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Lack of Engineering Graduates?

March 30, 2008

Filed under: education — Terry Wohlers @ 17:23

A lot has been published over the past couple years on the suspected lack of engineering graduates in the U.S. Some articles suggest that countries, such as China, are producing many more engineers than the U.S. In determining whether it’s true, one must know how these countries define an “engineer.” Some information hints at the possibility that an individual in China trained to run a CNC milling machine is considered an engineer. Countries, such as the U.S., would count only those with a four-year engineering degree an engineer.

Leland Teschler, editor of Machine Design, said, “There is no shortage of scientists or engineers. In fact, there are ‘substantially more’ scientists and engineers graduating in the U.S. than there are jobs.” His comments were published in the December 13, 2007 edition of the magazine. He went on to say that kids graduating from U.S. high schools do not lag far behind in science and math, compared to economically competitive countries. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Rand Corp., Harvard University, the National Bureau of Economic Research, and Stanford University have all come to the same conclusion, according to Teschler.

Clearly, there is interest in increasing the number of engineers in the U.S. I’m in full support of strong engineering education and producing many good engineers across the country. Yet, the best way to increase the supply of engineers is to boost the demand for them. However, as more and more product development and engineering is outsourced to India and other countries, it becomes increasingly difficult to grow demand within U.S. borders. And, I don’t see this trend disappearing any time soon.

Record Growth for U.S. Manufacturers?

March 16, 2008

Filed under: manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 08:53

The Washington-based Cato Institute, a non-profit public policy research foundation, claims that U.S. manufacturing is doing very well. In fact, it maintains that the manufacturing sector is experiencing record growth, record profits, record output, record exports, and record return on investment. A summary of the organization’s findings was published in the December 2007 issue of Manufacturing Engineering.

If you were to randomly ask a dozen manufacturers in the U.S. how they are doing, I would be surprised if their comments support the report from the Cato Institute. My sense is that some manufacturers are doing fine—and a few are doing very well—but many are struggling. However, I do not have any quantitative data to support this belief.

The Cato Institute goes on to say that Michigan’s economic growth from 2005 to 2006 was dead last among the 50 states, although manufacturing outside of Michigan has been strong. What’s more, the U.S. produces 2.5 times more goods than China, despite the loss of 3 million jobs since 2000, according to the report.

What do you think? Is manufacturing in the U.S. not only strong, but at an all-time high?

Innovation May be the Answer

March 3, 2008

Filed under: additive manufacturing,future,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 12:38

The results of a recent MoldMaking Technology magazine survey (January 2008) show “foreign competition” as the #1 challenge for the moldmaking industry. (Most readers of the magazine are from the U.S.) To many, this is not surprising, given what has been published on the subject over the past few years. Moldmakers, like many in the product development and manufacturing business, are afraid that the “bleeding” will continue.

What can be done to preserve and even grow manufacturing in the U.S.? One idea is to concentrate on the strengths of our nation and one of them is innovation. People in the U.S. have a wealth of ideas for new products. However, the risk of introducing a new product, or convincing investors to support it, can be daunting. Launching a new product can cost a staggering amount, so companies are usually very cautious when conceiving and rolling out something new.

New methods of manufacturing, such as additive fabrication (AF), provide the opportunity to introduce a new product—or parts that go into one—at a surprisingly low cost. AF does not require any tooling, so this removes one of the biggest costs, both in time and money. This does not help moldmakers, but it sure presents some interesting possibilities for those in the product development business. An example is Janne Kyttanen of Freedom of Creation. He and his company are able to design some consumer products in a day or two and begin to manufacture them by plastic laser sintering the following day.

With innovation as a strength, I predict that many designers, engineers, students, and others will use modern software tools to create products that before were too difficult, expensive, and risky to manufacture. They will create small quantities to test the market to determine whether a demand exists for what they’ve developed. And, they can make changes and improvements along the way without much additional cost. As the custom manufacturing megatrend comes into full swing, those embracing AF for part production will be poised to ride this potentially large and lucrative wave.