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Let's color outside the lines.

There is solid reason to be optimistic about where the manufacturing world is headed during the 1990s. A number of structural factors are driving investments in productivity-improving automated equipment. Because of lower birth rates in the 1960s and 70s, the overall labor pool is shrinking. Roughly 75% of Americans who will be employed in the year 2000 are already in the workforce. In 1995, we expect to have 50% fewer high school graduates than we did in 1971. Over this new decade, that translates to a shortfall of as many as 25,000 engineers each year.

Along with this shrinkage in our skilled workforce, many of those who are available simply do not choose to enter manufacturing. In many circles, the office job, not the blue collar skilled manufacturing position, is seen as the symbol of success.

Result: there's even more pressure on companies to automate, to reduce their dependence on skilled labor. Instead, they can put the computer and advanced manufacturing software to work and turn out more higher-quality parts, more predictably, and with less in-process and finished inventory.

In addition, manufacturers in this country have no choice but to automate and boost productivity. The average age of our industrial base is 16 years, compared to 10 years in Japan. So not only do we invest less as a percentage of our GNP, we also have further to go to catch up. If they do not, our nation's entire standard of living will begin to unravel in the years ahead. There will be no role on the world stage in the 1990s for American corporations whose business is commodity-driven with old technology.

The manufacturing technology of the 60s, 70s, and even the 80s is available everywhere in the world. In eastern Europe and many other areas of the world, there are large pools of semi-skilled labor available which can put this technology to work.

So, if US industry is going to compete, its manufacturing must literally be on the cutting edge of technology. That means more investment in productivity-improving equipment.

Besides these structural factors, I am also optimistic about the confident, "can-do" leadership attitudes we see in the managements of our customer organizations today. They know that they can compete fiercely in global markets.

What's perhaps even more important, is what we call the new age of manufacturing creativity-new ways of doing things, new ideas by new people; young people, in many cases, who do not understand the old argument that "we have never done it that way before-I don't think that will work."

It's this change in attitudes-this fresh thinking-that's fueling the turnaround in manufacturing in this country, and stimulating excitement and optimistic thinking.

Here's what I mean. An aerospace company was looking to speed up the manufacturing of aluminum skin panels for Titan rockets. A cooperative, simultaneous engineering effort between their people and Giddings & Lewis resulted in an automated cellular system that has the capability to mill a complete rocket skin every 24 hours, compared to one or two per week with the previous method.

The manufacturing people at this aerospace company could have continued to mill these large aluminum skins the same way they had always been done before-laid down flat in a horizontal position. But instead, this new system lifts them up into a vertical position so that the metal can be removed quickly. None of the equipment in this situation was new or revolutionary-it was the way it was applied that was innovative and creative and different.

Another example of manufacturing creativity-a cellular system for producing motor grader brake and axle housing parts for a construction equipment firm. A new process was conceived for machining brake housings, which previously required two separate operations. All of the critical surfaces are now machined in just one setup. These kinds of new processing ideas did not require newly designed equipment, only new thinking and extra creativity.

These are just a few examples of hundreds or perhaps thousands of similar projects all over this country, and certainly all over the world as well. They are the products of minds that refuse to accept the status quo, that seek new avenues around old roadblocks-coloring outside the lines, refusing to believe that "it cannot be done," focusing on the goal line, instead of all the big linemen and tough linebackers in between.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:new age of manufacturing creativity
Author:Fife, William J., Jr.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:column
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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