Make Up Your Mind

Shouldn’t we merely accept our new role in the global economy? After all, we asked for it.

The joy of the Design & Manufacturing Midwest trade show floor, how did I miss thee? I find few things better than three days walking a patchwork quilt of vendors who never seem happy with the turnout. Lucky for me, it left plenty of time to talk current events, politics, and a bit on the state of the industry. 

We have heard a lot of rumblings from industry experts, consultants, and economists on the importance of re-shoring — re-establishing our manufacturing base in America to reboot the economic lag, solve the unemployment crisis, and cut out the quality concerns far too often associated with outsourcing. Going forward, "on-shoring" and "in-sourcing" will be swallowed whole by "re-shoring," though we all know how industry and writers alike love a new buzzword.

For as often as talking heads like to preach, I find it interesting that most have yet to put their beliefs into practice.

“When you bake a cake, you don’t make sure that all of the apples come from the same farm,” says Peter Parts, president of Peter Parts Electronics, a company that prides itself on buying and providing the “very best electronic products from offshore manufacturers.”

In addition to having the most relevant name in component supplier history, Parts maintains the belief that as a product is introduced into the market, the only thing that matters is a low cost with the best performance for the customer. 

Strike up the fear mongering, however relevant it may be. Concerns are growing as America’s engineering base has been “shrunk to nothing.” I had another conversation with an unnamed informant — which is simply colloquial for his badge being backward — in which we discussed the ramifications of becoming product purchasers instead of product designers. We are not only buying from outside of the U.S., but we are also systematically outsourcing our engineering aptitude as well.

We hold on to the belief that the U.S. maintains a stronghold on innovation and intellectual property, while outsourcing labor to a country with workers who refuse to talk back and fear the notion of ever standing in a picket line — though this may result from a fear of capital punishment for such offenses. As we lose control over engineering, we lose cost control. As my cohort in economic curiosity asked, “How will we get it back? Will we ever get it back? When will we change from a society that turns over every three months?”

When it came down to spending capital on idea generation (innovation, R&D) vs. execution (manufacturing), many companies chose innovation and shot execution across the globe. Later, at the height of the recession, companies looked to purge from non-producing divisions. Unless R&D was buried (carefully hidden) as part of the producing divisions, it was penalized (the herd thinning discussed previously).

What have we left, in the U.S.? How can we regain that which we gave away? How do we keep scientific curiosity up in a land that awards curiosity if only immediate marketability and profitability is attainable? As I berated my anonymous friend with an inquisitive onslaught, he could only offer, “I don’t have an answer.”      

Shouldn’t we merely accept our new role in the global economy? After all, we asked for it.

Maybe you have an answer to one of the aforementioned questions. Maybe you merely sit on the scrap heap after the slashing. Lament, share, and send all forms of despair to