Whether or not you follow all the latest trends in digital technology, you’ve probably seen fancy devices such as the Smartphone from BlackBerry® or the iPhone from Apple. They allow you to do all sorts of things—play music, send and receive text messages, take photos, record and edit video, surf the Web, and so on. I have heard that you can even place and receive telephone calls.
It doesn’t end there, of course. Countless programmers have spent countless hours creating applications (excuse me, “apps”) for these devices. Many are free, and a lot of them are novelties (excuse me, “useless”), such as one that mimics the sound of pumping a shotgun. I guess that one is actually pretty cool, now that I think about it. The iPhone has a built-in accelerometer; when it senses you making a shotgun-pumping motion, the application responds accordingly.
I asked a couple of our IT staff members about unusual apps.
It turns out that someone has developed a modified alarm clock. You set the alarm and put the phone on your pillow. The accelerometer monitors the pillow’s motion. The app triggers the alarm when it senses a lot of motion (which correlates to light sleeping) within a predetermined window, such as 30 minutes before the alarm time. This prevents it from waking you up in the middle of deep slumber. It doesn’t sound all that important, but, hey, quite a few people are sleep-deprived these days.
Anyway, I read recently that consumer spending on mobile applications is growing tremendously. Couple this with a few other tibits—many high schools provide computer programming classes, vocational programs have been dwindling for decades, and we’re on the cusp of a large number of retirements—and I have to wonder how manufacturing is going to survive.
On the other hand, maybe some of these technologies will help manufacturing survive and even thrive. First, most machines are run by CNC today. For that reason alone, any high-schooler with a penchant for programming really should consider a career in manufacturing. Second, training is on the verge of becoming a lot easier. In addition to modern phones, some of these companies manufacture digital reading devices, such as the Kindle™ or the iPad.
Apple hopes to establish itself as the market leader (excuse me, “demolish the competition”) by appealing to university students who will forgo expensive and heavy textbooks in favor of digital texts they download to a lightweight, easily portable device.
The next logical step is for manufacturers to create training plans, machine setup procedures, maintenance plans, and troubleshooting guidelines that can be digitized and stored on these devices. If done soon, this would capture the in-house knowledge before the graybeards retire en masse and make the information available in a format that is likely to appeal to the upcoming generation.
Don’t get me wrong: It will still be a struggle. Some Internet superstars, for lack of a better term, have become tremendously wealthy by creating Web-based applications. You might not recognize names such as Elon Musk, Jawed Karim, Chad Hurley, or Steven Chen, but you probably have heard of applications they dreamed up, such as PayPal and YouTube. One glance at their net worth should be enough to make any youngster drop his welding torch and sit down in front of a computer.
Keeping kids focused, at least in part, on manufacturing careers is a matter of fostering an open mind, providing a first-hand look, and creating opportunities. So far I have done the first two in the Lundin household. As far as the third? Well, even though the oldest son isn’t quite 18, he recently asked me to put out the word on his behalf for manufacturing job openings in the local area.