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Americans See Safety, Environmental Issues As Top Manufacturing Priorities

Nearly half of U.S. consumers believe American manufacturing has lost its competitive edge, while a majority support a government stimulus package to modernize U.S. factories, according to a recent survey sponsored by Rockwell Automation.

An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that safer, cleaner and more energy efficient production are the most important manufacturing issues in today’s economy, according to a recent survey by Opinion Research Corp. Most Americans also believe that highly automated, modern factories are important to improve and grow the U.S. economy, and that a federal government stimulus package should support an increase in the number of modern, automated factories.

“Whether it’s toys, peanut butter or pet food, product quality is top of mind for Americans,” says Keith Nosbusch, chief executive officer at Rockwell Automation Inc. (, the Milwaukee-based automation supplier, which sponsored the survey. “Consumers recognize that government incentives to invest in more highly automated, modern factories can both stimulate U.S. economic growth and lead to safer, cleaner and more energy efficient production at the same time.

“Modern information-enabled plant floors can track and trace materials that come in and products that go out, to help ensure consumers get safe, quality products. American priorities are clear, and we believe that elected officials at all levels of government will find this data compelling as they make sure legislative priorities are in line with public priorities,” says Nosbusch.

Safety first

When considering a manufacturing company, Americans chose product and employee safety, and environmental issues as the most important attributes. Among the top answers chosen:
• Provide safe, quality products (86 percent)
• Provide a safe workplace (84 percent)
• Use natural resources efficiently (80 percent)
• Produce minimal waste (71 percent)
• Keep current prices or reduce prices (59 percent).

Despite the economic downturn, support remains strong and unchanged from a similar survey last summer for government incentives to U.S. companies to invest in technology and automation to remain competitive and keep manufacturing operations from moving overseas. More than three-quarters (79 percent) said the government should provide such incentives. Americans believe U.S. manufacturers need to invest in automating and modernizing their factories to improve environmental sustainability, competitive position and product quality.
• Use energy, raw materials or natural resources more efficiently (92 percent)
• Continue to remain competitive and grow (89 percent)
• Minimize waste and other environmental impacts (86 percent)
• Provide safer, high quality products (85 percent)
• Respond more quickly to customer demands (85 percent)
• Provide a safer workplace (83 percent).

“These results show that the public expects manufacturers to improve their competitiveness,” Nosbusch says. “However, it also recognizes the public’s belief that manufacturers should be encouraged to adopt sustainable production practices that will use energy more efficiently, minimize environmental impacts, increase product safety and provide safer workplaces,” he adds.

When determining their support for a federal stimulus package that improves U.S. manufacturing operations, Americans noted product issues as their most important consideration.
• Provide safe, quality products that are always available when I need them (89 percent)
• Keep product prices at current or reduced level (85 percent)
• Maintain the current number and types of jobs available (85 percent)
• Automate and modernize factories (74 percent)
• Provide higher-paid, high-skilled jobs (62 percent).

Less competitive

Nearly half of Americans (42 percent) surveyed believe the U.S. has lost its competitive edge in manufacturing technology and automation, and think the manufacturing sector in this country has gotten less competitive in the last ten years. Only 18 percent believe U.S. manufacturing technology is more advanced than other countries and only about a third (34 percent) noted the United States has become more competitive in the past 10 years.

“While most Americans think incorrectly that the U.S. is no longer the world’s largest manufacturer, they feel there is an urgent need for government stimulus,” Nosbusch says. “Government incentives to modernize manufacturing will help create highly-skilled, higher-paying jobs upgrading and operating more automated U.S. factories for many years to come. The technologies are cost-effective and ready to be deployed today for benefits that are both immediate and sustainable.”

The findings are based on surveys conducted by The Opinion Research Corp. during Jan. 15-18, 2009 and May 2008. The surveys, sponsored by Rockwell Automation, are designed to determine public attitudes on manufacturing technology and automation in order to understand priorities for industry and for U.S. government policy planning. Results of each survey are based on telephone interviews conducted among representative samples of 1,001 adults, age 18 and over, living in private households, in the continental United States. All completed interviews were weighted by four variables: age, gender, race and region to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the adult population. The margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the total sample. Smaller sub-groups will have larger error margins.

Rockwell Automation Inc.

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