Can policymakers keep up with a technologically empowered manufacturing landscape?
Technology will disrupt manufacturing processes, products, employment and international supply chains. A whole new regulatory framework is needed to oversee this.
The manufacturing landscape is undergoing monumental changes. The future of the industry is being transformed by the emergence of technology that will result in smarter, more personalised manufacturing.
Crucially this smarter manufacturing landscape will rapidly evolve to become increasingly localised. Regulation will have a vital role to play in understanding and managing the movement of goods in a world of ever shorter supply chains. Ultimately, ensuring the success of this wider technological transformation will require an equally important evolution by policymakers.
A change to consumers
The technology that will catalyse this shifting landscape is already playing a big part in starting the transformation today. 3D printing will be the springboard for providing quick-to-produce, ultra-customised products. According to research commissioned by Epson into the workplace of tomorrow (between September and October 2016), this shift will be positive for consumers.
65 percent of the European manufacturing workforce surveyed believed the quality of goods will improve as innovative technologies are brought online. Their capabilities, and the resulting product and service benefits, are expected to increase consumer satisfaction. Increasingly customers will move away from the current landscape of ‘buy what is on offer’, and instead enjoy a more consumer-centric ‘what you see is what you can print’ model where desires can be met and instantly produced at the point of sale.
The material borders of the future
While technological transformation in manufacturing is no doubt delivering significant changes, we still rely on international manufacturing chains to deliver goods and components to markets across borders.
What the latest trends in technology show us is that in the future, manufacturing chains may be much more local, with less need for transport of finished manufactured goods. However, questions will need to be answered in meeting these changes. In the future, will the printing materials and designs be all that travels across borders? Will partially printed product components be treated as raw materials or products? And what policies on taxation, manufacturing standards, compliance, and tracing will apply to the wider supply chain? Also, how will these be enforced in a much more decentralised system?
These regulatory conundrums are not limited to manufacturing. Respondents to Epson’s research widely recognised that technology would have an impact on regulatory and policy aspects, with 73 percent agreeing technological shifts would lead to more regulation and laws on liability and practices.
Shifting regulatory landscapes
Regulatory burdens in a technologically transformed future are likely to be varied and complex. Industries such as healthcare, where significant liability issues already form an imposing policy burden, are likely to be areas where these complexities will emerge in more detail.
This technological evolution means that difficult choices are ahead for individual workers as well as businesses. How those choices are made will in many ways be influenced by the complex challenge of the regulatory environment itself. In a rapidly moving landscape, policymakers will need to work hard to keep pace, because ultimately the choices they make will dictate the ability of manufacturers to compete in an ever more global marketplace.
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