I started my career in manufacturing in the early 1970s. Yes, that is a long time ago. As I look back on those 50 years, I am astounded at the technological changes that have occurred in that time.

I’ve often wondered what my grandfather felt about the how the world changed during his lifetime. He was born in 1898, before electricity was common in private homes, no automobiles, no telephones, no indoor plumbing, no central heating. Radio broadcasting was just beginning to take hold and of course no television or computers. Yet, he lived to see a United States astronaut step foot on the moon. What an amazing lifetime of changes.

So how does that compare to the next 50 years? Well by 1970, electricity, automobiles, telephones, radios, indoor plumbing, central heat, and television were all accepted as being everyday necessities.

Computers still were rare but were quickly developing and would soon become important business tools. By 1985, home computers were becoming more common and continued to grow and became universally available in the 1990s. Computers were integrated with manufacturing equipment and became common place.

About the same time, mobile-telephone technology for consumers exploded on the scene. By the mid-1990s, cell phones were common throughout the developed world. Facsimile (FAX) machines, while not a new technology, also became a business necessity. No more was business limited to the speed of traditional mail delivery. Business could now be conducted almost instantaneously by sending paperwork via electronic means. However, the FAX machine would soon become obsolete. It was replaced by email and documents attached to emails.

Today, modern business is done via video conferencing, using smartphone apps and shared networks. Production facilities are integrated with the IOT (Internet Of Things). The production equipment is monitored 24/7 for maintenance, productivity, quality, and inventory. It is common for manufacturing activity to be seen in real time from remote locations. Many manufacturers allow customers access to their network so they can see for themselves the status of purchase orders. These are changes that I could not even have dreamed of in 1970. Heck, I thought that when we went from manual time recording to IBM punch cards we were moving into the space age.

The manufacturing process will continue to become automated, requiring new skills and training. Robotics and automated machinery will dominate the manufacturing facilities of tomorrow

What changes will the next 50 years bring?

I’m not much of a futurist. I’m more like a dinosaur pining for “the good old days”. However, I believe the future for manufacturing is indeed bright. Technology will continue to drive all aspects of our lives. Especially our work lives.

The manufacturing process will continue to become automated, requiring new skills and training. Robotics and automated machinery will dominate the manufacturing facilities of tomorrow.

Look back at where we’ve come in the last 50, 75 years. The future is coming, whether we’re ready or not. Investing in the people that can leverage the newest technology to your advantage is the secret to future success.

Tomorrow’s workforce, Millennials, Gen Y, Gen Z or whatever label you use, they are the future of manufacturing. They’ve never known a time without cell phones, tablets, personal computers, networking — the everyday tools they have used since birth. They have a familiarity with technology that can be used to drive manufacturing production and productivity. We must look for opportunities to engage these future leaders in our organizations.

Dan O'Neill is president of Consolidated Machine LLC