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Meet Your Match: Breaking Into the Manufacturing Industry in a Tech Role

General Assembly
April 10, 2023

Calling all job-seekers looking to earn decent pay with benefits, job security, and advancement opportunities: the manufacturing sector is hiring. Better still, the promise of upward mobility is long baked into the jobs that build a nation’s wealth. 

Of course, much has changed over the years. Modern opportunities in manufacturing have evolved alongside the proliferation of technology that now touches nearly every facet of factory operations, from product design and machine operation, to quality control and efficiency management. 

While it’s undeniable “every industry is a tech industry” these days, the manufacturing sector is just awakening to all the possibilities—and you can take part in what some are calling the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

What Makes Manufacturing a “Tech” Industry?

First came steam power, then advances in science and the assembly line, and finally the digital revolution brought by computers. Welcome to the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” characterized by sweeping technological expansions of artificial intelligence, advanced analytics, robotics, and the Internet of Things, just starting to upend industrial production as we know it. 

With projected growth from $277.81 billion USD to $658.41 billion by 2029, growing at a CAGR of 13.1%, the global “smart manufacturing” market is a bright spot in economies around the world. If you’re drawn to working on projects that drive efficiency and tangible results, consider flexing your new tech skill set in manufacturing—which is all too often overlooked.

Consider some of the many projects you might work on:

  • As a software engineer, your 3D modeling software could lead to faster prototyping. 
  • Or your data analyst research might prevent machine downtime and lost productivity. 
  • As a data scientist, your predictive modeling can strengthen the company’s supply chain or lead the transition to sustainable fuel sources. 
  • Or your UX design work could revolutionize the end user experience, attract new business through the company website, or help employees get the job done by accessing information through your agile smartphone app. 

In addition to fast-growing positions like software engineer, data analyst, data scientist, and UX designer, Deloitte surmises the reimagined manufacturing roles of tomorrow might include robot teaming coordinator, digital offering manager, drone data coordinator, predictive supply network analyst, digital twin engineer, and smart factory manager. 

Why are Tech Roles Important in Manufacturing? 

Diving into a tech role in manufacturing gives you the opportunity to have a real impact on your company’s bottom line. Whether you’re working on a project related to cost reduction, machine efficiency, groundbreaking automation, or customer satisfaction, the technology you run will impact both production and profits. 

Let’s take a closer look at the key tech trends defining the future of manufacturing: 

Manufacturer Apps and Websites

Earning the trust of consumers and partners begins with a strong manufacturer website. UX designers have transformed largely static brag sheets into truly useful sources of information for product purveyors with video demos, step-by-step instructions, uploaded user manuals, expert tips, user success stories, open source forums, and instant chat customer service. 

Mobile apps extend a website’s capabilities beyond the desktop and into the palm of an end user’s hands. Increasingly, floor managers are using checklist and audit apps to monitor production quality and ensure they cover all blindspots, which is especially important for government-regulated industries like food production. With production planning, employee scheduling, and inventory control systems at their fingertips, managers adapt quickly to changes to keep their factories running smoothly.

Customized Software

Customized software systems can be used for everything from production scheduling and product lifecycle management to quality control tracking and supply chain optimization. When an earthquake disrupts production, software can identify the logistical bottlenecks. If a raw material provider has sent defective materials, software can clarify the financial ramifications. Warehouse inventory can be moved to the right place at the right time with the right data. With these and many other software-driven capabilities, manufacturers can operate more efficiently and compete more effectively in the marketplace.   

Predictive Analytics

Last year, surveys found demand is increasing for products made by 81% of manufacturers — but is their equipment up to the task? The answer is no for the 36% of corporate stakeholders and 44% of frontline workers who say “unexpected machine downtime” remains the second-biggest risk to meeting production targets, next to supply chain disruptions. 

Predictive maintenance technology holds the key to proactively managing this risk and preventing delays that add up to 3.3 million production hours $1 trillion in costs globally each year. By analyzing historical data, gathering stress factors from onboard sensors, and mapping out best practice maintenance processes, data analysts can keep the machines running with greater efficiency.

Sustainability Tech

Sustainability is no longer a “nice-to-have,” but a “must-have” amid an increasingly vocal society calling for climate change awareness and responsible, eco-conscious manufacturing. Technology offers a breath of fresh air by providing the means to reduce environmental impact. From zero-emission, hydrogen-powered engines and geothermal heated plants to material recycling programs and water reuse systems, the possibilities for improvement are seemingly endless. 

New platforms, like Sweep, allow manufacturers to input various aspects of their business to assess their environmental footprint, comply with government mandates, and track their progress against reduction targets.

3D Printing

Brake calipers, functioning human organs, airline wall panels, healthier chocolate, and a whole street of houses — it’s hard to imagine all these items can be 3D printed, but the applications are ever-increasing as engineers seek more cost-effective, efficient, and scalable methods of production. With 23.3% CAGR a year, the $16.75 billion global market is set for a strong decade.

3D printing jobs of the future might include UX designers for organ transplants or printed prosthetics, 3D printing software developers who can develop and debug interfaces, data analysts who can help design more efficient printers, and data scientists who use AI to automate printing functions.

Digital Twinning 

In the manufacturing sector, a digital twin can be used to simulate any object or physical process. Companies can use 3D software simulations to determine optimal dimensions, test how machinery might work under certain conditions, or visualize an entire supply chain. They can use learnings from digital twin data to guide new design prototypes, go-to-market strategies, or more agile business models. 

It’s estimated up to 70% of manufacturers are now using digital twin technology in some capacity. For instance, Boeing uses digital twins to drive production efficiency improvements. Previously, digital twins helped the company achieve a 40% improvement in first-time quality of parts. Whether you’re trained in software engineering, data science, or UX design, digital twin technology employs all these skills. 

Robots and Cobots

Some 20 million manufacturing jobs can be performed by robots — which is good news for the positions that are costly, less desirable, or even dangerous. Ideally, these robots enhance the work of humans — who are better suited to ask creative questions and problem solve, express empathy and build relationships, navigate open-ended scenarios and make strategic decisions based on all available facts. It’s been estimated that robotics could reduce labor costs 16% globally by 2025

Robots and “cobots” (automatons designed explicitly to work alongside humans) are helping workers achieve greater efficiencies. For instance, Nissan’s Japanese factories deploy robotic arms to maintain production projections despite a labor shortage. By assigning robots tasks like installing engine intakes, the work is less physically demanding for human workers who now focus on analyzing data collected by the robots and maintaining the machines.

Smart Factories

Thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, the most advanced production facilities are nearly fully automated sites capable of running without direct human intervention on site. 

Here are just a few examples:

  • In France, Schneider Electric’s le Vaudreuil facility uses augmented reality to increase productivity by 2 to 7% and saves 30% on energy in the production of circuit breakers, switch boards, power supplies, and other electrical equipment. 
  • In Ireland, Johnson & Johnson’s IoT and digital twin technology in their DePuy Synthes medical device manufacturing facility reduces operational costs and machine downtime. 
  • In China, the Bosch Automotive Diesel System factory uses embedded sensors to notify workers of bottlenecks in the production process, helping to keep equipment operational. 
  • In Germany, Infineon’s smart factory in Dresden deploys over 200 robots that automate 92% of the manufacturing work on 400 different products. 

Imagine the Possibilities with a Tech Role in Manufacturing

The following roles are highly desirable across industries, especially in manufacturing:

Software Engineers

Software design and implementation can take years, so it’s a pivotal role to land if you’re looking for a secure place to develop your new skill set. As industrialization proliferates, the demand for software engineers as harbingers of this high-tech transformation rises in tandem. 

For instance, in the U.S. (the second-largest manufacturing tech employer after China), just 1.5% of software engineers remain unemployed—and they had 24,269 new postings in the manufacturing sector to choose from as of January 2023. 

Likewise, the Japan Business Federation estimated in 2017 the country would need “at least 780,000 engineers” by 2025 to fulfill their demand for technological advancement in manufacturing. 

Exciting changes are afoot in rapidly industrializing nations like India, where a new BlackBerry IoT Center of Excellence, Engineering, and Innovation recruits top software engineers to build next-generation software-defined vehicles and advanced IoT devices.

Data Analysts

Data analyst is an ideal role for problem-solvers to shore up their skills and impact production on a grand scale. Manufacturers the world over are looking for ways to boost productivity, profitability, and resilience amid an ever-increasingly competitive global landscape. And they’re willing to pay, as manufacturing ranks among the 10 highest-paying industries for data analysts.

In the US, manufacturing is one of the top industries hiring data analysts, with General Motors, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Pfizer, and Moderna’s production facilities all hiring data analysts. 

Similarly, manufacturing tops the UK’s most data-driven industries list — with 21% of all UK manufacturers relying on data as a core part of their business functions, 15% making use of predictive analytics to fuel their decision making, and much room to grow besides.   

A subset of the data analyst field, the role of data annotator is on the rise in places like India. As manufacturers adopt artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, there’s an increasing need for data experts who can label independent elements in the training data to help machines understand what is or isn’t important. The annotated data then goes on to serve a greater purpose in performance measurement, quality control tracking, and predictive models.  

Worldwide, many of the biggest opportunities for data analysts are in manufacturing subsectors like automotive, electrical semiconductor, aerospace, aviation, and construction. Rampant digital transformation continues, with 46% of companies investing in big data and analytics. 

With the manufacturing analytics market projected to grow from $5.9 billion to $28.5 billion by 2026, the demand for data analysts to make sense of the influx of information will keep pace.  

Data Scientists

Data scientists fulfill a critical role in manufacturing by helping businesses identify risks and process improvements. Data scientists solve problems like the root causes of downtime, automate parts of the workflow through machine learning algorithms, and maximize profits through data modeling insights. They use real-world data to understand the potential impact of new technologies, optimize the supply chain, and forecast future demand for their products. 

Several years ago, only 47% of manufacturers said data science initiatives were a key factor in their competitive advantage; today, 83% of manufacturers value the important role data science plays in their success. In looking three years down the road, 87% of manufacturers believe data science will help them get ahead of the pack.

Data scientists are increasingly employed to establish artificial intelligence processes for:

  • Automated food labeling to minimize human contact with food
  • Assessing steel defects that are sometimes missed by the human eye
  • Spotting product defects using established parameters along with vast historical data
  • Reducing downtime through analysis of machine sensor information
  • Managing warehouse inventory based on supply and demand
  • Improving product development through rapid prototyping and 3D printing
  • Predicting demand based on historic patterns and and real-time monitoring
  • Reducing food waste due to economics, consumer preferences, and seasonal demands

UX Designers

UX designers are helping bridge the gap between old analog systems consisting of buttons and switches — and modern, agile technologies operated by smartphone or tablets. The present industrial landscape is still a diverse mix of dedicated touchscreen panels, apps, feeders, buttons, interfaces, sensors and software programs all talking to one another over the cloud, so UX designers play a fundamental role in streamlining employee access to information in ways that are intuitive and efficient. 

Over the past six years, UX design has emerged as the hottest role since software engineer — with 87% of managers surveyed by Adobe saying hiring UX designers is the top priority for their organizations. No matter what the company’s manufacturing, coming up with a product design and interface that is user-friendly to the end consumer is a paramount consideration. 

But even beyond that, production facilities have a number of other designs to consider. UX designers may be tasked with relaunching the company website or designing a complementary app. Or they might be in charge of training employees on how to customize and use the company’s digital tools to ensure their digital transformation efforts succeed. UX designers in manufacturing work on interfaces for digital twin experiments, data visualization dashboards, testing sandboxes, and enterprise resource planning software. 

Due to the dizzying array of features and customizations, out-of-the-box ready manufacturing software is no longer a given. Often, successful implementation requires the knowledge and skill of a UX designer who can match the digital product to the company’s unique needs, employee preferences, and present challenges. 

Use GA As Your Tech Skill Stepping Stone Into Manufacturing

The tech giants’ recent losses are the manufacturing sector’s gain, as Forbes explains. Skilled labor is part of the solution to the sector’s deepening talent shortage. After decades of birth rate decline, increasing retirement, tightened immigration, and pandemic-era deaths, technology will augment productivity deficits with cutting-edge ways of stretching resources. At every factory everywhere in the world, humans will need to coexist alongside advanced technology to produce the goods the populace counts on for their everyday lives.

While countless manufacturers welcomed high school graduates to training programs that would provide the skill sets needed to work on plant floors, along assembly lines, or in shops, they have been less effective at training workers for elite tech skills to fill high-paying vacancies they sorely need. 

General Assembly bootcamps bridge this gap by training the next generation of tech talent. Once you complete one of our 12-week bootcamps, you can network with our many manufacturing employer partners to find your perfect fit. Since 2011, we’ve helped thousands of career changers discover a role and industry they love. Why not you?

Wondering if a manufacturing career might be love at first byte? Take our Tech Industries “Meet Your Match” Quiz to find out!

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