In past centuries, manufacturing was usually performed by labourers or semi-skilled workers who used hand tools and very little machinery to produce goods. Productivity was low and the quality of products varied from factory to factory as well as from worker to worker even within the same production line and environment and using the same machinery and tools. Even the most skilful workers could not produce two completely identical goods with the same tools and procedures. In the last two decades, the manufacturing process has been transferred to semiautomatic or full automation with the result that productivity has become higher and more cost-effective, and products can be manufactured to much higher quality standards.
Indeed, in the last 20 years many manufacturing factories have moved from other regions in the world to manufacture or assemble their goods in China or countries in South East Asia where cheap labour gives a cost advantage. This includes US and Japanese companies manufacturing famous brand goods. The use of cheap labour also means a certain degree of adjustment from full automation back to semi-automation in production.
In the 1970s and 1980s Hong Kong manufactured many popular goods such as watches and toys. After the opening up of economic policy in China in the early 1980s, many Hong Kong manufacturers started moving their manufacturing lines into China to gain the benefits of cheap labour and government support in terms of tax privileges and low factory rent. However, in recent years, rising remuneration, higher factory rents, and better benefits for workers through new government regulations have meant that manufacturers have had to upgrade their production lines with more automation systems or move to new provinces with lower labour and factory rental costs to reduce overall manufacturing costs.