National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich might be the most in-demand speaker in the marine industry today. His position allows him a comprehensive view of the business.
But off the platform, away from citing marketing data and sales projections, a conversation with him becomes even more thought-provoking. A case in point is his sharing of his insight that, because of the times we’re living in, we must “be comfortable being uncomfortable.”
“One of the things I think a lot about,” Dammrich said, “is changes in employment and the impact on the middle class. We have all read about stagnating wages in the middle class. In my opinion, we cannot really get our economy percolating until we figure out how to improve the situation of the middle class.
“I have long believed our tax code is one of the major things keeping the middle class down and allowing the top 1 percent to soar. I don’t know anyone who believes the tax code is fair any longer. I’m not a promoter of class warfare, but it is not fair that the very wealthiest in our country avoid taxes through complicated loopholes not available to just the average wealthy or middle class. I know this sounds kind of liberal for a kind of conservative guy. But I just see too much data these days that the average guy is falling behind while the wealthiest get wealthier,” he said.
Further, Dammrich shared a real concern looking down the road with which we need to be aware.
“I heard a presentation at METS,” he said, “coupled with an article in the Wall Street Journal that led me to believe we’re on the threshold of extraordinary change. It’s going to make matters worse and leave behind people who are not well-educated, well-trained and continuously improving themselves and preparing themselves for whatever may come.
“Peter Sander from Airbus (Airbus Industrie, a European aircraft consortium) spoke at METS. Peter is in charge of innovation at Airbus and an expert in 3-D printing. Three-D printing machines build equipment parts of nearly any material by printing one layer at time. You have to see it to believe it. And I have seen it. We had a display of this at IBEX this year.
“It’s also called additive layer manufacturing. ALM reduces material usage by 90 percent. It reduces inventory. It eliminates tooling. And it reduces labor significantly. Now, it creates new jobs for computer-aided design and other knowledge jobs, but gone are the blue-collar jobs.
“Think about it. A ship at sea, for example, wouldn’t have to carry spare parts. They could just carry a 3-D printer and CAD files on all the spare parts and if something breaks, they print a replacement part.
“The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Australian bricklayers, whose salaries approach $100,000, could see their compensation cut now that bricklaying robots are poised to build a four-bedroom house in two days without human help. An experienced mason can lay about 100 bricks an hour while the robotic prototype can lay 300; the aim is to get that figure up to 1,000. So do bricklayers go back to school and become computer-aided design engineers? A few might, but I don’t think so.
“As we transitioned from an agrarian society to the industrial society, a lot of farming jobs disappeared and people had to learn new industrial skills. Now, as we begin to fully transition to a digital society, a lot of people are and will continue to be displaced. Who, then, will buy the products made by 3-D printers and robots? There are some interesting times ahead.
“How could all this affect recreational boating? Perhaps people end up with a lot more leisure time and boating will soar to heights never imagined — if there are enough people working to earn money to buy them. Maybe it transforms boat manufacturing? Why buy cleats and keep them in inventory? Just 3-D-print the cleats tonight that are needed for tomorrow’s production. And the design can be changed on the fly because you just change a CAD file. No lead time, no tooling, no inventory.”
I asked Dammrich about the possible impact of 3-D printing on the retail level?
“There could be a 3-D printer in every dealership,” he said. “Provide the CAD files and training and when a dealer needs a part he just prints it. Don’t need chandleries. Don’t need distributors. It could be no waiting for a part to be made and delivered. Instant customer service.
“The possibilities, the changes, the disruptions are almost mind-boggling. But it is happening. The best advice from all of this is never to think we know everything we need to know. We must embrace and commit to lifelong learning. We should never pass up an opportunity to learn something new. Build skills every day. Stretch outside our comfort zone. We are living in a time when we must be comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Amen to that.