Time to go deep

Dec. 28, 2012
Dealing with real problems demands reasonable planning and action...not endless discussion.

Readers who like to absorb news and information online may have discovered by now the redesigned website for FORGING (www.forgingmagazine.com), unveiled earlier this year, and some also may be tracking us through Facebook or in streams of data via Twitter. I think all these offerings have been solid improvements to our portfolio of products and services during 2012; it's satisfying to know that we can reach our audience with such immediacy. In truth, however, there is something lacking about digital communication, something made very apparent to anyone whose primary area of activity is manufacturing. What's missing is "depth," "context" — I should the applicable word "substance" — because what forgers and manufacturers in general specialize at is something that long ago was referred to as "hard goods."

We're living in two worlds now, and both of them are very lively places: one is the enervated, absorbing, often addictive, and frequently upsetting digital world; the other is the comparatively dull, frustrating, world where real products are formed, sold, and shipped by real people who have invested their own energy and resources in the expectation of quantifiable rewards.

It's possible to linger in the digital world without much awareness of the physical world, presumably entertained or fulfilled by images or concepts, but those are just momentary impressions too – and so the wait continues for resolution to problems or fulfillment of expectations. The longing for solutions may continue for who-knows-how-long, until the consumer breaks the spell of deception cast by the digital stream and return to reality.

This is the explanation I offer myself for the sense that, lately, one crisis seems to be displaced by another crisis — some are real, like hurricanes; others are less critical, like political campaigns — and the anxiety over what's going to happen next is so preoccupying or troubling that we dare not pause to evaluate, to reflect, on the consequences. The current crisis is the U.S. government's imminent "fiscal cliff" dive, a classic example of how an imperative can be established and a result can be delayed – all without any general understanding of what is being threatened or demanded. You may be assured that once this crisis has been deflated, a new crisis will loom.

In the parallel real world, there is fiscal threat hanging over us, but it will not dissolve once the screen reloads. It has been growing for the past decade, and it is easy to understand in physical terms: the total value of public spending has exceeded the value of public equity. In manufacturing terms, the energy needed to power the engine has been exhausted, and the machinery is failing.

Forgers and other manufacturers, being accustomed to solving real, physical problems, would not approach this by endlessly discussing the causes and possible outcomes. Nor would they dwell on obvious details, or encourage everyone (with or without any insight to the problem) to linger in their discussions about how they would solve the problem, or what outcome they'd like to see. That's not a realistic solution. The real world demands a different approach. They would identify their priorities, assess their resources, and introduce a comprehensive plan. After evaluation, they would set it in motion. At appropriate intervals, they would assess their progress.  

This happens all the time. Problems do arise in manufacturing, and dealing with them demands reasonable planning and action, not endless conversation.

The great crisis in manufacturing now is long in development, too: it's the shift in global competitive advantage from highly capitalized economies in Europe and North America to nations where energy, materials, or labor are more available and/or affordable. This trend is continuing according to the ‘2013 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index' published in November by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd.'s Global Manufacturing Industry group and the U.S. Council on Competitiveness.

My sense is that countervailing factors will emerge, however, because of manufacturers will devote themselves to changing the terms of competition. They will make themselves better. The global economy will grow, it must be hoped, but new advantages will be defined, and new realities will be established. One more crisis will be averted.

Robert E. Brooks I Editor