There's been no shortage
of discussion over the past year or so about how well Germany's industrial
sector weathered and emerged so well-positioned from the most recent recession. Many industry and
political observers have pointed to Germany's unflagging support of its
industrial base as a model for the rest of the Western world in the face of
Certainly there are a number of
positions to be taken on the issue. And it's not as if Germany did not incur
any pain as it made some tough decisions and transitioned to new approaches
necessary to maintain its standing as one of the world's top manufacturing
at Germany's unemployment figures alone indicate that their system is either
nowhere near as preferable as ours, or that our striving to recapture our past
5 percent unemployment rate is not as sustainable as we might prefer to think.
For example, while the U.S. rarely edged above a 6 percent unemployment rate
from spring of 1994 until late summer 2008, Germany dealt with an unemployment
rate nearly double of that in the U.S. From 2000 until 2006, the German
unemployment rate hovered around 10 percent until dropping to around 7 percent
in 2007. Interestingly, as Germany's unemployment plummeted, ours began to
Some observers have said that
Germany's high rates of unemployment until recently were a symptom of the
restructuring underway in Germany at the time while the country refocused its
efforts around redesigning and rebuilding its industrial base for the future.
Whether or not that's true, what is nonetheless captivating is one of Germany's shining lights of its new manufacturing vision - the VW Phaeton manufacturing facility in Dresden.
Known as the "transparent
factory," the VW Phaeton facility is part assembly plant and part museum that
Canadian maple floors powered by conveyors on the production floor;
A system of receiving supplies via tram cars that run on the same tracks as
Dresden's local commuter trams;
Power delivered to tools used to assemble the cars via induction through the
maple production floors; and
Intelligent tools to track the production process and guide the assembly team
Of course, this approach is not
suitable, possible or even desirable for all manufacturing facilities. But you
have to admit, the design aspects - from the functional to the economic - are
enviable in many aspects. To see the VW facility I'm referring to, check out
from the Discovery Channel show "Megaworld" when it visited VW's Dresden Phaeton facility.
checked it out, I would love to hear what you think of the concept. Is this a
glimpse of the future for manufacturing and the next big challenge for systems
designers on a grand scale, or is it the white elephant of the western
Comments can made at the blog
accompanying this column.