Thriving through innovation

As I write this article, a host of negative economic data is streaming in and the major markets appear to be in a state of freefall. Transcending the subprime mortgage debacle, which has devastated the housing and financial markets, today’s economic woes seem to have a grip on virtually every industry—including manufacturing.


As I write this article, a host of negative economic data is streaming in and the major markets appear to be in a state of freefall. Transcending the subprime mortgage debacle, which has devastated the housing and financial markets, today’s economic woes seem to have a grip on virtually every industry—including manufacturing. Consumer confidence is down, raw material and fuel prices are up, and the Labor Department reports that inflation hit a 17-year high in 2007. In short, the “r-word” ( a.k.a. “recession”) now appears to be a disappointingly appropriate categorization of where recent events are leading. So what’s a manufacturer to do?

The answer is simple: do what you do best. Innovate.

The resiliency of the U.S. economy is rooted in the manufacturing sector’s innate ability to transform adversity into opportunity. We develop new technologies. We streamline and improve processes. We build a better mousetrap. This issue is dedicated to the indomitable spirit of industrial innovation which, despite challenging economic conditions, is always in great supply.

If you’re looking for evidence of this truth, look no further than the 2007 Control Engineering Engineers’ Choice Awards supplement. This year’s Engineers’ Choice coverage highlights more than 150 products, spanning 21 categories and reflects the votes of more than 870 engineers who completed ballots. From components and connectors to enterprise connectivity applications, there were a host of new solutions designed to help industrial organizations become more efficient, more effective, and more secure.

The pharmaceutical sector also presents an interesting case study in transforming challenges into opportunities. Despite conducting business in an industry ruled by tight regulatory controls where production errors are literally life-and-death matters, pharmaceutical manufacturers continue to thrive. When faced with FDA mandates like 21 CFR Part 11, for example, progressive manufacturers responded by using the regulation as a catalyst for changing the way electronic batch records are reviewed and approved, yielding greater visibility and improved communication between the plant floor and the enterprise. (You can find more examples of innovations in this sector beginning after page 64 or online.)

Are today’s economic conditions a speedbump on the road to brighter days or a bona-fide downturn? Only time will tell. Regardless, relentless pursuit of innovation will always yield the greatest chance for success.

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
Doubling down on digital manufacturing; Data driving predictive maintenance; Electric motors and generators; Rewarding operational improvement
2017 Lubrication Guide; Software tools; Microgrids and energy strategies; Use robots effectively
Prescriptive maintenance; Hannover Messe 2017 recap; Reduce welding errors
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Research team developing Tesla coil designs; Implementing wireless process sensing
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; Paralleling switchgear generator systems
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

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