Do They Know What Theyre Talking About?

June 16, 2009
Can manufacturers be efficient, productive, or effective, if they're relying on some centralized "strategy" to tell them how and in what to invest, and to produce? If manufacturers are none of those things, would it be sufficient for them be popular?
Robert E. Brooks | Editor

The matter of forging components for nuclear-power generation is puzzling. The demand is there, we’re told, but the ability to meet that demand is not available domestically, nor is it likely to become available. By my interpretation, this conundrum cuts a straight line through most of the problems faced by manufacturers.

Briefly, the capacity to supply those large-scale forgings would be expensive to install and difficult to supply with raw materials. As a result, domestic forgers are disinclined to invest in the necessary production capacity. It isn’t that they don’t recognize the demand; it’s rather that they don’t have confidence that the demand will be sustained or profitable through the life of any proposed major investment.

Planning for new nuclear power plants is frenetic and ongoing, it’s reported, and that seems obvious. Consumers are open-minded to nuclear power as a source of domestic electricity, we’re told, and here I begin to wonder. Do ordinary people really care where their electricity comes from, as long as it keeps coming, and remains affordable?

The problem here is not consumers, though they are critical to the whole issue. The problem is the range of interests and authorities that stand between consumers and the manufacturers and service providers who make it possible for the consumers to have electricity. And, this is the same thicket through which forgers and every other manufacturer must pass their products in order to be successful. In the past decade or so, manufacturers have nurtured a sense of injustice about their role in modern economic life. They feel they are not given credit for the innumerable insights, innovations, efforts, and costs, entailed to deliver manufactured goods — in whatever fabricated, assembled, finished, or packaged form — to the buying public.

Yet, a new survey by Deloitte L.L.P. and The Manufacturing Institute finds that Americans “view manufacturing as the most important industry for a strong national economy.” The survey assessed public perceptions and understanding of various issues, and found that 71% of respondents view manufacturing as a national priority, and 59% believe that U.S. manufacturing competes effectively on a global scale. “Americans clearly still believe that manufacturing remains the backbone of the economy,” says Craig Giffi, Deloitte vice chairman and U.S. Consumer & Industrial Products industry leader.

Does this mean the public will side with utility companies seeking to start up new nuclear power plants, or to restart or expand existing ones? Will they take the side of metal producers against activists and agencies seeking to limit their ability to operate effectively? Will they endorse the efforts of forgers and others to locate and operate where it is most conducive to their objectives?

Predictably, this high esteem for manufacturing contrasts with the respondents’ regard for manufacturing careers. Just 17% picked manufacturing as a sector in which to start a career, and only 30% of parents would encourage their children to seek manufacturing careers.

In other words, they want the good results of effective manufacturing, but they don’t want to be troubled by the processes. Just as with electricity, they want it and don’t want to be bothered by the particulars of producing it. But, they’re emboldened to advise how manufacturing should be “managed”: 77% believe that the U.S. needs “a more strategic approach to develop its manufacturing base,” and 74% say the U.S. should invest more in manufacturing.

Can manufacturers be efficient, productive, or effective, if they’re relying on some centralized “strategy” to tell them how and in what to invest, and to produce? If manufacturers are none of those things, would it be sufficient for them be popular?