As part of the 2023 Industry Outlook feature story, “Manufacturing Enters New Year Amid Uncertainty,”in the January-February issue of Manufacturing Engineering, we asked executives from seven leading companies to share their insights for 2023 and beyond. Here’s what they had to say on several key issues.
Manufacturing rebounded in 2022 but still faces significant challenges. What’s your overall outlook for the economy and manufacturing in 2023?
“We are cautiously optimistic for 2023. We expect that some of the severe turbulence in 2022 (historic inflation, drastic supply-chain disruptions, workforce shortages, energy crisis) should moderate. Manufacturing demand will stay healthy in several sectors like aerospace, electronics, automotive, and infrastructure. On the other hand, the looming outlook of a potential recession creates uncertainties, especially for the second half of 2023.” – Muthukumaran Jeevanantham, general manager, Bonded Abrasives and Super Abrasives, NAM, Saint-Gobain Abrasives
“All indications are that the service sector will slip into recession in 2023, but we expect positive production trends continuing in the aerospace, defense, agriculture, and energy sectors. The expectation is that manufacturing should still see growth in 2023, albeit slightly less than 2022.” – Bob Hellinger, president, Emuge-Franken USA
“2023 will bring macroeconomic uncertainty with the ongoing threat of recession and sky-high inflation, compounded by labor shortages. But manufacturers that adopt proven collaborative automation solutions can plug labor gaps, improve quality and efficiency, gain certainty, and digitalize their operations. Supply chain reconstruction and reshoring will take time. In the long term, both trends are positive for the manufacturing sector.” – Joe Campbell, senior manager of application development and strategic marketing, Universal Robots
“We still feel positive about possibilities for 2023.” – Mark Johnson, president, Tapmatic
“By the end of 2022, we did experience some wait-and-see attitude on the European market due to the energy crisis and the high inflation. This might still be the case in early 2023 but we expect the overall trend towards automation to win the battle by early spring. In the U.S., we’ve seen no trace of the European restraint, so we expect to see a steady U.S. growth throughout 2023.” – Carsten Sørensen, partner at ROEQ, Robotic Equipment
“Open Mind focuses on manufacturing software for high-value components, and this sector is more resistant to economic cycles than mass-market production machining. Solutions that shorten cycle times or can reduce the number of set-ups or work steps have even bigger benefits during current times with the prospect of a (strong or mild) recession.” – Alan Levine, managing director, Open Mind Technologies USA
“2023 will see continued macroeconomic uncertainty in terms of both the wider economy and the manufacturing sector. Automation brings stability to manufacturing processes, so we expect 2023 to bring increased collaborative automation adoption, driven by labor shortages, reshoring drives, and the need for continuity in uncertain times.” – Kristian Hulgard, general manager, OnRobot’s America’s Division
What are some of the biggest challenges and concerns facing manufacturers in coming years?
“Labor shortage is surely a big concern for the manufacturing business. Increased insourcing and onshoring combined with adverse population composition will only emphasize this issue in the coming years. Making the most of the skilled workforce will be a determining factor in keeping up with competition and demand, pointing towards automation to take over tedious and routine tasks. Realizing this, onboarding and readjusting to automation will be a main concern for manufacturers today—not tomorrow!” – Carsten Sørensen, ROEQ
“Controlling costs and finding skilled workers.” – Mark Johnson, Tapmatic
“Labor and skills shortages are the biggest challenges in manufacturing. The trend towards reshoring manufacturing will continue as supply chains stabilize. Manufacturing will create more jobs but the need for qualified labor will be a challenge.” – Bob Hellinger, President of Emuge-Franken USA
“Manufacturing’s labor crisis shows no signs of dissipating in 2023. If anything, it’s likely to get worse. Other big challenges include supply chain uncertainty, macroeconomic conditions, a possible resurgence in global COVID cases due to China reopening its economy, and—in some regions—challenges around energy supply and cost.” – Kristian Hulgard, OnRobot
“Four major challenges face us in coming years. 1) Workforce – shortages, stability, and flexibility. For example, post-COVID, there is much more reflection on work-life balance. While this is very much required and healthy, it also poses certain operational challenges—for example, night shifts or weekends. 2) Continued uncertainties on supply chain (are) a key concern for 2023. While it is widely expected to be better than 2022, it is still highly unpredictable. 3) Energy costs are continuing to be high and unpredictable, resulting in significant swings in operational costs. 4) Sustainability—with an aim to achieve carbon neutrality. Major effort has to be made to decarbonize industry in order to achieve industry’s commitment on sustainability.” – Muthukumaran Jeevanantham, Saint-Gobain Abrasives
“Manufacturers have challenges to obtain talented programmers and machinists, and also face management challenges to properly utilize available talent. Automating repeated tasks and enabling skilled laborers to spend more time on complex tasks is necessary to optimize the limited labor resources.” – Alan Levine, Open Mind
What sectors, products, and technologies offer the most opportunities? Why, and how is your company preparing to address it?
“Opportunities for collaborative automation are everywhere in manufacturing, and companies large and small are starting to understand how cost-effective incremental automation can deliver productivity and ROI. Universal Robots and our global network of partners address these opportunities through the UR+ ecosystem of certified UR-compatible off-the-shelf hardware and software solutions. UR+ solutions can take on almost any application imaginable from 3D inspection to palletizing to welding, machine tending, and screwdriving.” – Joe Campbell, Universal Robots
“Coming out of the pandemic, we see the aerospace and space technology sectors as excellent growth opportunities. These industries demand newer machining technologies to handle complex parts and exotic materials. Emuge-Franken continues to invest heavily in R&D to produce new and innovative tooling designs to support the ever-changing needs in these industries.” – Bob Hellinger, Emuge-Franken USA
“Though our product services many market sectors, we do not focus on specific markets. We seek broad-based methods to develop manufacturing solutions no matter the current hot market. The broad-based vision also helps to identify tool path strategies that are robust and not tied to a limited application set.” – Alan Levine, Open Mind
“We see new opportunities in the automotive industry and aerospace. We have begun offering new tool holders for deburring parts on CNC machines and this has brought us some new opportunities.” – Mark Johnson, Tapmatic
“OnRobot develops easy-to-use collaborative automation solutions for small-to-medium size enterprises (SMEs). SMEs are the backbone of most major economies and provide the widest array of opportunities, but automation adoption rates have been low due to cost and complexity of traditional automation. OnRobot’s technologies address these issues with SME-friendly solutions.” – Kristian Hulgard, OnRobot
“Repetitive tasks and movement of goods take place in most businesses – and certainly within manufacturing. At ROEQ we address the need for automation by designing and producing MRE (Mobile Robotic Equipment) solutions that widen the spectre of companies to take on automation of their intralogistics – allowing the workforces to concentrate on value adding activities. By looking towards standard MRE the journey from planning to implementation is reduced, increasing the chance for success at the same time.” – Carsten Sørensen, ROEQ
“We see growth opportunities in four main sectors: electronics – especially in semiconductor manufacturing; aerospace recovery – fueling growth in titanium production; automotive-EV; and infrastructure. At Norton |Saint-Gobain Abrasives, we have been prioritizing our investments (equipment, talent, innovation) on these growth areas for years. A good example is EV – the tolerance, precision needs of certain EV components are much higher, requiring us to innovate new solutions. – Muthukumaran Jeevanantham, Saint-Gobain Abrasives
Will Industry 4.0 have a significant effect on your business in 2023? Why or why not?
“Absolutely. OnRobot has developed digitalization solutions that boost Industry 4.0 preparedness among SMEs, but it is the recent launch of D:PLOY (a new platform that automates the process of getting a robotic application up and running) that we expect to have the most impact, not just on OnRobot’s business, but on the wider industrial automation sector.” – Kristian Hulgard, OnRobot
“Industry 4.0 won’t succeed without collaborative automation and vice versa. Digital twins, like UR+ partner Rocketfarm’s ‘Pally’ software, allow end users to simply input basic product and production specifications while the software’s algorithms automatically generate the most effective palletizing solution. Industry 4.0-type digitalization solutions like these will proliferate in 2023.” – Joe Campbell, Universal Robots
“Connected solutions have an increasing role in modern manufacturing. As a CAM software provider, we had previously been asked to generate strong tool paths. This remains true, but interfaces to cutting tool databases, tool management software, simulation software, and MES and ERP solutions are also sought.” – Alan Levine, Open Mind
“Great potential lies within automation and Industry 4.0 can unleash the full automation power by weaving in the internal logistics with WMS/ERP systems, hereby enabling tracking and control of goods all the way through the manufacturing site ensuring timely transportation and stream of goods.” – Carsten Sørensen, ROEQ
Do you expect to expand your business, add capacity, or make other significant investments in 2023?
“We are considering the possibility of acquiring some new machines for our production. In 2022 we invested in some additional measuring equipment like a new CMM, Comparator and Hardness Testing.” – Mark Johnson, Tapmatic
“Yes.” – Kristian Hulgard, OnRobot
“We are planning to increase our staff in 2023. We see the opportunity to continue to increase our presence in the market. And to achieve this goal while satisfying our customers, we need added resources to deliver on-time and high-quality service.” – Alan Levine, Open Mind
“We are making significant investments on three broad areas: 1) develop solutions to decarbonize industry – for our customers as well for our own use; 2) continue to modernize our operations via Industry 4.0, automation, and refining our industrial footprint; and 3) capacity expansion to aid our growth ambitions on fast-growing markets.” – Muthukumaran Jeevanantham, Saint-Gobain Abrasives
“Emuge-Franken is investing in new machinery and expanding capacity in our facilities in North America and abroad to meet the increasing demands that we expect in 2023.” – Bob Hellinger, Emuge-Franken USA
“2023 will see considerable innovation at UR. Our new UR20 robot with a 20-kg payload, 1750-mm reach, and entirely new, high-performance joint design, will be deployed in 2023. Working closely with UR+ partners, an exciting new range of ready out-of-the box manufacturing application solutions will launch in 2023.” – Joe Campbell, Universal Robots
“Automation of intralogistics via AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) is picking up speed. The technology is matured and both smaller and larger companies have realized the possible gain. As supplier of equipment for AMRs we do expect to see a 50-100 percent growth in 2023.” – Carsten Sørensen, ROEQ
How is the workforce shortage affecting your business and what can be done to mitigate it?
“The skilled workforce shortage is problematic, and our company is having to invest in continual training programs, which help attract and retain our workers. Finding new workers is always difficult and we must do everything possible to hold on to them and advance their skill sets.” – Bob Hellinger, Emuge-Franken USA
“So far, we’re not short of labor and we try to be foresighted to ensure sufficient time for finding and onboarding new colleagues.” – Carsten Sørensen, ROEQ
“The workforce shortage has impacted our customers, in some cases providing an obstacle to considering new technology, even with an expectation of clear return on investment. To support the customer’s needs, we have expanded training options to provide remote, custom, and self-study options. Training is a small investment with nearly immediate return on investment.” – Alan Levine, Open Mind
“We have been fortunate and were able to hire some great new people in 2022 but it was challenging.” – Mark Johnson, Tapmatic
“As the pioneer of collaborative automation, Universal Robots is in the lucky position of being able to attract talented people that share our passion for human-centered robotics. In 2022, we reached the 1,000th employee milestone –an amazing achievement for a company that launched its first cobot in 2008.” – Joe Campbell, Universal Robots
“The global workforce shortage is the biggest driver of automation adoption among manufacturing companies. In this sense, the labor crisis is a boost for the automation sector and drives opportunity and growth there. In return, specialist automation companies provide solutions that enable manufacturers to mitigate the impact of workforce shortages.” – Kristian Hulgard, OnRobot