Offshore all manufacturing?

Sounds ridiculous, right? And it is. But a few readers thought my July column (“Rise of the Rest”) called for exactly that. Obviously, as editorial director for a magazine focused on the manufacturing industries, I am nothing if not an outright proponent of manufacturing in the United States.


Sounds ridiculous, right? And it is. But a few readers thought my July column (“Rise of the Rest”) called for exactly that. Obviously, as editorial director for a magazine focused on the manufacturing industries, I am nothing if not an outright proponent of manufacturing in the United States. However, I realize that, in many cases, global economics require that a large portion of formerly domestic manufacturing take place elsewhere to be profitable.

In the July column, I made reference to a U-shaped representation of the manufacturing process, with design and high-level product and process engineering on the left side, manufacturing/assembly at the bottom, and marketing, distribution, and supply chain on the right. Few would argue that most commodity manufacturing (the type of manufacturing largely addressed by the bottom of the U-shaped reference) has largely left these shores for cost reasons. But that still leaves the heavy brainpower work required of the left and right sides of the curve to be done here, as well as the manufacturing of custom-designed or advanced technology products.

Some respondents noted that it won’t be long before “the rest” are up to the challenge of taking on the left and right sides of the U curve and, therefore, replacing us. Though this concern is likely several years off (see my August column, “The Persistence of U.S. Engineering”), the point is a good one, and one we should not shrug off easily.

Some of “the rest” will one day be our equal on all sides of the U curve and will seek to exceed our capabilities, which is exactly what engineers and manufacturing management need to be preparing to compete against.

That’s why Control Engineering continues to actively illuminate areas where engineering and management should focus to ensure that the manufacturing process itself—the bottom of the U-shaped curve—is recognized not as a cost center, but for the value it provides to the business.

Two new ways in which we’ll be doing this include in-depth coverage of “Sustainable Manufacturing,” through a focus on energy management, materials management, compliance, and product safety; and a new section called “Ideas in Automation,” which is designed to highlight the use of industrial automation in industries outside of manufacturing to help spur new ways of thinking about the application of automation.

These new sections will debut this fall, and I look forward to the part they’ll play in continuing our conversation about what the future of engineering will be and how we’ll get there based on the decisions we make today.

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