Manufacturing and Automation Meets the National Press

Feb. 7, 2012
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.”

>> Automation World is sponsoring The Automation Conference (TAC) May 22-23 in the Chicago area. I’m looking for leaders to gather at TAC to discuss improving manufacturing and production, and showing the fallacies of these mainstream publications. Will you join me?

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

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