Column: Can automation save manufacturing?

June 1, 2003
The statistics are startling. Almost 2.3 million U.S. jobs were lost in manufacturing from July 2000 through April 2003. The pain is personal.

Each of us knows someone–coworker, colleague, neighbor, spouse–who has been laid off from the manufacturing sector during the economic turndown.

What a gross understatement to say it’s been a difficult time for manufacturers. A shrinking economy, rising labor costs, skittish consumers, global and national terrorism, and then war. Every time the economy starts to get its head above water, another crisis pushes it back down. Is there a way to turn the tide for manufacturing?

Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, presented NAM’s “growth and renewal” strategies during an address at this year’s National Manufacturing Week (NMW). These are, first, a focus on manufacturing excellence on the factory floor; second, the creation of a stronger economic growth environment; third, a review of government policies regarding international trade; and fourth, the promotion of manufacturing in schools and communities.

NAM has lobbied strongly for tax and tort reform, and changes in U.S. energy, trade and intellectual property policies. In May, NAM members appealed directly to U.S. senators for passage of a dividend tax-cut initiative as a means to stimulate growth and job creation in the manufacturing sector.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, in an address at NMW, discussed the vital role of manufacturing to a country’s economy. The silver lining in the cloud of lost jobs, equity and capital investment is the sharp productivity gains in the sector. Secretary Evans quoted Alan Greenspan in referring to the late 1990s as a period of “irrational exuberance.” If that’s the case, then this must be the time of sober resilience. While it’s true that most of us are not in a position to impact our countries’ trade and monetary policies, there are other actions we can take.

This premiere issue of Automation World is dedicated to showing you ways to make your manufacturing enterprise more competitive. Each article, news story and department page is written to give you an edge—better throughput, improved productivity, reduced downtime, more control.

Make dollars and sense

Automation World speaks to the entire team of automation users. Whether you fill a role in engineering, management or information technology, and no matter what industry you serve, if you specify, purchase, install, operate, maintain or improve your plant’s automation system, then we want to talk to you. To guarantee that you receive future issues of Automation World, please complete, sign and return the subscription form enclosed in this issue. Pass along the second subscription card to a colleague, or go online at to subscribe.

Our editorial mission is to promote successful automation projects that forward the business goals of the manufacturing enterprise. We want to give you the tools to apply systems that drive return on investment. From a sensor to a multimillion-dollar, large-scale project, your automation implementation must serve the needs of the entire corporation. As GM Throughput Engineer Kevin Kohls observes in the article on p. 34, “Making money has to be one of the things we all are concerned about.”

Resist inertia, build momentum

We at Automation World strongly believe that the appropriate application of automation can make any manufacturing enterprise more competitive. We’ve set some lofty goals, not just for the magazine, but for industry as well.

Together, we can reach these goals. We welcome you to our “world” and hope you’ll spend time with us each issue. Let us know what tools you need. Let us be your eyes and ears on the automation industry.

Resist the impulse to say there’s nothing you can do to improve the state of manufacturing. Build on the productivity gains your company has achieved. Apply systems that drive business results. The job you save may be your own.