Motion System Design
The current state of U.S. manufacturing

The current state of U.S. manufacturing

No doubt, we’ve all had our fill of editorials and opinion columns covering the approaching presidential election. Last week readers of our Motion Monitor eNewsletter reminded me of that in response to the eNewsletter’s opening commentary. First and foremost, we continue to serve as an outlet for technical information and in-depth how-to articles covering new components and system designs applied to the engineering field dedicated to motion.

With this in mind, we will be publishing a special piece on the state of U.S. manufacturing (now published and live.) Distilled analysis and detailed applications will promote one agenda — the continued success of our nation’s industrial innovation — for which we harbor admittedly fierce dedication.

True, the industry does intersect with political and financial realms. As the largest manufacturing economy in the world, the U.S. produces 21% of global manufactured products. China’s 15% is still second.

About 12 million Americans (9% of the total workforce) are directly employed in manufacturing. Another five million are employed in manufacturing-related positions, though roughly half of the jobs lost since 2000 (two million) have been displaced by Chinese imports, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. (Employment edged down in the last month by 15,000 positions.) Globalization as well as automation continue to change the field; in addition, from 1950 to 2010, the finance, insurance, and real estate industries — what some affectionately call the FIRE industries—have grown from 10% to 21% of U.S. GDP, while manufacturing’s GDP share shrunk from 25% to 11% over the same time period. These bare numbers may say more about the changing face of the U.S. economy than any others. Similar trends are evident in other developed countries.

Most interesting is that Bureau of Labor statistics on U.S. manufacturing productivity, which nearly always report reliable and steady increases, have come under question by leaders of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board. More specifically, accurate differentiation is not currently made between productivity improvements spurred by making American facilities more efficient (often through automation and application of lean approaches), and those improvements resulting from supply-chain victories in purchasing cheaper or better import subcomponents.

Meanwhile, annual domestic R&D spending is roughly $400 billion. An editorial by Machine Design’s Leland Teschler explores the specifics of how that R&D money is spent. For one example of how military applications spur new developments, refer to the story, Application snapshot: Nonlethal grenade launcher in this issue. Roughly half of all governmental spending on R&D is through the defense budget — $81.5 billion (11%) of total Pentagon spending.

We invite your feedback and opinions on the interactions between manufacturing and public and governmental policy: As engineers have a skill for processing statistics, your conclusions promise to be insightful.

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