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U.S. manufacturing: economic set or subset?

Manufacturing in the United States is in the throes of change. No longer can a person walk into a "plant" and be hired as an assembler, machinist's assistant, inspector, or general production worker. Production lines require fewer people to process, inspect, assemble, reinspect, package, and ship their products. It also takes fewer full-time technical people, engineers and scientists, to develop and oversee today's manufacturing technology.

In the 1950s this less labor-intensive manufacturing technology was known as automation. Automation and something that we might earmark smart automation (representative of CAD, CAM, CAE, and various smart systems for industry) are having a profound effect in the American workplace and on its workforce. Today's automation and smart technologies are being used in place of personnel in engineering, design, and R&D as well as on the shop floor. The workforce, regardless of collar color, is being affected.

From a competitive standpoint we have placed ourselves in a position where manufacturing technology has aided in making us more efficient as a nation but less prosperous as a people. Offshore competition is producing goods that are equally as good as ours and in some instances they are exceeding this quality parallel. So we satisfy our yen to spend dollars on products that reflect reasonable market value at fair market price. Although we began losing some of our competitive edge in the world market in the 1960s, we failed to acknowledge the economic potential of offshore competition and the mandate that it posed. The U.S. needed to begin making changes within our entire system: economic, educational, and industrial.

Now, change is being thrust upon us. As a nation this may be for the better, but the cost is dear. For to see so many Americans down and out is to see shattered hopes and dreams. How can we not feel their despair?

Can we remedy the job shortage with bolstered manufacturing? The answer lies in how we, as a united nation, attend to it. Business journals report that manufacturing is up in the U.S. Yet unemployment continues to plague the American people. Is manufacturing the all-important factor in figuring the well-being equation of the economy? Pull part of the set from an equation and you are left holding a subset. The mandate for the U.S. must be to create balance.

Can we afford to cast aside our most valuable resource? The subset that enables manufacturing and the country to grow and prosper must never be taken for granted.
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Author:Ferris, Roger M.
Publication:Plastics Engineering
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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