What the U.S. must do to help manufacturing

Unfortunately for the worker, manufacturing has found that the best way to control benefit costs and healthcare costs is to eliminate the worker. The need to minimize the adverse effect of rapidly escalating benefit costs has been a driving factor for investment in manufacturing technology. That is the only way we can remain competitive and this is happening around the world.


Unfortunately for the worker, manufacturing has found that the best way to control benefit costs and healthcare costs is to eliminate the worker. The need to minimize the adverse effect of rapidly escalating benefit costs has been a driving factor for investment in manufacturing technology. That is the only way we can remain competitive and this is happening around the world.

Countries around the world are losing manufacturing jobs and the only way we’re going to change that in the U.S. is to increase exports, or find ways to become more competitive so we can reduce imports. And when you look at the U.S., there is a transition occurring in the U.S. industrial base.

First, there’s consolidation. You see it not only in the automotive industry, but in the aircraft industry. Twenty years ago, how many companies in the U.S. made commercial aircraft? Today, it’s essentially Boeing.

There’s also a migration of manufacturing to the Tier One and Tier Two suppliers. You’re seeing this in the automotive industry. And Boeing will tell you they are not a manufacturer. They are a designer, integrator and marketer of commercial aircraft.

There is a continuing outsourcing of low-skilled jobs overseas. The day of paying a textile worker $12 to $14 an hour is over. And there is a geographic migration of manufacturing facilities within the U.S.

I grew up in Demopolis, AL and graduated from Auburn University with a degree in Industrial Engineering in 1969. Alabama was a textile and agricultural economy, and the only job I could find in the state of Alabama was with the telephone company. So I went to work for Texas Instruments in Dallas.

In 1992, the state of Alabama gave Mercedes Benz $1 billion in tax abatements to build a facility in Tuscaloosa. And what happened? Between 1992 and 2002, the State of Alabama lost 100,000 textile jobs, and they gained 87,000 auto manufacturing jobs. Now, do you think they’re better off? Sure they are. But the significant increase in transplant automotive manufacturing in the South has been at the expense of Northern and upper Midwest automotive manufacturing.

And there has been a change in the makeup of the labor force. Today almost 50% of people going into manufacturing have some college, and 25% have a college degree.

And why are manufacturing jobs important? One, they’re the highest paying jobs in the economy. Second, 56% of workers in the U.S. have healthcare coverage through their jobs. That varies by occupation: 30% in recreation, hotel and food; 52% in retail and wholesale; and 70% in manufacturing.

Manufacturing has the highest multiplier effect in the economy, by far. When you look at auto manufacturing, each assembly job generates about six manufacturing jobs in the supply chain and about 10 jobs in the entire economy, so it has a dramatic impact.

The National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI did a study in 2003. When compared to our nine largest trading partners, they found that we have a 22.4% competitive disadvantage, so all of these great things that we did in manufacturing just kept our head above water.

We must recognize that this 31.7% competitive disadvantage was caused by the laws that were enacted by our state, local and federal governments, not by the Chinese government or the EU. And we’re the only ones that can change it.

So that’s the question we must answer. It’s not what everyone else in the world should do to help U.S. manufacturing. It’s what the U.S. should do to help U.S. manufacturing.


Editor’s Note : The full text of John Byrd’s article, U.S. Manufacturing, Challenges and Opportunities, is available at www.PlantEngineering.com under “White Papers.”

Author Information
John B. Byrd is president of AMT, The Association for Manufacturing Technology, McLean, VA. Information about AMT is available at

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
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.
October 2018
Tools vs. sensors, functional safety, compressor rental, an operational network of maintenance and safety
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
October 2018
2018 Product of the Year; Subsurface data methodologies; Digital twins; Well lifecycle data
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
October 2018
Complex upgrades for system integrators; Process control safety and compliance
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
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 Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
click me