UpFront: Doing All Right, So Far
By Brian J. Hogan
Springtime in the year 2007; if the living's not easy, it's certainly not too bad. Here at Manufacturing Engineering we're busy and looking forward to a hectic summer. The annual EASTEC show in West Springfield, MA is coming up, and it should be excellent. Work is good. And it's reassuring to know that there's work to be done.
Manufacturing in the US, and for that matter in all the great industrial nations, faces many challenges.Yet looking at the volume of production coming out of the US, Canada, Japan, and Europe, one can't help but feel that manufacturing companies in the developed world are not in bad shape.
Sure, there are issues. But don't underestimate the weight and power of the knowledge base and skills accumulated in the industrialized nations over the last century.With just a bit of care and nurture from the managers and politicians of the industrialized states, the manufacturing sectors of their national economies should do well.
If you're skeptical about the capacity for innovation and the basic skills of manufacturers in the US, for example, try going to a few trade shows.The upcoming EASTEC event will provide a good sampling of current manufacturing-related technologies and approaches to manufacturing. There will be hundreds of products on display—many of them new—technical presentations, and enthusiastic attendees. The darn thing will be a candy store for manufacturing engineers and managers who live in the Northeast!
Just a few years ago, many manufacturing operations were shriveling up and praying desperately for a turnaround. Well, the turnaround came, and we're looking good. How long this period of positive business will last for manufacturers is hard to say. In a turbulent world, there are many factors that could knock things into a downward spiral, and the normal business cycle remains to be reckoned with.
So everyone involved in manufacturing needs to keep the recent past in mind when planning operations. Let's not get overextended, or buy the idea that economic expansion can go on forever. Let's stick to our plans to work more efficiently and generate less waste. Call those efforts lean manufacturing or anything else that pleases you, but don't let yourself slide back into the habits that put so many manufacturing groups into a bad position a few years ago.
We need to continue to invest intelligently in new equipment, and find ways to train a new, younger workforce for manufacturing. We must find time to make an effort to educate politicians, government bureaucrats, and journalists in the mainstream press, on the inherent value of manufacturing.
We're doing all right, so far, and that's a good thing. But let's not forget that not so very long ago we were in free-fall.
This article was first published in the May 2007 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.