The Future Is Now

There’s a lot going on right now in the Canadian advanced manufacturing sector. The month began with the Canadian Wind Energy Association annual conference and exhibition. October has also been designated “Manufacturing Month” by Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. And according to Canadian economists, October – and the remaining months of 2015 – should bring good news for all of us in Canada’s advanced manufacturing industry.

Good news is always welcome, of course – but in the midst of the positives, I still want to sound a note of caution. It’s simply this: we must take nothing for granted. Nothing.

Instead, to quote the Roman poet Horace, “Carpe Diem” – it is time to seize the day.

Let’s look at the CanWEA conference for a moment. Siemens was proud to sponsor this important event, it is Canada’s largest wind energy conference, and I was pleased by this year’s focus: “Cutting-edge technology and innovations that will help solve the industry’s biggest problems and pave the way for a more efficient, effective, and sustainable energy future.”

That’s the kind of thinking that we need right across the Canadian advanced manufacturing sector. But it’s crucial that such intentions are not just rhetoric – “big-picture” statements that are printed in our reports, written in our blogs, and spoken in our projections, but which never make their way into the heart of our businesses.

All of us with a stake in the Canadian manufacturing sector must go beyond words – we must adapt, innovate and accept change as a way of life – or our manufacturing sector as we know it will be dead and gone.

This transition is essential. Continual innovation is now at the very heart of the manufacturing sector, and in my view – the urgency of change is the one thing that will not change.

There is indeed some optimistic news, reflected in a report last month by TD Economist Dina Ignjatovic, who wrote, “Canadian manufacturing sales kicked off the third quarter on a high note, rising by 1.7% in July. This marks the third consecutive gain in manufacturing activity… Overall, after weighing on economic growth during the first half of the year, the manufacturing industry is on track to improve over the remainder of 2015, and should help to lift overall growth.”

Of course, this is positive news. But let’s be clear that this is a short-term report – all it says is that our industry is doing better in the second half of 2015 than it did in the first two quarters.

However, in the Ivey Lawrence Centre report I referred to last month, there is a more somber context: “Since 2000, manufacturing employment has declined by over 500,000 workers…[and] the decline in manufacturing exports has let to an overall decline in exports by Canada. Over the period 2000-2014, overall exports declined by 6.4%, while manufacturing exports declined by 26%.”

So while we may feel reassured by the current uptick in manufacturing, there is clearly much to be done to ensure the recovery and long term viability of our business.

The CME’s theme for Manufacturing Month sums it up in four words: “The Future is Now!”

Yes, it is. And the shape that future will take – the success or the failure it will bring – is entirely dependent on our willingness to change, adapt, and innovate – starting right now.

We have entered an exciting, dynamic, new, world-wide, fourth industrial revolution. A digital transformation is reengineering everything about manufacturing.

However, when I say “we”, I want to stress that unfortunately, our participation is not inevitable. “We” only enter this revolution if and when we opt into the thinking and practices that have sparked it. We have to choose to participate – and to foster the changes that facilitate that participation

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