In March of 2018, President Donald Trump tweeted: “Our Steel and Aluminum industries (and many others) have been decimated by decades of unfair trade and bad policy with countries from around the world. We must not let our country, companies and workers be taken advantage of any longer. We want free, fair and SMART TRADE!”

And so began the march toward tariffs designed to revitalize American producers and reclaim U.S. based jobs. Good intentioned? Potentially, but the impact will undeniably have an effect on metal manufacturing, including: increased prices of steel and aluminum, complex government processes and supply chain shifts affecting everything from automobile manufacturing to soda can production. This results in compromised buying power of companies and consumers that rely on metal products to run their businesses, job creation and workforce gaps, and a predicted increase of robotics and automation manufacturing.

In fact, 32 percent of FABTECH 2018 attendees indicated in a survey hosted by FABTECH that they expect tariffs to more directly impact their companies in the next two years. While not an immediate disruption, FABTECH is focused on supporting the industry with education and planning for the future. 

Industry experts have estimated that tariffs could cost some individual U.S. based manufacturing companies more than $10 million over the next five years, and according to research by the Institute of International Finance, could result in an annual loss of $40 billion in U.S. exports. Supply chains have been disrupted and modified as plant managers work to forecast, purchase and stockpile inventories to minimize the impact of increased costs. This is significant considering that within the sea of huge steel and aluminum consumers (GM, Boeing, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Acola and others) managing increased costs, there are many small shops and manufactures reliant on affordable metal for their livelihood. At the end of the day, the increased cost for raw materials will get passed on to consumers, adding another layer of complexity and economic impact.

The idea that tariffs will spur U.S. steel development has yet to be confirmed. Nucor, the largest U.S. steel company, has reported increased second-quarter earnings partly due to higher steel prices. Regardless, it has been noted that the number of manufacturers that actually produce steel for consumption are far outnumbered by the companies utilizing these materials, such as General Motors, 3M, Stanley Black and Decker, and Caterpillar. Several product manufactures have asked for relief and waivers, but most of them have been denied.

What is thriving in the era of tariffs is the incorporation of robotics into U.S. manufacturing plants. It has been suggested that automation is the key to U.S. manufacturers’ efforts in lowering the cost of production and offsetting the increase in material costs. Tractica has reported that the global robotics market, which was $31 billion in 2016, is expected to reach $237 billion by 2022. Auto companies that invested in automation prior to the introduction of tariffs are now seeing cost savings in the dawn of tariff implementation.

However, the challenge however is that machines are expected to displace about 20 million manufacturing jobs across the world over the next decade, according to an Oxford Economics report. Conversely, the report also notes that the move to robotics tends to generate new jobs as fast as it automates them.

For now and the foreseeable future, tariffs will remain a looming and evolving story that will continue to impact the metal manufacturing industry. Companies will need to adjust their business plans and adapt to both the challenges and potential benefits that tariffs will impose. FABTECH is focused on providing the industry with the support, education and opportunity to discover transformative metal manufacturing products and solutions, including insights needed to successfully face tariffs head-on.

Two Leadership Exchange sessions at FABTECH 2019 will provide everyone from C-level executives from Fortune 500 manufacturing companies to small shop foremen with a fresh perspective and a plan to approach this ever-evolving issue. The Impact of Disruptive Technology and the Future of Manufacturing panelists will discuss disruptive technologies including 5G, IoT, AI, robotics and automation This engaging panel will take place from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov 13.

Thought leaders will also bring critical thinking to the evolving workforce and discuss the intricacies of managing increasing workforce gaps in the "21st Century Workforce: Building Tomorrow’s Workforce" session, from 11 a.m. to noon on Thursday, Nov. 14. Additionally, the new Robotics & Industrial Automation Pavilion will introduce new technologies and products that are making businesses more productive and profitable during these uncertain times.

Join the more than 48,000 attendees to access best and next practice educational sessions and expert-led presentations covering the latest trends, topics and technology in the metal forming, fabricating, welding and finishing industries. Registration for FABTECH 2019 is now open, visit to register and obtain more show details.