Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Manufacturing and Corporate Responsibility

The New York Times had an interesting article a few days ago stating the Future of Manufacturing is Local by Allison Arieff. It’s quite an interesting article and it brings up many good points. Overall, the article describes how in two (expensive) cities, San Fran and NYC, local manufacturing and production businesses have sprung up, which are different from our traditional notions of manufacturing. Rather than large manufacturing plants like traditional setups for cars, airplanes, etc., these companies have smaller, just-in-time manufacturing facilities that are more able to adjust to changing demands.

This is another example of how manufacturing in the US can change to meet today's new manufacturing environment and be successful. I'm reminded of another example of how novel manufacturing techniques can put the US back on the map as a manufacturing power. I used the example of high speed machining in my first Engineer Blogs post. Apple changed from using folded sheet metal and rivets/screws to single body aluminum frame for it's notebooks. Not only is the design lighter, stronger, and cheaper to make than its folded counterpart, but all of the chips from its single aluminum block can be recycled and melted down to make new aluminum billets. They have a video of it here. While I think Apple, the Brand, is sooo pretentious, I have to commend Apple, the Company, on using this technique.

What I don't like about Apple is that they still manufacture their stuff overseas, where they do not have to consider the environmental impact of their manufacturing processes. This is the so called "green manufacturing. Last fall, I was at a conference where the keynote speaker was from GE and he made no attempt to say they were switching to green manufacturing and avoided the questions about manufacturing in the US. (GE as a company is in my doghouse because GE doesn't pay taxes like everyone else.) These local companies appear to care about their environmental impact and are trying to employ green manufacturing.

And in addition to green manufacturing, the people managing the companies are coming together to help support each other to maintain their products are greener and more locally sourced, which helps them directly impact their local community. Providing jobs, increasing local commerce, renovating derelict buildings, etc. That's something you don't see big companies doing now. These companies seem to be willing to sacrifice a significant portion of their bottom line to have a greater local impact. Large multinationals should take notice.

As someone who grew up in the greater NYC Metropolitan Area in NJ, I have seen and grew up around the ruined husks of once large manufacturing hubs like Newark, Jersey City, and Hoboken. I think it is a fantastic idea that these companies have focused on making their products locally to try to revive local manufacturing. Sure, they pay more in property taxes and their employee costs are more than overseas manufacturing. But they also don’t have to worry about shipping costs from around the world and they are better positioned to deal with changes because they are overseeing the complete manufacturing process.

And as I move to a Rust Belt city where SnowU is located, I'm hoping to connect with local companies And I will adapt my research topics to help impact them. And I will hope to get them more involved in the university (if they aren't already), which can help further strengthen the local community.

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