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Manufacturing and Automation Meets the National Press

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Do you get agitated when you read about manufacturing or automation in the mainstream, national press? You know, when you pick up The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times and read something that tells you neither the writer or the editor has a clue?

Well, I do. One thing that really annoys me is when these clueless writers perpetuate old myths that are unsupported by facts.

“High wages aren’t what’s driving manufacturing out of America; it’s government policy.” This is a story from Bloomberg where the writer is talking with a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is considering moving his electronics fab shop to Asia. “Wages have nothing to do with it.” So what is it? “Taxes, infrastructure, workforce training, permits, health care. The last company that proposed a fab on Long Island went to Taiwan because they were told that in a drought their water supply would be in the queue after the golf courses.”

There are locations where people do not want manufacturing facilities. Hey, they could have come to Sidney, Ohio (where I live). We are trying to get manufacturing facilities to move here. And so is every other town along Interstate 75 through western Ohio, too.

There have been two articles on Apple’s manufacturing processes. Both take the point of view of “America, you’re screwed.” But I think we should take a closer look. A segment on National Public Radio’s “This American Life” discusses how huge the city of Shenzhen, China is and then delves into the life of a 13-year-old girl who works at Foxconn, the Apple contract manufacturer.

Then there is an article in The New York Times that does not dispute the wisdom of Apple executives who say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. “Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight. A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.”

Do we really want the whims of chief executives who exhibit no management discipline to affect people that way? Where are the morals? Is this the way we want to run capitalism? Oh, and how long do you think the Chinese people will put up with this?

It can be done
Proof that there is a better direction comes from another article in The Wall Street Journal that tells the story of Milliken & Co of Spartanburg, S.C., “which arguably should have been crushed by global competition. Its roots are in the textile industry, a labor-intensive business that long ago decamped for lower wages abroad, leaving abandoned mills throughout the Southeast.

“And yet a visit to Milliken’s vast campus finds the company thriving. It diversified rapidly out of traditional textiles and moved deeper into niche products that built off its knowledge of textiles and specialty chemicals. And it bore down on scientific research and manufacturing innovation. Today, Milliken makes the fabric that reinforces duct tape, the additives that make refrigerator food containers clear and children’s art markers washable, the products that make mattresses fire- resistant, countertops antimicrobial, windmills lighter, and combat gear protective.”

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For information on how to register for The Automation Conference and what you’ll find there, visit www.theautomationconference.com

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Comments

This is the dialog we need to have in this country. Do we want to send our $ to other coutries & promote slave labor or create real jobs in the US? We won't compete with China on labor rates but we had better compete with automated manufacturing. We can create "good jobs" in the US through automation or face economic collapse.

This is the dialog we need to have in this country. Do we want to send our $ to other coutries & promote slave labor or create real jobs in the US? We won't compete with China on labor rates but we had better compete with automated manufacturing. We can create "good jobs" in the US through automation or face economic collapse.

I have been having this argument for 20 plus years. You mentioned Milliken as a hallmark example of a new competitiveness achieved by re-inventing themselves. I would also like to point out the shoe company New Balance has remained fiercely dedicated to domestic manufacturing. A company does not have to always compete on price. Six Sigma and TQM quality initiatives greatly supported by automation engineering can keep jobs here. Consumers for the most part are looking for good quality at affordable prices. I personally will pay more for a more durable better made product than waste my money on cheap "crap" that breaks down in a week or two. In fact, ask any serious retailer trying to compete with Wal-Mart if stacking deep and selling cheap is their answer to remaining competitive. A focus on quality manufacturing is the real answer. My mom had an American made Hoover vacuum cleaner she bought in the 60s. She still owned it when she died in 2008 and it worked well for 50 years!! In the last 10 years I think I have been through three or four crappy vacuum cleaners, including foreign manufactured Hoovers. The same could be said of dishwashers, ovens, stereos, etc. Next, one does not have to look overseas to see the effect of burdensome regulations and taxation is having on domestic manufacturing and services. We could all site example after example of companies that finally realized the hassle factor was too high in states like New York, and California compared to Texas for example. Houston is booming! San Antonio is booming! - In my home state of Wyoming unemployment has remained the lowest in the nation and businesses are thriving. I believe this success despite the overall economy is largely due to less regulation, vastly better taxation arrangements, and lower operating costs. On a recent trip to Gillette Wyoming I saw license plates from Michigan, New York, California, and more. If you listen to the National Press there are nothing but brilliant Ivy League know-it-alls in states like New York and California, and nothing but backward inbred hillbillies in states like Texas and Wyoming. Again, thank you for your articulate and most accurate refutation of their blathering on about moving American jobs overseas. The last time I checked the Germans and the Japanese are still manufacturing in their domestic markets making world class quality products. There is no reason we can not do the same if we start competing on the basis of quality first, because less error rates essentially translates to lower cost manufacturing. The result is quality at affordable prices, which is what consumers are looking for.

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