Halfway between the present and the future

Halfway between the present and the future

A luncheon speaker recently gave index cards to me and 100 or so others, and asked us each to draw a picture of a glass with water in it. This was at the recent Metal Casting Technology Forum 2007, presented by the Casting Emissions Reduction Program, and the speaker further asked each of us to indicate whether we considered "our glass" to be half full or half empty, and why.

Regular readers will probably guess that I'm a half-full type, but it's not always so. It's less true on some days than others — and on some subjects it's perhaps not true at all. It's particularly difficult to keep a smile on your face on the subject of U.S. manufacturing when every day offers more alarming statistics, sad news, and outrageous anecdotes.

Richard McCormack, the speaker at the CERP event, does valuable work of tracking that sort of stuff in his Manufacturing & Technology News newsletter (and website: www.manufacturingnews.com), and while I peg him as a "half-empty glass" type, I acknowledge the importance of documenting all that — if only to keep everyone focused on the subject. He's not alone. In fact, our whole notion of a "manufacturing" market segment is evidence of the work done by McCormack and some others — to define the economic role now held by industries like metalcasting, in what is overhelmingly a services- and finance-driven economy.

One of the under-reported stories of recent years has been the withering of the National Association of Manufacturers as an effective voice for U.S. industry. This has happened because of the shifting priorities of NAM's members — the biggest and more successful of which are simply not "national" any longer. Their concerns are global now.

This shift has left a void, one that's being filled by different voices and groups, each identifying their perspective and cause for manufacturing.

One perspective is found in Mike Collins' new book, Saving American Manufacturing (www.mpcmgt.com). This isn't the standard "big idea" tome with an index full of catch-phrases: Collins forthrightly argues that domestic manufacturers are stuck in a defensive mode, with techniques rooted in cost-cutting and process improvement. His alternative approach is to get manufacturers to be outwardly directed, seeking new customers and markets, offering new products and services, and (he believes) finding new profit sources.

This appeals to me because it's constructive, rather than remediative. It's moving forward, rather than catching up. There's a lot of frustration in today's manufacturing segment, and I recognize the need and the demand to fix what's wrong. But, the greater cause — and I believe the better strategy — is to move ahead, to the better future.

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