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?