Mr. LaCroix's article mirror's my own opinions on the industry's woes. It IS up to engineering to keep the US on the world manufacturing map, but engineers have not always done a proper job of convincing management that better up-front engineering is the key to avoiding manufacturing and in-service problems downstream. The input we get from a manufacturing review is often not critical enough, and this (IMO) has to do with the effect of the IT industry on manufacturing trades:
In the old days, high-school grads who were good in math/science but did not attend college often went into manufacturing trades. But over the last 20 years there has been a new avenue for these students: computers and network training. In addition a higher percentage of our young people are getting a college education/ But neither of these groups is going to be working in our factories. Therefore the knowledge level of the average factory worker is probably going down in highly developed nations. So you cannot count on insightful input anymore from the manufacturing departments to improve your design.
Because 3rd world countries cannot send many people to college, they are likely to have a much higher competency level in their factory staff than in North America. When we outsource a design overseas, we are probably getting a level of production planning expertise that does not exist in our factories. I don't think we can blame everything on environmental regulations, etc.
I hope someday that factory work in N.A. again becomes a highly respected trade and attracts more bright young people, but until then it's up to the designers and engineers to understand the entire product lifecycle and ensure that manufacturing, assembly, QA, packaging, and maintenance issues are all addressed up-front regardless of where the parts are to be produced. And that my friends is a tall order for our lead engineers to bear - especially if upper management does not recognize it. So are we up to the task?
Presumably, you're talking about "design for manufacturability" and "systems engineering," which requires a broader knowledge base, and which N.A., currently, doesn't do very well anyway. Japan has mastered this, and is using it in its auto manufacturing in the U.S. and throughout the world, and exporting it to China faster than you can imagine. It's only a matter of time before China's/India's design capabilities catch up with its manufacturing capabilities. (Think about it: their children go to school earlier and longer, and they study harder). At that point there will only be two ways in which N.A. can differentiate itself: mass customization and speed of product introduction. If the majority of the cosumers are still in N.A., N.A. companies CAN compete, but only by increasing the speed of introduction of new products so rapidly that lead times and shipping costs become the deciding factors. Can you imagine a product lifecycle so rapid that by the time comparable product arrives on the docks, it will already be obsolete? Th only way you can accomplish this is by using local manufacturing, for short runs of customized parts. Mass manufacturing cannot compete with this. Yes, I agree we need more knowlege of manufacturing techniques, but that's not enough. Gone are the days when you could invent one product and ride it into the sunset. N.A. needs ingenuity and creativity and inventiveness to regain competitiveness.
Here's the hope of "free trade": At some point, wages in the world will equallize and the world will be THE marketplace. My problem with this is that nobody really knows how long this will take. Just a hunch: it won't happen in my lifetime.
It has taken me some weeks to "get my mind in order" with regard to this article. As a rider, please note that not all will agree with me, however my review is based on intimate experiences over the last 2 years with products outsourced. I do not wish to offend anyone, but voices have to be heard.
Mike, you are voicing exactly what I and several of my collegues here in Australia have been discussing for several years.
We have seen the effect of outsourcing not only production, but design as well. The result, in a nutshell, disaster. The Indian product is woeful, design concept is draconian, and attitude to complaint, what attitude, we didn't design or make it! In one instance, 40 tonnes of product was rejected by the buyer due to rust, bad welds, incompatability with existing product. Instead of the order going back to the supplier, it was sold off for 1 cent in the dollar and hence accepted. Total rework time and desigtn changes meant the product was actually dearer than the locally produced. But one thing remained true, the quality - a $60,000 boat spearing through the rear of a 4WD under normal braking is not a good thing, especially when the boat and the 4WD are written off! Result - none, manufacturing fault, insurance paid up. Again we rescued those who shouldn't be saved.
The Chinese experience is a lot better, except for the fact that all products are "throw away" items, great for the environment (not), but a heck of a lot better than the Indian product.
I am coming to the end of my working career, and I look around and I don't see Trainees, Apprentices or the like. I realize that I am the last of the true "journymen", "tradesman", "master" call it what you want, but there is no-one following, everything is being outsourced to Asia. We used to design for a servicable life, to suit our conditions, our society, but not anymore.
The Western world is "selling out" to the Asian countries, but what happens when the Asian currencies are forced to be linked to a Western currency (ie US dollar)? Manufacturing costs will rise dramatically, and we will have to bear it, as ALL our skills will be gone.
Engineering DOES MATTER, as we engineer for our own particular set of circumstances, and only when you reside within the arena you are engineering for, can you do the job well.
I hope I have not offended anyone, but I am passionate about my country's future within the Engineering and Manufacturing sectors, as I do not wish my children, or for that matter anybody, to be out of work for the sake of "a few measly dollars" and poor quality.
Good engineering save costs all round in all countries, but does not save anything in countries that operate "sweat shops".
Where will this leave US, USA, Australia, England, Germany (BMW is opening a plant in India, will the next generation BMW's look like Indian cabs?) as societies? I suspect we will all be salepeople, subsisting on sales to each other, earning a bowl of rice each a day!