Manufacturing accounts for an impressive $2.17 trillion of the U.S. economy, and despite the common misconception manufacturing is expanding in the U.S. -- up by over 27% since 2009. It’s a segment of the overall economy that has seen its significant ups and downs over the years though, from offshoring to job cuts: manufacturing is influenced by major economic developments and broad international trends. The latest factor affecting manufacturing is technological change, and its various effects on individual manufacturing operations and on workforce demographics.

Many of the recent changes in the manufacturing industry have been driven by consumer demand. Consumers want things faster, more individualized, and newer than last year or even last quarter. Therefore, manufacturers have had to keep up with not only the demand for new products but with finding skilled workers to make these products.

New and advanced manufacturing technologies have helped to better meet consumer demand. With the implementation of computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), manufacturers have become significantly more efficient. CMMS tracks system maintenance, inspection, and breakdowns, reducing or eliminating the effects of disruptions.

Instead of manually tracking problems or changes on a piece of paper, a CMMS handles all of these tasks remotely, increasing productivity drastically. The benefits include fewer repairs, lower maintenance costs, streamlined workforce, and historical data and trend reports. All of these help to keep up with consumer demand.

The influence of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data CMMS technology also connects devices remotely, allowing them to “talk to each other.” The still-developing IoT establishes individual factories as sources of (and destinations for) information via the Internet, increasing the potential for automation and remote monitoring. Instead of a manual check, IoT allows control systems to be networked to each other, and essentially monitor each other’s process.

With this connection, factories can easily collect and aggregate Big Data, or a mass of information concerning their systems. This information can be measured and analyzed to increase productivity and efficiency in a factory. IoT should help manufacturers to work better (getting products to the consumers faster), and it’s also an aspect of the product consumers now demand.

Consumers today demand that products are intelligent, responsive, and connected, or in other words, “smart”. Terms like “smart lighting”, “connected cars”, and “wearable technology” are all examples of how products are becoming more valuable to the buyer and user. Consumers use this type of technology to keep track of a variety of aspects in their daily lives - from what they eat to how much they exercise, people are becoming more reliant on smart technology.

Products becoming “smart” means that manufacturers must be able to produce these technologies on a large scale - but also to keep up with technological evolution of such products as they are improved and personalized. Essentially, this changes not only the business model for manufacturers but also the skillsets required of workers.

Smart products are not stand-alone objects; they are a service, too. Manufacturers are becoming service providers, which links them closer to the consumer. Manufacturers must understand and meet consumer demand with these products, connecting with them on a more personal level.

These products are no longer simply the outcome of mass production; they require specialized talent to create and produce them on a large scale.