Manufacturing professionals still care.

Many involved with quality tell me that there is nothing new in manufacturing, or that no one cares about it. These naysayers have not had my schedule during the past month. The trade shows I’ve attended and phone calls, letters and e-mails that I have answered leave no doubt in my mind that manufacturing is alive and well, getting better and that those involved in it care deeply.

My day begins with sorting through various reports on business and industry. Despite the fact the media focused on the war in Iraq during much of April, there were good signs to report. The Consumer Confidence Index nearly doubled what analysts predicted. That means people want to buy products, including big ticket durable goods. Other U.S. Commerce Department statistics point to increased manufacturing activity.

In the middle of April, I joined many of you at Quality Expo International in Rosemont, IL. Were the attendance numbers the same as in years past? No. But many exhibitors told me they were pleased with the number and caliber of attendees. Why such a good response? These exhibitors cited everything from manufacturers needing more reliable gages to replace the “cheap” ones they bought from China, having to respond to increased production demand with more efficient test and inspection equipment, and the release of pent-up purchase dollars.

When I hear from some in the quality community that there is no “new” technology, I wonder if they were at the same booths I visited. Senior Editor Larry Adams and I both saw many new and innovative products that will be in the pages of Quality magazine during the next months. Granted, some “new” products are not radically ground-breaking, but many suppliers are adding original twists to existing products or are advancing existing technology to increase functionality.

Is all the renewed interest in manufacturing coming only from suppliers and analysts? No. More than 200 visitors to the Quality magazine booth at Quality Expo told us about their jobs and their companies. Many decided they needed to get Quality magazine because there is renewed interest in, and spending on, quality where they work.

The past month has also included an unusual lesson in how deep pride in manufacturing runs in U.S. manufacturing. In my April 2003 column, Our Duty, I mistakenly wrote that Sikorsky Aircraft Co. makes the Apache helicopter. Sikorsky makes the Comanche helicopter, and I apologize to both Sikorsky and Boeing, who does make the Apache. But my error brought a torrent of response from the employees at Sikorsky correcting me.

Was I pertubed by the volume and tone of the reprimands? Of course not. The people at Sikorsky care about what they make and are proud of their aircraft. How often does the general media report on employees who are proud of what their company makes? Not often enough. I surmise there are many other manufacturing employees who are proud of what they produce and would react similarly to such an error.

So, next time I hear about how no one cares about quality, or manufacturing, my response will be to show them the notes from my trip to Quality Expo and the letters I received from Sikorsky employees during April. Nothing new? Don’t care? Hah!

How do you view the current state of manufacturing and quality? Tell me at [email protected].