It’s hard to drill down to the facts these days — on any topic. The surfeit of information precipitated by digital media (read: the internet) has confused and distracted almost everyone from the truth about everything.
Manufacturing is no exception. Just mentioning the words off-shoring, re-shoring and automation is to beg an instant argument. But as this blog post will show, these terms are widely misunderstood and may not mean what most people think they mean.
Case in point: medical parts which are produced by plastic injection molding. There are trends afoot, particularly in Europe which show that:
- Re-shoring doesn’t have to mean higher labor costs
- Off-shoring doesn’t have to mean lower overall costs (although it still means lower labor costs)
- Automation doesn’t have to mean layoffs and a lower employee headcount
Quality is driving these trends: many European and North American plastic injection molders in the medical equipment and supplies industry, dismayed by quality concerns in Asia, have begun to re-shore their manufacturing processes. Whether it be diagnostics equipment, trauma and spine applications, drug-delivery systems or hearing aids, the quality is uniformly higher in the West than it is in the East.
Want proof? Even Chinese medical equipment manufacturers buy plastic injected molded medical products from European and US manufacturers specifically because of quality concerns about Chinese molders.
As you might have guessed, automation is behind most of this increase in quality. Most plastic injection molders won’t even consider new equipment if it doesn’t increase automation, precision and accuracy. The goal is to reduce the amount of repetitive work and improve quality assurance. However, that trend hasn’t lowered employment: one medical parts manufacturer actually increased headcount after a comprehensive automation upgrade, due to the need for more computer programmers, strategists and repair specialists who could service the new robotic equipment.
Another trend driving re-shoring and automation is trace-ability, up and down the supply chain. The buzzword these days is a single-source solution that extends from the injection molding plant to testing, assembly, packaging and labeling.
In other words, it’s not just about manufacturing anymore. It’s about the entire production process. And that’s a trend that has metastasized from plastic injection molded medical parts to manufacturing in general.