Vision & Sensors

From the Editor: Made in America

February 27, 2009
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Keeping manufacturing jobs in the United States is obviously a priority, but it must be done carefully.

Like many industries today, machine vision is not a local business. Technology allows easy access to people and products worldwide. It is still not without its hiccups, but no one is sending product specifications by carrier pigeon or taking a boat to a customer site.

It would be difficult to carry on this sort of business by only using local contacts. Even my caller ID at work rarely shows local area codes. Most of the calls I receive come from different states and different countries (I’m talking to you, Germany). And the same for e-mails-today I received another out of office message reading, “Vielen Dank für Ihre Email.”

While it is obviously a global marketplace, it is still necessary to promote local jobs. However, this must be done carefully.

For example, the stimulus plan recently called for “Buy American” provisions that could prompt markets abroad to promote their own local products. But in some cases, these stipulations may not be the best idea.

As I write this, the stimulus package is being hashed out in Washington, and today President Obama is visiting Caterpillar in Peoria, IL.

Jim Owens, chairman and chief executive officer of Caterpillar Inc., wrote an interesting op-ed piece in the Chicago Tribune last weekend discussing these provisions. He pointed out that while it sounds great to “Buy American,” as promoted in the stimulus plan, sometimes this can jeopardize jobs in America.

While this Illinois company is more than happy to provide U.S.-made products for projects both here and abroad, he says it is not that simple.

“If the U.S. sends the message that regardless of value, countries should only buy locally produced products, Cat’s exports, as well as the U.S. jobs they support, will be hurt,” Owens writes. “In some of our Illinois factories, as much as 70% of what we make is sold overseas. That’s not surprising given that 95% of the world’s consumers live outside our borders, and most infrastructure growth is occurring in the developing world.”

What do you think? Would a “Buy American” provision help or hurt your business?

If you have something to say, we would like to hear it and we have several outlets for your ideas. Vision & Sensors is no longer just on the printed or online page-we now have audio and video as well. Along with our Q-Tube videos, we’ve introduced podcasts to provide another outlet for readers to share information. Listen at

Speaking of technology, do you have a blog? If so, send me a link to it at If not, would you like one? If you are interested in being a guest writer, please send your thoughts my way. And, as mentioned last month, if blogs seem too time-consuming, there’s always twitter, which I recently signed up for.

For those of you interested in seeing this small world in person, Machine Vision China will be held in Shanghai March 18 to 20 and The Vision Show in Phoenix March 31 to April 2. After that, the first Quality Vision & Sensors Conference will be held in Orlando, FL, May 4 to 7, in conjunction with the Quality Measurement and NDT Conferences.

As always, feel free to e-mail me at Vielen Dank!

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Charles J. Hellier has been active in the technology of nondestructive testing and related quality and inspection fields since 1957. Here he talks with Quality's managing editor, Michelle Bangert, about the importance of training.
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