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Factories are Going Sci-fi with Influx of Tech

Fortune Global Forum Breakfast RoundtableFortune Global Forum Breakfast Roundtable
Fortune Global Forum Breakfast RoundtablePhotograph by Stuart Isett — Fortune Global Forum

Manufacturing used to be a dark, dirty, and dangerous industry that college students wanted to avoid as a career. But that notion is changing as new software, data analytics, and even 3D printing are increasingly being used in factories.

At a breakfast roundtable at Fortune’s Global Forum on Tuesday, executives from big manufacturers like Flex (FLEX) and Dyson Limited shared their thoughts on how traditional manufacturing is being overhauled with advanced technology.

“Today, it is not the screwdriver; it is the iPad,” said Helmuth Ludwig, an executive vice president at Siemens.

Ludwig explained how software and digital technology lets manufacturers make better prototypes than they used to. This has made manufacturing quicker and less error-prone because a lot of a product’s kinks can be worked on during the design process using software to create digital models that the engineers can study.

Jerome Peribere, CEO of packaging company Sealed Air, shared how his business has branched out from only providing customers with bubble wrap and other forms of wrapping to protect their goods. He gave the example of his team creating software used with machines that can “extract more meat out of the carcass” during the carving process, which should help meat companies.

This intersection between software, manufacturing, and engineering requires businesses to scout for talent that has experience in more than one field, the executives said.

However, attracting the talent that has all those characteristics can be challenging. Maximilian Conze, the CEO of manufacturing company Dyson Limited, said that his company won’t force engineers who “breath motors” to become managers or “multi-skillset animals.”

Conze is hoping that the education system will train well-rounded students who can understand mechanical engineering, software programming, and design. Dyson itself has been sponsoring university programs to help create the next generation workforce that can tackle modern-day manufacturing.

“We’re spending a lot of time rethinking how our engineers work and getting them to be interdisciplinary,” he said.

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