Media team at CES in Las Vegas this week has previewed some of the more awe-inspiring introductions. The expanding use of artificial intelligence and virtual reality in the automotive arena will be one major area of emphasis, and we’ll continue to share reports throughout next week as CES. There is a lot of interest in the 2023 show: There are more than 3,200 exhibitors and more than 4,700 media representatives.

2. The Crystal Ball for 2023

The measurement of time is a human construct; time is linear and doesn’t recognize things like years, seasons and New Year’s Day hangovers. But the human in us keeps track of time, and each year we trot out the remembrances of the year past and an outlook of the year to come.

To that end, we have produced Machine Design’s annual Salary & Career Survey, which looked at expectations for compensation and an examination of trends for the coming year. Here’s a hint: Salaries are going up and finding the next-generation workforce remains a struggle. You can view our editorial staff discussion of these trends at this exclusive webinar.

My colleagues throughout Endeavor Business Media have shined up their own crystal balls to look at the year ahead. You will gain a wide range of insights here—maybe enough new ideas to update a few New Year’s Resolutions. There still is time.

3. The Manufacturing Demand Slump

Call it a “slowcession,” as one rating agency did this week, or just a simple slump, but manufacturing has been in decline for the past few months, and the monthly Institute for Supply Management’s monthly PMI manufacturing index remained in  contraction in December. The 48.4% reading for December market the second straight month the PMI Index was below the 50% growth threshold after almost two-and-a-half years of positive numbers.

In May 2022, the PMI was at 56.1%, more than 10% over the growth level. But even then, storm clouds were gathering as labor, supply chain and inflation concerns combined to weaken the sector. The decline since then has been steady, and ISM officials and survey participants remain wary about the coming year.

“The U.S. manufacturing sector again contracted, with the Manufacturing PMI at its lowest level since the coronavirus pandemic recovery began,” said Timothy Fiore, chairman of the ISM Manufacturing Business Survey Committee. “With Business Survey Committee panelists reporting softening new order rates over the previous seven months, the December composite index reading reflects companies’ slowing their output.

Comments from Business Committee Members shows the diversity of the issues faced:

  • From the chemical products industry: “Customer demand continues to be depressed. While 2023 pipeline is looking very positive, current demand is significantly down.”
  • From transportation equipment: “Orders are really slowing down in the original equipment sector. We haven’t seen a major output decrease because we are still eating away at our back orders.”
  • From food, beverage and tobacco: “Lead times are returning to normal for most of our suppliers, while some of our smaller suppliers are struggling to remain staffed up enough to keep up with orders.”

4. The Robotics Myth

The persistent—and utterly false—perception that robots take away manufacturing jobs remains hovering like a drone over some aspects of the industry. That’s why it’s important to spotlight those use cases and ideas that demonstrate the value of robots as a job enhancement tool in manufacturing.

That’s one perspective offered by Erik Schluntz, chief technology officer at Cobalt Robotics in San Mateo, Calif. In his interview with Machine Design’s Rehana Begg, Schluntz said past predictions of the robotic takeover haven’t materialized. Five years ago, everyone thought that by now truck drivers and taxi drivers would all be out of a job, replaced by self-driving cars. That clearly hasn’t materialized.

“People think of blue-collar work as something that can be automated because a lot of it has been automated in the past,” Schluntz added. “But the interesting thing about AI is that it is best at things that humans are bad at. They are these very complementary skill sets.”

There are numerous examples of how robotics have enhanced the manufacturing experience. Machine Design’s Engineering Academy event, Robotics By Design, offers some great examples of  the value of robotics deployment, how best to integrate those robots safely and efficiently with their human co-workers, and how robotics can deliver a return on the investment and provide a competitive advantage as manufacturing continues to grow and evolve. You can review each of the five sessions by clicking on this link.

5. Gear Up For The New Year

Our latest Machine Design gallery takes a look at a vital and often overlooked machine component: the gearbox. From helical gears to worm gears, the gallery examines each type of gear, its value and its application. The gallery also includes a review of other gear articles that are included in Machine Design’s 30,000-article searchable library, Just click “Search” on the Machine Design homepage and take a look at all there is to offer on any topic.

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