I must say that I am amazed at the progress of some technologies I have witnessed during my lifetime. As a high school student, I marveled at electronic calculators. During my college days, I operated computer card-punching machines to generate and run programs when I was learning FORTRAN. Early in my professional career, I remember buying a desktop computer whose total hard-drive capacity was 50 megabytes – barely enough to hold an album of today’s musical audio files. Modern technology now makes my fascination with these devices seem absurd.

Over the decades, similar developments have occurred in the way we listen to music, watch video and communicate with each other. I recall when video conference calling epitomized the futuristic speculations of where consumer/business communications were headed. It is now commonplace and easy enough for children to do. When cellular phones emerged in the marketplace, I was amazed that one could drive their car while talking on the phone. Then, these phones got smaller, more mobile and often came with cameras. My first impression of that was, “Why would I want to take a picture with my phone?”

And so the technical juggernaut continues. In pondering the past decades, I observe at least two megatrends that I consider responsible for the amazing capabilities of the array of modern technical gadgetry that surrounds us. The first is the trend toward miniaturization, for which our space program is largely responsible. The second is digitization, the inexorable conversion of audio, visual and printed information into the ubiquitous “zeros and ones” of binary code.

Combined, these trends blurred the boundaries between various devices and what they could do. We are now surrounded by a myriad of laptops, phones, pods and pads, each of which can outperform the most powerful of computers of bygone days. I must confess that, even with a decent understanding of how they work, I am constantly amazed by these devices, their versatility and their capacity.

And so I come to my point.

For the last 25 years, I have been privileged to cover an assortment of basic manufacturing and processing industries, including metal casting, metal forging, welding, heat treating and industrial gases. During this time, I have found the metalworking sectors to be somewhat resistant to the application of technology to their businesses.

Though not true in every case, the sentiment among some was that their business was often based on a combination of metallurgical technology (sometimes thousands of years old) and the artistry that comes from years of experience in shaping or joining metal. These are valid points, but the advent of technology has lessened the validity of these arguments. 

The metalworking industries have, to some degree, caught up with available technologies on their equipment, in their labs and in their engineering departments. Still, I have seen some operations that have a long way to go before they can consider themselves modern manufacturing plants.

The future is bright for business owners and managers who have successfully integrated technology into their businesses to remain competitive in a global market. Whether intended for manufacturing, design, financial, marketing or human-resource functions, investing in existing and emerging technologies should be a budget priority to remain competitive.