UpFront: It Will Turn Around
By Brian J. Hogan
All recessions end. That's the point to remember, even at the bleakest moments. There is always a clearing price at which assets find a market, and there is always a market for well-made, well-engineered products and components that solve problems and/or enhance life. The market can be stifled for a time, but eventually it will assert itself.
Survival is the primary focus for many companies and their suppliers right now, but at the end of the day, when things turn and demand revives, the game will be on once more.
If you think about it, the trends and forces that hurl us about are decidedly nonlinear. When the economy fell off a cliff last year, that collapse was not a simple decline from an unsustainable point. There was a loss of confidence that fed on itself, and consequently things went into a wild, accelerating free fall. Should confidence be regained and demand for industrial and consumer goods suddenly increase, the result might be a very quick climb back up the curve.
But whether that occurs or not, manufacturing will remain a vital means of producing wealth in all the great industrial nations. The skills of manufacturing professionals are needed now, and will be necessary in the future. Don't lose heart. Look about you when you walk down the street. All of the goods you see were manufactured somewhere, and quite a lot of them were made in North America. As those goods wear out, they'll need to be replaced. As clever designers and design engineers come up with new ideas and products, someone will be hired to make them—possibly you. There will be a tomorrow for manufacturing, and you will be part of it.
It would be very foolish to deny the severity of the challenges facing many manufacturing professionals these days. Yet it's worth trying to remember that manufacturing has an advantage going for it that some fields lack. Manufacturing deals with reality, and responds to the market. There is real demand for the products and components that emerge from plants and shops, and that demand will not disappear—though it has certainly declined this last year. If you're manufacturing pacemakers, for example, someone will buy your product. If you make components for aircraft or automobiles, demand will revive—because people need aircraft and autos, even if not in the volume of a few years ago. You are not toast!
I saw a weightlifter's T-shirt at the gym a while back that caught my eye; the slogan printed on it read: The Strong Shall Survive. You are strong, and you will survive.
This article was first published in the June 2009 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.