Can manufacturing software help us reshore production?

James Monighan
July 18, 2023
Can manufacturing software help us reshore production?

Since the 1960s, when General Electric began offshoring its manufacturing to countries where it would cost less to execute, we’ve been living in a global manufacturing system. 

As a result, if you’ve ever wanted a brand-new car or shiny computer - perhaps one designed in California, but assembled and largely manufactured in China -  you’ve generally been able to get one, as long as you can afford it. 

But today, that system is coming under more strain than at any time over the last 50 years. 

Supply chains are breaking down - pressured by global factors like Covid, the Ukraine crisis, and shortages of raw materials. 

And while, previously, Western countries have had relatively robust domestic manufacturing sectors to fall back on, due to the effects of globalisation that’s no longer the case, as homegrown capacity has been hollowed out. 

With domestic manufacturing losing momentum, there’s less incentive for younger workers to seek a career in it - which means Western countries have developed a worrying skills gap, as older skilled employees are retiring at a rate far higher than they are being replaced. 

And yet demand overall for manufacturing is increasing. We are a consumerist society, which means we want more stuff - and politicians (like Joe Biden) are seeking to reposition their countries’ economies to meet it

The fear though is that even though demand for machined components is rising, the manufacturing sector can’t meet it because of the lack of trained talent - resulting in a potentially terrifying, multi-million dollar ‘output gap’ (the difference between demand, and what the sector can actually produce) that will stymie global economic development and growth. 

So - what’s the solution?

Technology to the rescue

In June, CloudNC released to the world new software called CAM Assist that we believe is a piece that will help solve the puzzle. 

Today, precision manufacturing is a critical part of the global supply chain, as it’s responsible for the components that are required to make anything complex (like a vehicle, or a computer) - but it’s also a bottleneck. 

CNC machines (the mini-factories that produce machined components) are important pieces of equipment, but they’re also difficult and time-consuming to program accurately and efficiently. Depending on the complexity of the part being requested, a skilled programmer might take hours to produce a reliable toolpath - or even days.

CAM Assist changes all that. Through the smart use of code to eliminate solutions and work out the most efficient solutions, it accelerates how quickly and easily a new component can be programmed for a CNC machine by as much as 80%, shortening the production process by an average of 63 minutes per part. 

That’s a huge advantage - but what does it mean? Well, if you extrapolate those savings out, they allow manufacturers to become much more productive:

  • Experts can spend less time on time-consuming programming, and are able to invest their time and knowledge in much more complex tasks 
  • Junior programmers can be more productive more quickly, and can machine more difficult components
  • By reducing their reliance on manual machine programming, factories can manufacture more parts, faster and with less waste

More money, fewer problems

So, that’s the benefit per factory, or per manufacturer. But what happens when you take a step back at the macro view?

If you can make not just one factory more economic, but many factories, then suddenly a lot more options become available:

  • We can level the global playing field, as factories in developed nations are again able to compete against their counterparts elsewhere - whether through pricing, efficiency gains, or flexibility 
  • Stronger domestic sectors means shorter supply chains, reducing the geopolitical threat from disruptive global crises
  • Shorter supply chains means less environmental impact - fewer cargoes going back and forth between East and West
  • We can narrow the manufacturing talent gap, meaning we help manufacturers meet rising demand with their existing and future workforces, not least through helping them employ younger talent.

Add all those factors together, and you have a situation where domestic manufacturing sectors are attractive places to work, fuelled by cutting-edge technology and set up to compete for the future - instead of dwindling assets competing forlornly against cost-cutting adversaries in a race to the bottom. 

What does that look like in practice? Well, maybe it’s the difference between old Detroit - a collapsed ‘donut’ city that’s empty in the middle, as its manufacturing core has been hollowed out as the US automotive industry falters - and a new, dynamic Detroit, where new manufacturers, supported by cutting-edge technology, are able to fill the gap, creating prosperous shops and skilled jobs that support the local ecosystem and reinvent a city. 

Now, we’re not yet living in a world where CloudNC’s software is changing how the world makes things - it’s too early for that. But my belief is that in the near future, we will start to see signs that manufacturers are rethinking their global strategies, and that solutions like ours and others create the green shoots of recovery that manufacturing needs. 

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