Foundry Automation, Integration & Robotics (FAIR)

Ask just about anyone in manufacturing these days what the biggest challenge is for their business, and the answer will likely include the words ‘employees.' With unemployment below 4% and more than 560,000 unfulfilled openings in the manufacturing industry, it is a problem nearly everyone recognizes exists. But do we really understand the long-term vision for labor in the 21st century?

Consider the following set of facts contained in the National Association of Manufacturers article "2.1 Million Manufacturing Jobs Could Go Unfilled by 2030":

  • "The manufacturing skills gap in the U.S. could result in 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030, according to a 2021 study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute. The cost of those missing jobs could potentially total $1 trillion in 2030 alone."
  • "The study’s dramatic findings come from online surveys of more than 800 U.S.-based manufacturing leaders, as well as interviews with executives across the industry and economic analyses. All told, they paint a worrying picture of manufacturing’s labor shortage."
  • "About 1.4 million U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost during the early days of the pandemic, according to the study, setting back the manufacturing labor force by more than a decade. However, industry has largely recovered those lost jobs and is now urgently seeking more workers. While the manufacturing industry recouped 63% of jobs lost during the pandemic, the remaining 570,000 had not been added back by the end of 2020, despite a near record number of job openings in the sector."
  • "Executives reported they cannot fill higher paying entry-level production positions, let alone find and retain skilled workers for specialized roles. Furthermore, 77% of manufacturers say they will have ongoing difficulties in attracting and retaining workers beyond the 2021 study date."

What is to blame for the labor shortage? In a word, demographics. Consider the following excerpts from The Aging of the Manufacturing Workforce: Challenges and Best Practices website and publication of the same name:

  • "The United States is undergoing a dramatic demographic transformation as society ages faster than ever before. By 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 years or older. By 2035, for the first time in U.S. history, retirement-age Americans will outnumber Americans under the age of 18."
  • "Many Americans are living longer, healthier lives: life expectancy has increased significantly in the last several decades, driven partly by a decline in deaths from leading health conditions such as heart disease and cancer. At the same time, fertility has trended downward over the last 20 years, shrinking the relative size of today’s youth population. In 2018, the U.S. population grew by just 0.62 percent, the lowest rate since 1937. As immigration rates have plateaued, most of the growth slowdown can be attributed to a steady decline in the birth rate."
  • "Declining birth rates mean that relatively fewer 16-year-olds enter the labor force each year. Combined with the ongoing, large-scale retirement 'wave' accompanying the aging of the baby boom generation, employers are likely to experience worker shortages, and may struggle to recruit entry-level employees and retain talented workers. This, in turn, may lead to higher wages and salaries and accelerate the deployment of technology like robotics and artificial intelligence to boost worker productivity. This trend is likely to be compounded by the immediate labor market environment. With unemployment below 4 percent, employers must take extra steps to recruit and retain workers or make do with less labor."

In response to these trends, the NFFS Board of Directors created a new industry working group charged with investigating the available automation solutions for foundries and determining how those solutions can be rapidly deployed within the non-ferrous industry.

The newly formed NFFS Foundry Automation, Integration and Robotics (FAIR) working group held its inaugural meeting on June 8, 2022. The group was formed from a group of NFFS member foundry owners and managers who are tasked with identifying the industry’s needs and establish the working group’s priorities and goals. Subsequent meetings will include other stakeholder groups such as subject matter experts in automation and robotics, systems integrations, industry suppliers and academia as required.

Previous Meeting Materials

Additional FAIR WG Resources

Other resources