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Will you be a winner or a loser?

Will you be a winner or a loser?

Will US manufacturers be ready to take on the challenge of surviving in a world market? Study after study has been done to point out they are lagging in the race for international manufacturing dominance. We've heard that "The US is in danger of losing its technological edge" parroted so often you'd think it's a truism. It's not.

The problem is not the lack, but rather the overabundance, of technology. More precisely, it's management's inability--and too often its unwillingness--to put the technology that is already on the market to work. A half a decade ago, I reported on a study funded by the Commerce Department's Office of Trade Adjustment Assistance and the Ben Franklin Partnership program in Pennsylvania that concluded "management is confused by and generally not knowledgeable about advanced manufacturing technologies, their advantages and capabilities...companies are avoiding their use primarily because they do not understand them, find them too confusing, or are intimidated by them."

In today's issue comes the report of yet another study; this one by Deloitte & Touche Manufacturing Consulting Services in Cleveland, OH (see Management Update section). Some observations the authors make in presenting the facts: "Manufacturers don't appear to understand technology...The technical base of North America is growing ever more limited and reflects the hollowing of the typical American manufacturing firm."

That's a pretty harsh indictment, even considering it's coming from consultants who may have a vested interest in painting a bleak picture in the hope of being hired to brighten it. Even so, the survey results support the conclusion. Asked to grade their own experience with advanced manufacturing technologies, the best that respondents in the fabricated-metals and machine-tool industries, overall, could come up was a D.

Even in the aircraft/aerospace industry, considered a leader in adopting new technologies, respondents could grade themselves with only a C-. In the machinery and tooling industries, the ones responsible for building the advanced technology into the equipment, only about 35 percent of the respondents could claim realizing "significant" benefits from the adoption of new technologies. And among all industries measured in that category, that was tops.

The study also found that US manufacturers see relatively little value in offshore production, and only slightly above average value in overseas sales. That data suggest that, on average, American manufacturers are not prepared to take on the challenge of the emerging one-world market.

There were, however, some bright spots in the survey. It confirmed that manufacturers will continue their push for quality, that there is a renewed interest in providing customer service, a resurgence in developing human resources, and perhaps a shifting focus, finally, that there are more than just financial results to evaluate in measuring successful performance.

Even so, few can disagree with Deloitte & Touche's conclusion: "The shunting of technology may be both naive and tragic... Certainly, as American manufacturers walk headlong into the global marketplace of the 1990s, those manufacturers that can successfully implement advanced manufacturing technology to derive competitive advantage will be the winners. Those that cannot may be left without markets to serve.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:American manufacturers in a world market
Author:Modic, Stanley J.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:editorial
Date:Mar 1, 1990
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