From the Shop Floor — The Week in Manufacturing (6/3/2011)

If there’s anything we learned this week, it’s that the U.S. economy is still very fragile and could really use a whole lot more confidence from the private sector.  That, of course, along with more jobs, lower oil prices and thousands upon thousands of more people willing to buy a new home.

But that said, no patient — regardless of how strong his constitution may be — comes off life support and immediately starts running marathons.  You have to learn to walk again before you can start running.

And as long as we keep putting one foot in front of the other throughout the days, weeks and months ahead — even during the hiccups, like the one that occurred this past month — this economy will continue to get stronger and we’ll all be fine.

I really believe that.

Now on to what’s happening in the world of manufacturing.

The New York Times reported that, according to the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) , while manufacturing continues to grow, the rate of that growth is starting to taper off.

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Executive Chairman William Ford told CNBC that for all the good news, the U.S. economy is still in “recovery mode.”

Here’s an item that points out the conundrum this economy finds itself in.  What’s good for a company, even an expanding one,  isn’t always good for its workers (whose confidence and buying power the economy desperately needs).  The Chicago Tribune reports that food industry giant Sara Lee will open a brand new, state-of-the-art meat processing plant in Kansas City.  The $140 million, 200,000 square-foot facility will ratchet up the company’s sliced meat production capability to historically high levels, while at the same time reducing its staffing needs by up to 50%.

Here’s an item from Crain’s Detroit that goes to the heart of something I’ve been saying for over a year.  Just like the Pork Council invested in a campaign to re-brand their product “the other white meat,” the manufacturing sector in the county is in dire need of a facelift.  We need to upgrade our public image to match who we have become as companies, and as innovative, technology-driven cogs in this country’s economic engine — which is exactly the conclusion a panel discussion at the Mackinac Policy Conference in Mackinac Island reached this past week.

And speaking of Detroit, President Obama traveled to the Motor City this week to address a group of Chrysler employees.  Despite some unsettling news about job growth and unemployment, he put on a brave face and told the workers by doing what they’re doing, and building the kind of quality cars they’re now building, they’re scoring “one for the home team.”

That said, one White House official admitted to the U.K.-based daily, the Guardian this week that unemployment levels in the U.S. remain “uncomfortably high.”

Meanwhile, in the Plattsburgh (NY) Press-Republican, Robert Grasso, executive director of the North Country Workforce Investment Board, offered an op-ed piece on what developments like nanotechnology, 3D printing and micro-manufacturing may mean to the future of the economy.

St. Louis Today columnist David Nicklaus said the service sector in this country would benefit from studying the sometimes hard lessons about productivity many of us in the manufacturing sector were forced to learn these past few decades.

In the Huffington Post, one analyst said that America’s wind-power industry, and the thousands of manufacturing jobs it has made possible in this country, could begin moving to China as the Chinese government continues to commit resources to the development of renewable energy.

Meanwhile, in South Korea this week, Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda told reporters he anticipated that  his company will be back at full production globally by November, following the fallout from the twin natural disasters in his homeland earlier in the year, as well as the frightening nuclear reactor crisis the ensued.

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