Manufacturing is cool again. New and expanded plants keep popping up everywhere. Assembly lines in many industries are running at or near capacity. A wide variety of cutting-edge production tools and equipment are available to engineers. Overall, it’s a great time to be in the assembly profession.
That optimism is reflected throughout the 20th annual ASSEMBLY State of the Profession survey. In fact, more than half (57 percent) of respondents claim to be “extremely satisfied” with their jobs today. That’s 8 percentage points higher than in 2014 and 12 percentage points higher than in 2013.
In addition, almost one-third (30 percent) of respondents work for companies that plan to expand existing facilities or build new assembly plants during the next 12 months. Construction activity will be strongest in the transportation equipment industry (53 percent), followed by medical equipment (48 percent), fabricated metal products (46 percent) and aerospace (37 percent).
Midsized manufacturers (companies with 250 to 500 employees) and large manufacturers (companies with 2,000 or more employees) will be building the most infrastructure. More than one-third (41 percent) of respondents in the West anticipate plant expansions during the next 12 months, followed by the South (33 percent), Midwest (27 percent) and Northeast (20 percent).
Many industry observers agree with ASSEMBLY’s findings and are extremely optimistic about the future of manufacturing in the United States.
“Today, the state of manufacturing is as resilient and robust as ever,” claims Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers. “And that’s why, once again, America is rising.”
“The lower costs associated with reshoring are driving more local manufacturing activity; technological developments are drastically changing the way plants operate; and capital investments are on the rise,” adds John Zegers, director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Manufacturing. “2015 will launch a new wave of domestic manufacturing.
“We will see jobs continuing to come back to America … but this reshoring will happen in a more targeted way, with natural gas use serving as a driving factor in some cases,” notes Zegers. “The growing abundance of natural gas in the United States provides more affordable energy for factories, as well as new opportunities for products and services.”
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimates that high shale gas recovery and low prices could add 1 million U.S. manufacturing jobs and reduce natural gas costs by up to $12 billion annually through 2025. In the near term, PwC predicts that the U.S. economy will grow by more than 3 percent in 2015, its fastest growth rate since 2005.
The 2015 State of the Profession study was conducted in March, as the manufacturing sector was riding a wave of positive news. For instance, the U.S. Department of Labor claims that the manufacturing sector added 29,000 jobs during the first quarter.
A majority (93 percent) or respondents expect their company to commit either the same amount or more resources toward assembly operations during the next 12 months. Manufacturers in the transportation sector, which includes automobiles, boats, car parts, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, rolling stock and trucks, are the most bullish about the future. Indeed, 50 percent of those assemblers claim their companies will be committing more resources toward improving assembly operations.
The U.S. auto industry is on track to reach new production milestones this year. LMC Automotive is forecasting sales of up to 18 million light vehicles, which would be a 6 percent increase from 2014 and a 12 percent increase from 2013.
The continued popularity of sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks is helping to drive up production volume. A majority of that demand is in the midsize and large SUV segments.
“Consumer confidence, credit availability and pent-up demand have played key roles in sustaining auto demand momentum since the Great Recession,” says Chris Hopson, manager of North American light vehicle sales forecasting at IHS Automotive. “This should help motivate sales once again in 2015.”
Automakers are responding to the good news by pouring money into their assembly plants. For instance, General Motors plans to invest more than $5 billion at its U.S. factories over the next three years to strengthen its production capabilities and enhance product quality.
The funds are being earmarked for a variety of GM facilities, including factories in Arlington, TX; Bowling Green, KY; Fort Wayne, IN; Kansas City, KS; Lansing, MI; Pontiac, MI; and Warren, MI. Not surprisingly, a big chunk of GM’s investment will be in plants that assemble SUVs and pickup trucks, two of the most profitable segments of the auto industry.
Aerospace manufacturers are also bullish on the future. Almost one-quarter (24 percent) of State of the Profession respondents in that sector claim their companies will be committing more resources toward improving assembly operations this year.
Pratt & Whitney is investing $1 billion to prepare its factories for jet engine production increases. Its arch-rivals, General Electric Co. and Rolls-Royce Corp., are also pumping money into their plants.
Rolls-Royce intends to spend $500 million to modernize its main factory in Indianapolis. Meanwhile, GE Aviation is building a $100 million state-of-the-art factory in West Lafayette, IN, to produce its next-generation passenger jet engine.
“Strong backlog and plenty of new aircraft coming into production will support the rapid multi-billion dollar growth of the commercial aviation market,” says Ben Moores, senior analyst for aerospace, defense and security at IHS Inc. “The introduction of new aircraft types and sizeable order backlogs point to significant expansion and changes to support requirements in the next five years.
“Production in 2013 was $162 billion; that number is forecast to jump to $318 billion by 2018,” adds Moores. “A long run of high oil prices and low interest rates had a dramatic impact on orders and deliveries. This backlog will ensure that the market remains on a growth trajectory for the next few years.”
The Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) predicts that U.S. manufacturing will outpace GDP, with 4 percent growth in both 2015 and 2016.
“Consumer spending is stronger because of lower oil prices, and manufacturing job growth is being pulled by increased production,” says Daniel Meckstroth, Ph.D., chief economist at the MAPI Foundation. “The fact that employment is continuing to grow shows the U.S. economy is maintaining its momentum.
“Confidence indicators are strong, the unemployment rate is low and credit is available,” adds Meckstroth. “More people with more income tends to be self-reinforcing.”
According to Meckstroth, production in non-high-tech manufacturing will increase 3 percent in 2015 and 2016. However, high-tech manufacturing production (computers and electronic products), which accounts for approximately 5 percent of all manufacturing, will grow 6 percent in 2015 and 9 percent in 2016.
“The good news is that low energy prices and lower manufacturing costs will allow consumers to buy more non-energy goods and services,” explains Meckstroth. “The offset is that low prices will depress the energy infrastructure buildup and the strong dollar will raise the trade deficit in manufacturing.
“The shifting forces offset and leave overall manufacturing production growing close to the same pace as last year—though thankfully, still faster than the pace of growth in the overall economy,” Meckstroth points out.
With an improving employment outlook, Meckstroth predicts solid consumer spending and purchases of big-ticket items, such as motor vehicles, houses and appliances. Business investment should ramp up this year, as well.
Meckstroth claims that most companies have cash and are profitable. Utilization rates are high and credit is available. Meckstroth expects industrial equipment expenditures to grow 10 percent in 2015, which is 2 percentage points higher than in 2014.
Oh Quality, Where Art Thou?
One issue that threatens to derail future growth in all manufacturing sectors is widespread concern about maintaining product quality. More than three-quarters (76 percent) of State of the Profession respondents are currently dealing with issues relating to quality. That’s 23 percentage points higher than in 2014 and 27 percentage points higher than in 2013.
In addition, more than one-half (53 percent) of respondents claim that product quality is the No. 1 factor that will affect their companies during the next 12 months.
Recent events in the auto industry are a prime example. Takata Corp. has declared its air bag inflators defective in more than 33 million vehicles worldwide. General Motors’ recall of more than 2 million small cars with faulty ignition switches has been another black eye for the industry.
That’s on top of last year’s record-setting number of recalls in the United States. Automakers issued more than 800 recalls in 2014, which affected almost 64 million vehicles. That shattered the old record of 31 million recalls in 2004.
As more vehicles than ever loaded with tons of new features roll off assembly lines, the number of recalls and quality issues could skyrocket in the future.
“After a watershed year for recalls in 2014, regulators and legislators will continue to focus on the auto industry in 2015 and beyond,” warns Neil Steinkamp, managing director at Stout Risius Ross Inc. “Automakers and their suppliers will need to consider new financial and risk assessment models in coming years to plan for an elevated number of vehicle recalls.
“As recall size increases and the number of recall campaigns remain elevated, the cost of recall campaigns will rise,” predicts Steinkamp. “This can be particularly concerning with respect to Tier 2, Tier 3 and other downstream suppliers that may not be able to bear this financial burden. The cost of a recall can be significantly more than the profits a supplier earns on the recalled component, especially in large recalls that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.”
More than two-thirds (96 percent) of assemblers in the computer and electronic products industry are concerned with product quality, followed by fabricated metal product (82 percent), medical equipment (80 percent) and transportation equipment (71 percent) manufacturers.
Product quality is more important to large manufacturers (companies with more than 2,000 employees) than small manufacturers (companies with fewer than 100 employees). More than one-half (58 percent) of assemblers at large manufacturers claim that quality will contribute to their overall competitive advantage during the next 12 months vs. 33 percent of assembly professionals at small manufacturers.
Serious Skills Gap
Ongoing labor shortages also threaten to undermine product quality control efforts in many manufacturing sectors. Almost one-half (48 percent) of State of the Profession respondents claim they are having trouble finding skilled workers. That’s 5 percentage points higher than in 2014.
Assemblers in the transportation equipment industry (63 percent) are having the hardest time finding employees, followed by the computer and electronic products industry (61 percent), fabricated metal products industry (52 percent) and machinery manufacturers (50 percent). The plastics and rubber products industry (31 percent) claims to have fewer problems finding skilled workers.
Midsized manufacturers (companies with 250 to 500 employees) expect to have the hardest time attracting people in the near future. Three-quarters (75 percent) of respondents at midsized companies are concerned with labor shortages, followed by large manufacturers (62 percent) and small manufacturers (40 percent).
“While the manufacturing industry is in resurgence, concern over the industry’s talent shortage is escalating,” says Rick Schreiber, partner in the manufacturing and distribution practice at BDO USA. “Manufacturers face a one-two punch of struggling to attract workers, while their talent on the factory floor and in the C-suite is increasingly approaching retirement.”
According to ASSEMBLY’s study, manufacturers in the South (54 percent) report having the most difficulty finding employees vs. 34 percent of companies in the Northeast.
It takes an average of one to three months to fill skilled manufacturing positions today. Almost one-third (31 percent) of respondents claim that it takes four to six months to fill the typical position. That’s 4 percentage points higher than in 2014.
However, 12 percent of assemblers say that it takes more than seven months to find workers. That’s 3 percentage points higher than in 2014.
More than one-third (41 percent) of manufacturers in the Northeast claim that they can fill positions within three months. But, it’s a much different story in the Midwest, which is home of the booming auto industry. Almost one-half (48 percent) of respondents report that it takes more than four months to find skilled workers.
According to a recent study conducted by Deloitte LLP and The Manufacturing Institute, 60 percent of all skilled production openings today are unfilled due to the talent shortage. During the next decade, U.S. manufacturers will create 4 million new jobs. But, half of those positions are likely to go unfilled because of the skills gap.
“While much progress has been made in rolling out skills certification, we must accelerate our efforts to keep pace with the daunting challenge facing the U.S. manufacturing industry over the next decade,” warns Jennifer McNelly, president of The Manufacturing Institute.
“The skills shortage pervades all stages of manufacturing—from engineering to skilled production,” says McNelly. “Manufacturers can no longer afford to wait for an educated and trained next generation of manufacturing talent. They will need to do more to develop their talent pool, and the same old approaches no longer apply.”
Reshoring is partially to blame for the current labor shortage. And, as more manufacturers continue to shift production back home from overseas, demand for skilled workers will continue.
Ten percent of 2015 State of the Profession survey respondents claim that their company reshored assembly operations during the last year. And, 12 percent expect their companies to bring work back to the states during the next 12 months.
“The bleeding of manufacturing jobs to offshore has stopped,” claims Harry Moser, founder and president of the Reshoring Initiative. “In the last decade, the United States has gone from losing about 140,000 manufacturing jobs per year to gaining 10,000 or more per year.”
According to Moser, the reshoring trend remained strong in 2014, up about 20 percent from record levels in 2013. In fact, he says that more than 60,000 manufacturing jobs were brought to the United States by reshoring and foreign direct investment in 2014.
“Nevertheless, these trends are still in their early stages,” Moser points out. “There are still 3 to 4 million manufacturing jobs offshore, a huge potential for U.S. economic growth,” Moser points out.
One-quarter (25 percent) of ASSEMBLY survey respondents in the plastic and rubber products industry expect their company to reshore operations during the next 12 months. The fabricated metal products (18 percent), contract manufacturing (16 percent) and transportation equipment (16 percent) sectors also expect to see more reshoring activity in the near future.
Large manufacturers (companies with 2,000 or more employees) are more likely to reshore. More than one-quarter (28 percent) of respondents in that category plan to shift assembly operations back to the United States during the next 12 months vs. 7 percent of small manufacturers (companies with 100 employees or less).
Salaries Stay Steady
The typical State of the Professionrespondent is 52 years old, has 23years of experience and earns $88,703. However, there are exceptions at both the high and low ends of the scale. For instance, 19 percent of respondents take home less than $65,000 per year, while 35 percent earn more than $95,000.
On average, men earn 21 percent more than women. Also, 25 percent of women respondents earn less than $60,000 vs. 12 percent of men.
One factor that accounts for some of this discrepancy is the fact that women respondents have less experience than men. Women represented only 10 percent of respondents and had an average of 16 years of experience vs. 24 years for men. In fact, more than three-quarters (84 percent) of men have more than 15 years of experience in the assembly field, while 49 percent of women have less than 15 years of experience.
In addition to gender, many different factors determine pay rates, such as age, education, experience, location and type of industry.
Industry experience is the biggest factor that determines compensation. Individuals with more than 15 years of experience (71 percent of respondents) earn more than assemblers with less than 10 years of experience in the assembly field (18 percent of respondents).
Assembly professionals tend to be loyal employees who stay with the same company for many years. In fact, 45 percent of respondents have worked at the same firm for more than 10 years, while 36 percent have been with their present employer for less than five years.
Many assemblers are benefiting from the manufacturing renaissance. More than one-half (59 percent) of respondents received a pay increase over the last 12 months, which is a 2 percentage point increase over 2014 and a 5 percentage point increase over 2013. Only 6 percent experienced a decrease in salary. Although salary raises varied widely, the average increase was 4 percent.
More than one-half (62 percent) of ASSEMBLY’s respondents received a cash bonus during the last 12 months. That’s a 7 percentage point increase over 2014 and an 11 percentage point increase over 2013. Extra compensation was typically based on overall company and plant performance, in addition to meeting deadlines for new projects, implementing cost reduction programs and launching new products.
More than three-quarters (85 percent) of assemblers who work in the transportation equipment industry received a cash bonus during the past year, followed by assemblers in the electrical equipment (73 percent), plastics and rubber (70 percent) and contract manufacturing (68 percent) industries.
More than one-half (62 percent) of State of the Professionrespondents expect to receive a salary increase at their next review. Assemblers in the medical equipment industry feel most confident about receiving an increase in the near future. Indeed, 69 percent of those individuals say they expect a raise.
But, assembly professionals who work in the plastics and rubber industry are less optimistic. Only 54 percent expect a raise during the next 12 months.
Assemblers who work for larger manufacturers (1,000 or more employees) are more likely to receive a bonus than those employed by companies with less than 100 employees. And, more than three-quarters (78 percent) of respondents at large companies expect to get a salary increase in the next 12 months vs. 49 percent of assemblers at small manufacturers.
All Over the Map
Factors such as local cost of living make assembly salaries fluctuate from region to region. The Northeast (Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont), which is home to 19 percent of State of the Profession respondents, boasts the highest salaries—an average of $94,024.
On the other hand, assemblers in the West (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming), which is home to 17 percent of respondents, average $84,504.
With an average salary of $88,932, the South most closely resembles the national average of $88,703. That region, which is home to 26 percent of respondents, includes Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.
Further north, assemblers in the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin), which is home to 38 percent of respondents, average $88,232.
Only 25 percent of assembly professionals in the Midwest and South earn more than $100, 000 vs. 51 percent of assemblers in the Northeast.
Assemblers in the West tend to work two hours a week less than the national average of 46 hours. And, only 4 percent of respondents in the West expect to work more hours during the next 12 months vs. 25 percent of assemblers in the South.
Assembly professionals in the Northeast tend to be more satisfied than their peers in other parts of the country. More than two-thirds (69 percent) claim to be “extremely satisfied” vs. 48 percent of assemblers in the South.
The size of a manufacturer usually determines compensation levels. For instance, assemblers who work in companies with more than 2,000 employees earn an average of $118,202. Assembly professionals at small manufacturers (companies with less than 100 employees) earn an average of $81,263.
However, assemblers who work for smaller firms tend to be much happier (66 percent) than people who work for big companies (35 percent).
Assemblers in the transportation equipment sector earn higher salaries than their peers in other industries. For instance, they earn 14 percent more than the national average of $88,703.
Assembly professionals in the machinery, computer and electronics, and aerospace industries also boast higher-than-average compensation. However, respondents who work in the plastics and rubber products industry earn 21 percent less than the national average.
Manufacturing engineers (28 percent of respondents) earn less than design engineers (7 percent of respondents). According to the 2015 State of the Profession survey, design engineers earn an average of $87,694 vs. $84,955 for manufacturing engineers.
Age is another important factor that affects compensation. For instance, assembly professionals who are more than 50 years old (65 percent of respondents) typically earn the highest salaries. They average $87,125 vs. assemblers who are under 40 (16 percent of respondents), who earn an average of $80,968.
Salaries also fluctuate widely based on type and level of education. For example, assembly professionals with just a bachelor’s degree (46 percent of respondents) earn an average of $87,125. However, assemblers armed with a master’s degree (14 percent of respondents) earn $99,180.
Obtaining a master’s in business administration (MBA) is a good way to ensure a higher salary. Assemblers with MBAs (13 percent of respondents) earn an average of 26 percent more than non-MBAs. However, the ASSEMBLY survey discovered that MBAs typically work at least three more hours per week than non-MBAs.
Assemblers work an average of 46 hours a week. In fact, more than two-thirds (70 percent) of 2015 State of the Profession respondents often work more than 40 hours a week. People in the transportation equipment industry tend to spend the most time at work (an average of 49 hours per week), while assemblers in the plastics and rubber industry work less (an average of 40 hours per week).
Fourteen percent of assembly professionals claim that their average work week will increase during the next 12 months. More than one-quarter (27 percent) of assemblers who work in the plastic and rubber products industry expect to work more hours during the next 12 months, followed by assemblers in the aerospace sector (20 percent).
Assembly professionals at large manufacturers plan to spend more time at work than their counterparts in smaller companies. Thirty percent of respondents who work for manufacturers with more than 1,000 employees expect to work more in the next 12 months. However, only 5 percent of assemblers who work for companies with less than 100 employees expect to experience longer work weeks.
Smartphones and other portable electronic devices may be partially to blame for those excessive hours. According to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, company-issued devices are blurring the lines between workday and off hours. Although almost half of the respondents said mobile technology helps them do their jobs better, 35 percent said it increases the number of hours that they work.
Despite all those digital tools, the majority (58 percent) of participants in ASSEMBLY’s study claim that they are doing the same amount of work-related travel today vs. one year ago. However, 16 percent of assemblers say they are doing more travel, which is 4 percentage points higher than in 2014.
More than one-half (57 percent) of respondents believe that time constraints will affect their ability to do their jobs during the next 12 months. Time-related pressure will pose the biggest challenge to assemblers who work in the computer and electronics (71 percent) and fabricated metal products (67 percent) industries.
In addition to product quality (76 percent), assemblers will spend more time on continuous improvement efforts (65 percent) and manufacturing flexibility (59 percent) in the near future.
More than three-quarters (82 percent) of assembly professionals in the electrical equipment and appliance industry believe that continuous improvement initiatives will contribute to their companies’ overall competitive advantage during the next 12 months. Other industries bullish on continuous improvement include contract manufacturing (72 percent), fabricated metal products (69 percent) and transportation equipment (69 percent).
A majority (83 percent) of assemblers in the transportation equipment segment will also be focusing on making their assembly lines more flexible, followed by computer and electronics (80 percent) and medical equipment (74 percent) manufacturers.
New Tools and Materials
Assembly professionals are eager to harness new production tools and equipment, such as additive manufacturing and collaborative robots.
“Disruptive technologies, such as 3D printing and robotics, have the ability to significantly improve efficiency, quality and operations,” claims Bob McCutcheon, U.S. industrial products leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. “The manufacturing industry is primed for a more advanced integration of robotics and the speed of adoption continues to increase with every dollar invested in these new technologies.”
Collaborative robots are the hottest segment of the robotics industry. Next-generation machines equipped with state-of-the-art sensor technology allow robots to operate side-by-side with humans on assembly lines. There’s no need for traditional safety barriers and protective cages.
A variety of vendors, including ABB Robotics, Fanuc America Corp., Kuka Robotics Corp., Precise Automation Inc., Rethink Robotics Inc. and Universal Robots USA Inc., have recently unveiled collaborative robots.
More than one-quarter (27 percent) of State of the Profession respondents expect to deploy collaborative robotic technology during the next 12 months. Not surprisingly, more than one-third (34 percent) of assemblers that plan to invest in next-generation robots claim that it’s because they are having trouble finding skilled workers. The next biggest reason (30 percent) is to improve productivity.
More than one-third (44 percent) of manufacturers in the transportation equipment sector plan to follow the lead of BMW, Renault and Volkswagen and invest in collaborative robots. Other industries eager to allow humans and robots to work in close proximity on assembly lines include computer and electronic products (39 percent) and contract manufacturers (32 percent).
Large manufacturers (46 percent) are more likely to deploy collaborative robotic technology vs. only 17 percent of small manufacturers.
The Boston Consulting Group Inc. (BCG) predicts that investment in industrial robots will accelerate dramatically over the next decade, from annual growth that now averages 2 percent to 10 percent.
“As labor costs rise around the world, it is becoming increasingly critical that manufacturers rapidly take steps to improve their output per worker to stay competitive,” notes Hal Sirkin, a BCG senior partner who specializes in manufacturing. “Companies are finding that advances in robotics and other manufacturing technologies offer some of the best opportunities to sharply improve productivity.”
Although robots have been used in factories for decades, Sirkin says they currently perform only around 10 percent of manufacturing tasks that can be done by machines. By 2025, he estimates that the portion of “automatable tasks” performed by robots will near 25 percent for all manufacturing industries worldwide.
“The coming robotics revolution could significantly reshape the global manufacturing landscape,” claims Sirkin. “Depending on the industry and country, output per worker could rise by 10 percent to 30 percent over and above productivity gains that typically come from other measures.”
Lightweight materials, such as aluminum and carbon-fiber composites, are also transforming the manufacturing world. More than one-third (35 percent) of State of the Profession respondents claim they are using materials other than traditional steel.
Aluminum is popular with almost three-fourths (71 percent) of those assemblers. Other lightweight materials in demand include engineering plastics (50 percent), high-strength steel (40 percent) and carbon-fiber composites (37 percent).
Not surprisingly, lightweight materials are most popular with manufacturers of products that roll, float or fly. Carbon-fiber composites are favored by more than three-fourths (85 percent) of respondents in the aerospace industry, followed by aluminum (79 percent) and engineering plastics (52 percent).
However, the opposite is true in the transportation equipment sector, which consists of companies that assemble boats, cars, trailers and trucks. Two-thirds (68 percent) of respondents prefer aluminum, followed by carbon-fiber composites (42 percent) and high-strength steel (38 percent).
ASSEMBLY magazine would like to thank all the respondents who participated in its 20th annual State of the Profession survey. The survey was conducted online in March 2015 by BNP Media’s market research division. It was sent to more than 18,000 randomly selected subscribers with an e-mail address.
The charts and tables in this report highlight the major data gleaned from the survey responses. On some of the questions, the response rate does not equal 100 percent due to rounding or surveys that contained one or more unanswered questions. In cases where multiple responses were allowed, the total may exceed 100 percent.
Special thanks to Cody Hall for his assistance with online survey design, distribution and tabulation.