You're right about losing those experienced engineers. A lot of them were cut during the 2008 through 2009 recession. I understand that many of the experienced plant engineers are baby boomers who have retired over the past few years. I remember in 2007, there was concern in the automation industry that there were not a sufficient number of experienced engineers, but the recession took that pressure off.
This seems a classic example of the value of having experienced people take a look at operations once in a while. A person who knows the process will have built up a "feel" for how things should run, and will often be able to spot when something isn't quite right -0 even when it is "within spec". Following up on such observations often discovers a problem that will eventually become a bigger problem. Nipping it in the bud prevents later losses that may include production loss due to work stoppages, equipment damage, etc. etc.
Alas, modern "lean" production systems are trying hard to eliminate those experienced people, who are perceived as too expensive, or discourage them from "gilding the lily" by trying to fine tune a process that is already within spec.
These trade-offs are subtle, but over time they make the difference between a "good" company and a "cheap" company.
And this principle applies not only to manufacturing, but to all sorts of other endeavors. My own field is embedded software engineering, where I increasingly see schlock completely clogging up the systems.
In the last couple of weeks, I have been immersed in a reference design package for a new microprocessor that my company will be adopting. Even though it comes from a large semiconductor house with a good reputation, it is full of stuff that looks like it was never reviewed. Many corners of the design have timing that is out of spec. The memory map is contorted. Elements of the software kit came from 3 different sources that were never reconciled, so the same registers are defined 3 different ways in different include files etc etc. It scares me to think that this stuff will end up in safety critical systems in many industries.
The first Tacoma Narrows Bridge was a Washington State suspension bridge that opened in 1940 and spanned the Tacoma Narrows strait of Puget Sound between Tacoma and the Kitsap Peninsula. It opened to traffic on July 1, 1940, and dramatically collapsed into Puget Sound on November 7, just four months after it opened.
Noting that we now live in an era of “confusion and ill-conceived stuff,” Ammunition design studio founder Robert Brunner, speaking at Gigaom Roadmap, said that by adding connectivity to everything and its mother, we aren't necessarily doing ourselves any favors, with many ‘things’ just fine in their unconnected state.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.