There are many logical and psychological barriers stopping people from uptaking exponential technologies.

In fact a study of US manufacturing firms’ adoption of exponential technologies has many similarities to feedback that HERA receives from its members. Key findings being, that companies are too focused on the day-to-day operations to respond to longer-term disruption opportunities. And, that attracting and retaining talent is a key challenge… perhaps, even, a looming crisis.

The problem is, failure to uptake exponential technologies can be dangerous. They allow businesses to grow and catalyse change at a rapid (i.e. exponential) pace. And, are often used together to disrupt existing technologies, processes and industries. Out of this disruption comes transformation and opportunity.

Often their growth is hard to spot in the beginning. For example, artificial intelligence and advanced analytics have been spoken of for some time. Now they have crept into our daily lives through apps such as Netflix, Facebook and Google.


Examples of exponential technologies in growth phase now are:

  • Additive manufacturing (3-D or 4-D printing);
  • Block chain;
  • Internet of things;
  • Cloud computing;
  • Advanced analytics; and
  • Artificial intelligence.


Transforming the future of manufacturing

Between May and December 2017, Deloittes interviewed Senior Execs from more than 24 companies. Participants included Dow Chemical, PepsiCo, Hewlett Packard, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. These interviews focused on the future of exponential technologies in manufacturing. The resulting report is titled “Exponential technologies in Manufacturing: Transforming the Future of Manufacturing through technology, talent, and the innovation ecosystem”.

Deloittes identified four key reasons why manufacturing firms are not adopting these technologies as rapidly as they should. We think these findings sound very familiar!


  1. Structural and cultural challenges

This is particularly a challenge for big companies, who are typically not agile. Decades of success and profits may be leading to complacency around the need to change.


  1. Regulatory burdens

Drag is on the system because of overly complex or inefficient regulatory and safety standards. The costs of compliance and duration to attain compliance are excessive. Regulatory standards are simply not keeping pace with technology changes.


  1. Talent constraints

There is lack of available talent within manufacturing. Retirement of baby boomers is creating a knowledge gap. And, the manufacturing industry is not seen to be innovative or high-tech. Consequently, tech-savvy staff are moving across to more attractive sectors.


  1. Leadership mindset

There is a lack of management attention and vision beyond the day-to-day pressures. Executives are unwilling to take risks to invest in technologies with an unclear ROI in advance of getting started. There is a lack of aligning vision, culture and incentives. Also, an absence of asking and answering the difficult questions. This leads to conforming to the status quo. Management is not supporting a learning culture and allowing people to experiment and “fail”.


Should we be asking and answering the difficult questions ourselves?

We think these findings lead to four big questions for NZ manufacturing to consider.


  1. Do we have a culture that is receptive to change and agility?

Maybe we steadfastly enforce the “norms” of what we do every day without even realising it. If we are reliant upon our supplier to roll out innovation down the value chain, we may be caught out. The bigger the company, the more difficult it is to innovate quickly. If you are the small “guy” down the channel, it may be quicker for you to do it yourself rather than wait for the big guys up the road with the big R&D team to do it!


  1. Could regulatory response be a competitive advantage for NZ?

If Government undertook a proactive review of exponential technology trends and likely conflicts with existing regulation, this would be a huge competitive advantage. Perhaps such a progressive approach would attract more R&D to NZ too. It is worth considering.


  1. Is there a looming talent crisis in manufacturing?

Probably. Six out of ten open production positions in US manufacturing industry remain unfilled. 2 million jobs will remain unfilled in the US manufacturing industry in the next decade.

The most common feedback that we get from members about future challenges is that they are having difficulty attracting and retaining talent. So, it does appear that this is already a significant issue in our sector.


  1. Shouldn’t leaders be leading?

Of course, the answer should be “yes”!


Have you considered exponential technology adoption from a HR- perspective?

The future of manufacturing has many challenges to address. A key one is talent. Rather than seeing exponential technologies as something to fear or think about in ten years time ….once they mature, they could be a key way to address our talent gap.

We are aware that we have a talent problem. This tells us that there is an underlying PR problem with metals manufacturing simply not being an attractive employer. Exponential technology adoption is one way that manufacturing immediately becomes more attractive to tech-savvy employees.


Anyone still waiting for the cloud to mature is probably tripping over the stretchy cord on their phone at this point (from “What to do when machines do everything” by Frank, Roehrig and Pring, 2017).