UpFront: Let the Kid Breathe
By Brian J. Hogan
Have you noticed that prominent voices are offering praise for manufacturing, and insisting that manufacturing matters to the US? It's really a somewhat refreshing turn of events, though awfully late in the game.
Now Washington has a manufacturing czar (and owns a big part of US auto manufacturing), and certain state governments are talking up the importance of local manufacturing. Maybe the chatter is more than superficial noise but, if so, manufacturing professionals need to see actions that match the words. Manufacturing is a very competitive field—that's a given. Manufacturers don't need to see additional burdens tossed onto them by outsiders, and would welcome many changes in tax laws, support from educational institutions, and serious consideration of the challenges facing manufacturing before legislation such as cap and trade or new mileage requirements for the auto industry become law.
Manufacturing has, in the past, been a very durable, innovative part of the US economy. But there comes a point when limits are reached. For example: When I was a small child, the bigger boys at my hometown's municipal swimming pool often amused themselves by holding the little kids under water. All good fun, unless the smaller boy got into serious trouble. Our leadership class has adopted a similar approach to manufacturing industries in the US with—for example—liability laws, hostile tax policies, quite negative comments on "smokestack" industries, an almost constant assumption that manufacturers of consumer goods deliver defective products to increase their profits, and passage of laws that impose economic burdens on manufacturing. Enough. Let go and let the kid breathe!
No one wants manufacturing companies to behave like a division of Attila the Hun's army in full loot-and-pillage mode, but some long-term, serious reconsideration of the real social value of manufacturing needs to be undertaken. If manufacturing is to survive and prosper, there needs to be a significant readjustment of attitudes amongst the lawyers and liberal arts majors who make up our political class. To that political class we say: benign neglect is not sufficient. Act! If manufacturing matters to you, take action to strengthen manufacturing. There are many organizations that can guide you in doing so.
On a different subject, it's spring, and once again it's time for the annual WESTEC show. As always, it will bring the latest developments in production technology to manufacturing professionals on the West Coast. We'll be there, walking the aisles and visiting old friends among the attendees and exhibitors at the show. If you're in LA for WESTEC, drop by the SME booth and say hello. Like the old Motel 6 commercial says, "We'll leave the light on for you."
This article was first published in the March 2010 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.