Fabricators on rebuilding manufacturing's infrastructure

April 18, 2012

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It all started with a blog post by The FABRICATOR®'s Senior Editor Tim Heston: The moral imperative of U.S. manufacturing. The post discussed the manufacturing supply chain and how the U.S. must rebuild its infrastructure to compete in the global marketplace. It led to posts by Editor-in-Chief Dan Davis and TPJ-The Tube & Pipe Journal®'s Editor Eric Lundin, who also had something to say about the topic, and it became the focus of the April "Fabricating Update" e-newsletter.

The newsletter quoted some of Heston's remarks, including: "I'd say it's a moral imperative that we again build our U.S. manufacturing infrastructure so we can respond to companies like Apple, with skilled workers and automaton. (As New York Times Reporter David Barboza reported on NPR), in the 1990s a California factory, full of automation, used to produce Apple computers. Surely, such flexible automation could be employed again. Apple has amazing market dominance and eye-popping production volumes. When you combine those two factors, some incredible manufacturing technology innovations may occur. (OK, the global market may not work like that, but the idealist in me sometimes wishes it did.)"

We asked "Fabricating Update" readers whether it is idealistic to think the U.S. can again build its manufacturing infrastructure to respond to companies like Apple. Here's what they had to say:

Tom from New Hampshire said, "It is not idealistic; it is an imperative, and it is eminently doable. If Dr. W. Edwards Deming is still around we should start with his leadership." 

(Unfortunately, Dr. Deming passed away in 1993, but his work “to advance commerce, prosperity, and peace” is being carried out by The W. Edwards Deming Institute®.) 

Duke from Virginia said, "I have spent a lot of time lecturing and consulting in the industrial realm of America. We have the ability, the knowledge, and the skill to rebuild the American infrastructure for manufacturing and fabrication. Our problem is we allowed the unions to out price our labor. We can take back all that we used to be able to do if we have the collective will to work together again.

"I still believe in the American spirit that made this nation great.  We, as a country, lost track of the necessity of keeping our plants, equipment, and personnel up-to-date and modern unlike the orient and Europe. Once we collectively agree we can rebuild." 

Don from Oklahoma said, "Yes we can, and what's more we must!  We have only had a taste of what life will be like without strong U.S. manufacturing turning things around and regaining dominance over a major portion of the world’s manufacturing. We cannot be a successful country on a service-driven society.

" I'm an owner of a manufacturing company that has to compete with the world for our business, and further, our business is mostly labor. We have skilled welders, steel fitters, and mechanics that perform the majority of the work in our plant, and most of our jobs come from customers that shop worldwide for vendors to manufacture their products.

"Granted, our products are very different than the 'widgets' that can be manufactured mostly by machines and in plants that can make millions of them. We build one or two like items and every job is different than the last one, but it still takes skilled workers and they are competing against workers in Spain, Korea, Japan, China, and other locations around the world. We can win our share of the work with things like they are today. If we had any help at all, like improved tax basis and level playing fields for purchasing materials on the world markets, we would win a lion’s share of the work."

Don touched on concerns affecting manufacturing, as did others. Bob from Pennsylvania said, "It is not going to happen as long as the mind set in Washington is to increase the taxes on small business so they can continue their social giveaway programs. 

"Washington has to stop spending on worthless programs that just make people dependent on government.

"Small business knows that you cannot spend your way out of debt. We invest in making things; they spend on adding layers of bureaucracy.

"Politicians know they can buy votes."

Martin, who works for a Fortune 100 company, said that rebuilding the manufacturing infrastructure "is a wonderful thought, but realistically, until we can drop our corporate tax rates to encourage more manufacturing in the U.S., I doubt it will happen. The wage gap between America's workers and overseas workers is huge, but this can be overcome if we could just level the corporate tax playing field for our companies. Paying 35 percent tax here or as little as 10 percent overseas—no brainer." 

Do any of these readers' opinions echo your own? Can we and will we rebuild U.S. manufacturing's infrastructure?

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