Great discussion, and it's about time. Focusing on China and Asia in general completely misses the point as far as finding functional examples of properly functioning manufacturing countries.
Switzerland has at least two manufacturing plants in every little town. Think of Germany, Sweden, Norway, and so on. If it's "in your blood" you will do it even without double and triple digit profit margins. This used to describe the U.S., as for the most part we are really just transplants from the above mentioned list.
How to re-discover that gene? Forget about consumer electronics made by slave labor in quantities of multi-millions. If that's what you want, then move there.
However, if you can engender the spirit of quality products with a tangible "feel" then start making them here and slowly rebuild the chain - interested young people wanting to participate in something more fulfilling than video games and hacking, vocational training centers that really teach actual skills, and people willing to pay a premium for something that has a quality look and feel and is made as much as possible in the U.S.A.
At the present, none of those links exist. We've got to start somewhere, as some of us know that manufacturing = freedom and consumerism = slavery.
I am not suggesting that we abandon automation but it should be recognized that mass production and automation is in some ways responsible for the problem we have. It takes fewer and fewer people to design, manufacture and deliver what we now consider the necessities of life. That is a GOOD thing as long as there is an environment that allows and encourages real diversity in the economy. We don't have that.
The problem is legal and regulatory, mostly at the state and local level but also at the Federal. We've been in this represive environment so long that most people think it is normal and wonder what the heck I'm talking about.
@GlennA - Our form of government and the freedom we had as individuals is what created the largest middle class in the history of the world. Your examples, while somewhat hysteric, are of questionable benefits to our society.
The minimum wage was originally designed to artificially inflate labor, to deincentivize employers from using unskilled labor.The "unskilled labor" that was the initial target was poor blacks in the south taking white construction jobs.Were the minimum wage to go away today, we would likely see more young people employed and gaining experience instead of floundering and contributing to our criminal justice system.
OSHA regulations have become completely absurd.The original regulations did have some benefits such as "don't kill your employees".But today it is all about revenue. Get a papercut and don't report it - that's a fine. Don't wear safety glasses in a manufacturing area even though no one is performing a task that requires said glasses - that's a fine.Employees have always had the personal responsibility for their actions.Much of the regulations OSHA enforces is not because employers risk the safety of employees; it is because the employees choose to risk themselves. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone complain about how safety equipment looked or felt!
Not that I prefer the taste of cockroaches, but bulk manufacturing of food products almost necessarily exposes some very nasty ingredients to foods.Note that you said "restrict the content of"; unfortunately in some processes "you have to break a few eggs to make the omelet". No one would question that regulation simply based on gut-feel, but what was the issue exactly?At some level protein is protein and unless an illness can be traced back to the source the term "crunchy" peanut butter may work on several levels.
As far as child labor, that is the parent's responsibility to decide when a child is ready and for what kind of work.I have worked since I was 12 and it was the early exposure to the concept of work that developed my work ethic.If kids earned their own money in high school instead of having mommy and daddy benefactors, maybe they would appreciate thing more.
I work with several Korean companies that still use company provided housing.For a young person, that is not a bad deal (although they make much more that $17 per day).After a few years, the young engineers move out to their own apartments/houses, usually with a little nest egg.We have become a bit spoiled in the US and may have to look at doing things differently to reclaim an advantage.With our great income mobility and inbred sense of freedom things like dorms are a bit farfetched.But if the a company could cover living expenses cheaper than an individual, making a smaller hit as a percentage of a person's pay, young workers could and probably would take advantage of the opportunity.
We do NOT want this kind of manufacturing here in the U.S. and it wouldn't fly here anyway. We should be investing time, money, and training in automation. I would venture to guess that much of what these $17/day workers do can be handled by automated manufacturing. The problem with AM is that there is a big upfront investment and U.S. corporations are too busy whining and complaining about taxes and regulations while they collect interest on mountains of cash. There is no incentive for them to invest in anything. That has to change. The U.S. has a long history of automated manufacturing and yes, it elimnates some jobs as it is implemented but it can be argued that it creates just as many or more for the businesses that make the machines. We have to raise the techinical ability of the average worker in the U.S. and this is VERY achievable. Young people today are very tech-savvy but they need to be led away from video games and into the world of designing and engineering useful and needed products.
It starts with us, you know. Everyone in this discussion group enjoys the challenges of their career. How are YOU going to communicate that to the next generation?
Any band-aid government applies to the problem that does not address the fundamental issues will be ineffective. Throwing public money at R&D or education (which is not permitted under the constitution) is a short-sighted, reactionary response.
An engineering analysis of the issue would require that we deconstruct the entire problem to its fundamental elements (void of emotion), write a base set of requirements, and find the best way to satisfy the requirements.
The biggest issue we face in the US is the requirements creep from regulators that has come to a critical mass. Although well intentioned, for the most part, safety and health regulations have become ubsurd. It is now to the point that crony capitalists (those pushing health and safety products) and political special interests ("Green" movement) are the ones influencing the regulators. While some profit from industry's demise, others seek simply to take freedom from individuals and give it to a strengthening central authority (tyranny). not to be mean, of course, just for our own good; because the prosparity that our constitution has provided was not fair to the less enlighten nations of the world.
williamlweaver; So, to compete with China, are you wiling to send your children to work in factories for $17 per day, live in dormatories, and face the real threat of death from corporate safety cost-cutting / profit maximization ? Part of your "Government is the problem" includes the minimum wage, OSHA regulations, regulations restricting the cockroach content of peanut butter, etc, etc. Another poster stated that corporations' motivation is profit (dare I say at the expense of the worker ?) while it falls to the government to (at least partially) rein-in the corporations. Unions (and Guilds) began as a necessity to offer some protections to workers. Many people are calling for a return to the 'good old days' of no minimum wage, no OSHA, back to the 1800's when child labor was the norm, and there were two classes = the rich and the (working-) poor. When this suceeds, and there is no 'middle class', who will there be to buy those iPhones ? When corporations kill the middle class, they will have killed the goose that laid their golden egg. Government is not the problem, Corporate Regulation by the Government is a necessary evil.
I agree with JimT. FOXCONN is not the model to follow. Those workers are not well paid, work in substandard conditions and have little skill. Don't forget, the per capita income in China is still below that of Jamica (last I heard). While they have hundreds of millions of people wanting to improve themselves, they will be willing to work in these conditions.
But the thing to remember is that China was not a high tech manufacturing country just a short while ago. We previously lost out to Japan, which was also not a high tech powerhouse, initially. Now, look at Japan. With NAFTA, wasn't Mexico going to be the low cost manufacturing center for the US? We talk about China, but it was floods in Thailand that disrupted hard disk drive production just a couple of months ago.
Setting up high tech manufacturing is not a function of the people, it is a function of social and government policy. As US workers become more flexible, they can get back manufacturing jobs. I believe it is Nissan that is ramping up its manufacturing in the US to where it will be larger than the output of their Japanese factories. This is driven by exchange rates, not supply chains. Caterpillar is considering bringing jobs to the US from Canada because of union intransigence there and more flexibility here.
These jobs can come back in an instant. Becuase they are contract jobs, Apple, or whoever, can contract with someone else at any time. This is the original motivation for outsourcing of manufacturing. If you follow the logic of the article, then the auto industry shoud go back to their original model. At one time Ford and GM took in raw materials (iron ore, rubber, etc.) and made cars in an integrated industrial enterprise. I don't see that happening.
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