For the past couple hundred years, you would be safe measuring the current state of manufacturing by the amount of employment in the industry. While the employment rate is not an exact means of gauging the success of an industry, the more manufacturing jobs the better the manufacturing industry is doing.
This was true when manufacturing relied on manual labor, anyway. The industrial revolution overhauled the manufacturing process and introduced the use of machinery, but manual labor was still very much what kept industry going. A healthy manufacturing industry depended on large numbers of workers to meet demands.
But now that manufacturing is heavily automated, and motion control systems and industrial machinery carry out much of the work, a quick look at the employment rate isn’t going to provide as much insight to the manufacturing industry as it once did.
For example, a decrease in jobs used to suggest that an industry might be struggling. However, if you consider the fact that manufacturing jobs are becoming increasingly automated, a dip in jobs is no longer a clear indication that the industry is in trouble.
There are still many parts of the world where manufacturing relies heavily on human workers. Manufacturing in places like Mexico and many Asian countries still depend primarily on manual labor. In the United States, however, automation is commonplace in manufacturing, and the technology and application of automation continues to grow.
Over the last decade and a half, the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States has been slowly declining, while the manufacturing sector output has been steadily increasing. There have been a few slides in manufacturing output in the U.S., but overall there has been steady growth.
A decrease in manufacturing jobs and an improving manufacturing sector might seem contradictory upon first glance. However, automation is becoming more sophisticated and more important to the manufacturing industry every day. The advantages of automation are hard for humans to compete with, especially in manufacturing.