It makes imminent sense to design cars or other products in Asia for cars that are sold in Asia. GM did that with Buick and ended up with a different look and feel that was a huge hit in China. It doesn’t make so much sense, however, to offshore significant amounts of design work to low-cost countries like Vietnam, which lack skilled and experienced design engineers. Nissan has put together a team of 700 Vietnamese engineers in Hanoi to design basic auto parts. According to a story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, “The Vietnamese engineers, many of whom have never driven a car before, earn about $200 a month—about a tenth of what their counterparts bring home in Japan.” Sure new software programs are a help, but there’s no replacing years of hard-earned knowledge on materials’ and other technology. Even experienced engineers sometime stub their toes because of poor knowledge of how a part design can affect tool costs, to say nothing of how a poor design can cause partial or total tool failure. Nissan/Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn gets a lot of props on Wall Street, but his approach to low-cost engineering is naïve and foolhardy.
An in-depth survey of 700 current and future users of 3D printing holds few surprises, but results emphasize some major trends already in progress. Two standouts are the big growth in end-use parts and metal additive manufacturing (AM) most respondents expect.
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