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Society of Manufacturing Engineers Executive Director Issues Statement on the Future of the Industry

August 6, 2009
The following is a statement by Mark C. Tomlinson, executive director and general manager of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), on the future of the manufacturing industry.

"Month after month of depressing economic news has many hoping for a miracle to return the U.S. economy to its former glory. This miracle, however, won't be found on Wall Street or on Pennsylvania Avenue.

"The miracle lies in U.S. innovation and manufacturing. After a decade of bankers gone wild, America needs to create real wealth by making things rather than selling complex derivatives in the markets.

"The service and financial sectors just redistribute existing wealth. The twin powers of innovation and manufacturing actually create wealth. It goes back to Economics 101: Wealth is created by taking materials of relatively low value and transforming them into products of considerable value. In other words, wealth comes from making things.

"U.S. manufacturing contributes more than $1.6 trillion to our GDP, and if it stood alone, it would rank as one of the top 10 largest economies in the world. Despite continuing reports of its decline, U.S. manufacturing may be down, but it's definitely not out. By far, the U.S. - not China - is the world's leading manufacturer by value of goods produced, and for every $1 of value produced in China, America generates $2.50.

"Rather than your latest electronic gadget, the U.S. makes larger, 'big-ticket items' found in aerospace and defense. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently projected the aerospace industry would continue to grow over the next decade. Medical manufacturing is also poised for huge growth as more than 75 million baby boomers age.

"While there's no question that hundreds of thousands of repetitive manufacturing jobs have been lost in the past few years, 50 percent of manufacturing executives still report they have difficulty finding qualified workers. There remains a demand in some areas of the country for highly trained manufacturing professionals like operations managers, engineers, lean specialists, machine operators, and welders.

"There's other good news in U.S. manufacturing. Companies around the country are diversifying and evolving to meet the demands of a new economic reality. They are identifying new things to make.

"Companies such as Cleveland Vibrator Co. are finding new customers for their products. The tiny turbine vibrators driven by compressed air made for industrial uses are now being used in the biomedical industry, including makers of dental products and pharmaceuticals.

"One of many auto suppliers has also found business in medical manufacturing. Abbott Workholding Products Inc., Manhattan, KS, whose industrial tools are used by the auto industry, now makes tools used to craft artificial knees and bone reinforcements.

"Other companies are finding success in yet other arenas. Take Detroit-area based Visioneering, which at one time built Corvette body molds for GM. Now it provides design, engineering, machining, as well as manufacturing services to the $204 billion American aerospace and wind energy industries.

"The Bruce Diamond Corp. makes industrial diamond tools in the heart of New England. They've recently expanded their product line to include super abrasive tooling used in various manufacturing industries such as aerospace, automotive, bearing, semiconductor, engraving, electronics, and fiber optics.

"These manufacturers, along with thousands of others, are succeeding through innovation, diversification, and technological advances. That's the real story of American manufacturing. It may be evolving, but by getting back to making things, manufacturing can be the miracle that will boost the economy."

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) is the premier source for manufacturing knowledge, education and networking. Through its many programs, events and activities, SME connects manufacturing practitioners to each other, to the latest technology and the most up-to-date processes spanning all manufacturing industries and disciplines. A 501(c)3 organization, SME has members in more than 70 countries and is supported by a network of technical communities and chapters worldwide.