February 09, 2004
Manufacturers Cautiously Optimistic About U.S. Economy
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Continuing with results seen in the third quarter of 2003, U.S. manufacturers remain upbeat and optimistic about the U.S. economy over the next 12 months, according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers Manufacturing Barometer survey just released. Despite this outlook, the manufacturing sector continues to trail a consensus view of the broader marketplace on positive economic indicators.

The Manufacturing Barometer, which compared the views of industrial manufacturing senior executives with a cross-section of all businesses, found the manufacturing responses were consistently lower. Looking ahead, 78 percent of industrial manufacturing executives are optimistic about the economy's prospects over the next 12 months. The consensus view is more upbeat (85 percent optimistic).

Growth barriers are numerous. Sixty percent of industrial manufacturing executives cite competition from foreign markets as a potential barrier to growth over the next 12 months, well ahead of the consensus (38 percent). A distant second in importance, 39 percent see lack of demand as a barrier-slightly higher than the consensus view (34 percent). Other concerns around which the industrial manufacturing sector leads the consensus including decreasing profitability, cited by 34 percent (consensus, 28 percent); capital constraints, 27 percent (consensus, 21 percent); and monetary exchange rate, 20 percent (consensus, 16 percent).

"The industrial manufacturing sector has shown improvements, quarter-to-quarter and is nearly as upbeat about the economic climate as other large U.S.-based businesses," said Dean Simone, managing partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers' U.S. Industrial Products industry program. "But manufacturers continue to have comparatively lower momentum; they are more fearful of competition from abroad, and must overcome many more obstacles in order to achieve solid growth in the year ahead."

The Manufacturing Barometer measured opinions on subjects ranging from the domestic economy, barriers to growth, margins and pricing to new investment strategies, hiring plans and business initiatives under consideration.

Additional highlights include:
  • On balance, margins of industrial manufacturers have improved, but remain below average; costs are lower than average; and pricing power is well below par.
  • Manufacturers lead the consensus in plans for new product or service introductions over the next 12 months. But on the debit side, they also lead in plans for closing or reducing facilities abroad.
  • Over half are considering merger and acquisition (M&A) activity over the next 12 months, and an above-average number is considering liquidating all or a part of their business.
  • Forty-eight percent expect increased budgets over the next 12 months for new product or service introductions; likewise, 30 percent for research and development. These exceed consensus levels of 43 percent and 20 percent, respectively.
  • Industrial manufacturers are well behind the consensus in planned net new hires over the next 12 months: 35 percent expect to add to their workforce (14 points behind). And, 31 percent are planning to further reduce their workforce (seven points more). On average, industrial manufacturing businesses expect to reduce their current workforce by an average of 1.7 percent over the next 12 months, compared to an increase of 0.3 percent for the consensus.

    While not exactly exuding an aura of glee, this report offers some encouraging news to a sector that seems to have been in a perpetual downward spiral for some time now. Be mindful, though, that manufacturing is not just experiencing a downturn, it is undergoing a fundamental and thorough restructuring. To remain competitive (and in business) many manufacturing organizations, large and small, have realized that they must develop entirely new business models. In many sectors of manufacturing, "business as usual" is not and will not cut it. Throwing technology at problems in manufacturing can help to a certain extent, but just as important are paying more attention to business and
    management systems that allow manufacturers to be more flexible and adaptable to ever-changing customer needs and demands.

    Autodesk Offers Free DWF Writer For Distributing Designs

    Autodesk has introduced its DWF Writer, a free, downloadable application for creating Design Web Format (DWF) files from many CAD and Microsoft Windows applications. Autodesk DWF Writer enables users collaborate by sharing their designs and drawing sets in the DWF file format, regardless of the application in which they were created.

    The highly compressed, secure format was specifically created for design data and delivers multi-sheet, view, print and Web-ready capabilities. Autodesk customers using AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, Autodesk Revit, and other Autodesk applications can already create DWF files directly from the built-in publish command. Autodesk DWF Writer brings this same functionality to other CAD applications that do not offer built-in DWF publishing, such as Bentley Microstation and SolidWorks.

    Because anyone can create a DWF file, Autodesk is hoping that project teams will standardize on this as a common file format to exchange designs and drawing sets.

    Autodesk DWF Writer is part of a family of applications designed to take advantage of the DWF format. Autodesk Express Viewer is a free application that supports the viewing and printing of DWF files. For users who need electronic review and mark-up capabilities, the soon-to-be-released Autodesk DWF Composer will both help reduce cycle time and printing and plotting throughout the design collaboration process. Autodesk DWF Writer will be a key component of Autodesk DWF Composer, enabling users to composite multiple file types into a single DWF file, further facilitating the exchange and archiving of drawing sets. The Autodesk DWF 6.0 Toolkit allows users to develop applications that read or
    write multi-sheet drawings in DWF format.

    Highlights of the Autodesk DWF Writer include:
    • Highly Compressed Files - The Autodesk DWF Writer compresses large amounts of data for file exchange via email or the Web.
    • Multi-Sheet Support - The Autodesk DWF Writer allows users to publish multi-sheet designs into a single DWF file, eliminating the need to publish each sheet separately.
    • High Fidelity Viewing and Printing - Users can take advantage of the viewing and printing capabilities of Autodesk Express Viewer.
    • Autodesk DWF Writer is available from

      DWF has been around a while and integrated into Autodesk products. Autodesk's DWF is really an alternative to Adobe's PDF and to a lesser extent, SolidWorks' eDrawings, both of which I have used and like very much for specific purposes. I honestly question whether we really need another file format for exchanging design data. Although it's free of charge now, if it takes off like Autodesk hopes it does, I wonder how long it will remain free. It's actually just a Microsoft printer driver, so it's not too complicated to download (~5MB) or set up for converting file to DWF. I just downloaded it and will be experimenting with it over the course of the next few days and weeks. I'll report
      back on my experiences with it after I feel I've had enough time to objectively and comprehensively discuss it. It's obviously optimized for Autodesk applications ("The DWF file format leverages Autodesk technology"), so it will be interesting to see how it interacts and how well it plays with other applications, especially competing CAD applications.

      Special Event At NDES: The Future of 3D Mechanical Design

      If you are attending the National Design Engineering Show (NDES) later this month in Chicago, be sure not to miss a special event of interest to MCAD folks. CADCAMNet publisher Steve Wolfe will moderate a unique panel session entitled "The Future of 3D Mechanical Design: Lifting the Software Barrier to Creative Product Design." This event will take place Tuesday, February 24 from 10:00 to 11:00 am in room 401 of Chicago's McCormick Place.

      The computer-aided design (CAD) industry has "simplified" its software user interfaces to enable engineers to create designs more quickly and efficiently than ever before. But designing products in 3D CAD is still harder than it should be, often forcing engineers to spend more time manipulating the software than exploring all of the creative possibilities. The next step in the evolution of CAD is to transform the technology from a complex set of tools to a transparent extension of engineers' creative intents.

      This panel features five of the industry's top visionaries talking about CAD/CAM technology, its current development challenges, and where it is headed. Panelists include John McEleney, CEO, SolidWorks Corp.; Charles Grindstaff, VP, EDS PLM Solutions; Buzz Kross,Vice President, Manufacturing Solutions Division, Autodesk Inc.; James Heppelmann, Chief Product Officer, PTC; and Ken Hoadley, VP of Engineering, Sensable Technologies.

      This should be a very interesting discussion as some of the most prominent executives in the world of MCAD share the spotlight as they give their opinions of where they feel the industry is headed - probably in terms of their respective companies, but hopefully providing perspectives of a bigger picture of the MCAD industry as a whole. While relatively common back in the day, events such as this are few and far between these days. As far as MCAD products have come, they still have an enormous distance to go with not only features and capabilities, but overall usability. Hopefully, the event will offer a Q&A session,
      so come armed with some tough questions to pose to the panelists.

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      You can find the full MCADCafe event calendar here.

      To read more news, click here.

      -- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.

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