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U.S. competitiveness depends on better-prepared students.

America's colleges and universities must be more diligent in searching out new knowledge trends so their students will be better prepared to help U.S. industry compete around the world, said a General Motors executive. Donald L. Runkle, vice president in charge of GM's Advanced Engineering Staff, told a Massachusetts Institute of Technology education symposium in late April of this year that one reason for U.S. industry's loss of competitive leadership in recent years is because its engineers and managers were not educated in some of the right disciplines.

"It's time for higher education to reexamine its responsibility for America's productivity problems," he declared. The GM executive called on America's colleges and universities to work more closely with business to help improve the nation's industrial competitiveness. Product vs. Manufacturing

After World War II," Runkle told the educators, we followed a product path in this nation, relying on our mass production capabilities developed in the early 1900s."

"We spent about 70% of our research and development investment on product and 30% on manufacturing," he stated, noting that this approach initially captured 70% of the world's automobile production and resulted in "pretty exciting and reliable cars."

Meanwhile, he added, Japanese automakers began copying our excellently designed U.S. products, but they did not copy our production techniques.

Contrary to our approach, they invested 70% in manufacturing and only 30% in product," he said. And Japan became the world's largest car producer. What the Japanese developed was an entirely different manufacturing philosophy that has become known as "lean production," Runkle explained.

These production principles were developed in the early 1950s and '60s, he said, but American universities, whom we looked to for the freshest knowledge, didn't pick up on this new pattern. So students of that era didn't learn them until world competition forced it on us some years later.

"I don't recall learning any of these 1950s" things when I was (studying) at MIT just 20 years ago," he said. "And looking at today's curriculum, this kind of knowledge still isn't getting the kind of attention it deserves."

Runkle asserted that America's colleges and universities need to teach more about manufacturing techniques and philosophies. "Currently, just seven American universities offer PhDs in manufacturing engineering .less than one half of one percent of the higher education institutions in the country," Runkle said.

"Less than 3% of our colleges and universities offer manufacturing engineering majors at the graduate and undergraduate levels," he added. "Less than 3% of all research projects undertaken in 1990 were in the area of manufacturing engineering," he said, citing a recent survey.

To correct this American educational deficiency, many of the lessons learned in business might be applied to education, Runkle suggested. "What we have to do," he said, "is look at improving the product coming out of the American university factory. As we in industry have learned the hard way, to improve the product, you've got to improve the process." New Disciplines

Runkle listed eight subject areas that should be taught: leadership methods, management techniques, the quality ethic, waste elimination, design for manufacturability, flexible manufacturing, manufacturing as a competitive issue as well as systems engineering. "These eight subjects are all important for our business today," Runkle said. "But what else should be taught now that will be needed 10 to 15 years down the road?"

"For example, he said, the Japanese now are advancing to a flexible manufacturing and distribution concept called "Manufacturing 21." In effect, it is intended to dramatically shorten the time between order and product delivery. It's really "building one just for you .. kind of Just-in-Time design," he said.

But Runkle added that many American educators are not familiar with this strategy." [It's] a strategy that likely will prove to be as important and possibly as devastating to American competitiveness in the next 10 years as lean production was over the last decade." That's why industry and educators need to share their knowledge bases so tomorrow's managers can get more of the education they need during their college days, he declared.

"We at GM are certainly committed to being a part of the solution," Runkle concluded. We've spent thousands of hours and tens of millions of dollars supporting American universities. We are on the same side. But we all need to listen a little more closely to what the real world is saying."
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Title Annotation:Management Matters
Publication:Modern Casting
Article Type:column
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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