UpFront: Manufacturing Renaissance
By Jim Lorincz
It’s pretty obvious that manufacturing is out front in leading the current economic recovery, however weak or threatened that recovery may at times seem. If you’re like the rest of us, you’re watching all the indicators tracking trends in consumer confidence, outlook for business growth, unemployment numbers, housing market recovery, looking for signs that can spell continued growth. There is optimism, but it’s tempered by events and a shortage of skilled technologists. There is considerable evidence that a manufacturing renaissance is taking place, something well beyond the normal cyclical return of business. Manufacturing technology is rebounding as seen in the strength of the USMTC report, compiled by AMT—The Association For Manufacturing Technology and AMTDA, the American Machine Tool Distributors’ Association. Capital projects that were put on hold or delayed in late 2008 have been dusted off, budgets approved, and plans fast tracked. As quickly as these projects are revived, suppliers of manufacturing solutions are being challenged to bring their resources of people and technology to a matching level of support from ranks depleted when capacity was curtailed and organizations leaned out to survive.
Because the ranks of manufacturing and production engineering talent at the customer level have thinned, machine tool suppliers have stepped up their offerings of turnkey solutions to shorten the lag time of project benefits. They have increased working with integrators of automation and partnering with third-party suppliers of everything from software to quality measurement and inspection devices. The objective is to always bring the best possible expertise to bear on solutions.
Not only is there a need for the advanced technology required to process the new more-difficult-to-process materials for aerospace, medical, oil and gas, transportation, but there’s a need for qualified personnel to develop the needed advanced manufacturing processes. Increasingly, there is a widely felt need to find experienced manufacturing and process engineers who may have been displaced in the recent downturn to fill the thinned ranks at both supplier and customer levels. This is a knotty problem and one which remains a challenge. The machine tool industry has long recognized the continuing importance of workforce development at the earliest educational levels. The fact that our industry represents a rewarding and challenging career path is an idea that bears continuous repetition where it will do the most good--delivered to our young people at every opportunity.
This article was first published in the June 2011 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.