Nothing staged about manufacturing’s reality

I’ve heard little from either side in this political season that strives to address the real issues of manufacturing… If Congress and the White House were as well organized and efficient as most manufacturing plants, this wouldn’t be much of a debate.

03/23/2012


Bob Vavra, Content Manager, Plant EngineeringThe debate about manufacturing jobs – what kind, how many and most important, who is going to do them – will be a part of our political landscape for the next eight months. Settle in. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The people talking about manufacturing are very seldom the people who do any manufacturing, unless manufacturing quotes counts. The United States is the world leader in the manufacturing of quotes, although you seldom hear that talked about. Maybe it’s that we don’t want to talk about the poor quality of our quotes…

Our readers – all of you – are the people actually in the best position to clearly communicate what is needed for manufacturing to continue to grow. Perhaps the discussion needs to begin with that simple fact: Manufacturing has grown over the last two years, and it has been the most stable part of our economy throughout the recession. It is leading us out of our economic disaster, and its being done with the fundamental idea that if we are smarter about manufacturing processes and people, we can overcome any perceived gap in trade or tariff or wage or regulation.

Those are facts, but if you’re trying to win an election and you’re not the party in power, the idea that things are going well is not a good way to get elected. And if you are the party in power, the idea we need to deliver more tax incentives at the top of the manufacturing food chain is appealing to those who might contribute to the campaign, but do little to address the fundamental issues needed at the plant floor.

I’ve heard little from either side in this political season that strives to address the real issues of manufacturing. I hear platitudes and complaints and appeasement, but there is an astonishing lack of real understanding of what’s actually happening at the plant level.

I’ve been on several plant tours in the last eight months, both in the U.S. and internationally. I’ve been able to see for myself what’s going on, how far we’ve really come to improve operations with nothing much more than sound leadership and an eye toward quality, safety and productivity. If Congress and the White House were as well organized and efficient as most manufacturing plants, this wouldn’t be much of a debate.

We need to reject the idea that manipulating the process is better than streamlining it. We should be providing rewards after improvement occurs, not tax breaks before it occurs. Unsafe, inefficient and wasteful plants are the vast minority of all manufacturers – and the largest reason regulation exists. You wouldn’t think that in 2012 we would still need a national discussion about workplace safety, but we do because of those few plants who value profits ahead of people.

And despite all of this, manufacturing jobs are migrating back to the U.S., and the country is winning new construction and expansion every day. In recent weeks, we’ve seen Caterpillar sign a deal to put a $200 million plant expansion in Georgia. There are continuing discussions about more global automakers relocating to Tennessee and South Carolina. And as issues of quality, safety and logistics continue to plague manufacturers who chased quick profits by outsourcing jobs to other countries, some of those jobs are migrating back.

The reason for all of this good news is simple – these are smart business moves. It’s smart to review the total cost of manufacturing and not just your wage rate when looking at where to manufacture. It’s smart to squeeze the most out of every inch of plant floor space when creating your production process. It’s smart to preserve and maximize resources – human, fossil fuel and renewable. It’s smart to strive for continuous improvement and still celebrate the current improvement.

American manufacturers have gotten smarter, and American manufacturing has reaped the benefits. When those who seek to govern America even approach that level of intelligence, we will all be better for it.

Until then, we’re forced to observe the reality television that is the 2012 campaigns. It’s a shame, really. What we really need is to hear more about the reality in manufacturing.



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.
Pipe fabrication and IIoT; 2017 Product of the Year finalists
The future of electrical safety; Four keys to RPM success; Picking the right weld fume option
A new approach to the Skills Gap; Community colleges may hold the key for manufacturing; 2017 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Control room technology innovation; Practical approaches to corrosion protection; Pipeline regulator revises quality programs
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
Power system design for high-performance buildings; mitigating arc flash hazards
VFDs improving motion control applications; Powering automation and IIoT wirelessly; Connecting the dots
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

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
This digital report explains how plant engineers and subject matter experts (SME) need support for time series data and its many challenges.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me