Six and a half years out from the crash, American engineering is once again becoming an industry with muscle and is widely considered by finance experts to be one of the best areas in which to invest in 2015. What has brought about this change? Insiders will tell you that the key is a shift in focus, moving from quantity to quality and winning global commendation in the process.
The decline of American mass manufacture
Things began to change in the late 1980s, when the growth of industrial bases and improvement in technical education in countries such as China, Thailand and South Korea saw these nations develop the capacity to produce average quality goods on a very large scale. Because wages there were lower, they quickly gained an advantage and undercut the prices at which US companies were able to sell, gradually eating into their market share. The auto industry was particularly hard hit, leading to the economic collapse of Detroit, but every area of mass manufacture took a hit and over a million jobs were lost. It was clear that the industry could not compete on these grounds. To grow strong again, it would have to reinvent itself.
Finding new markets
Although mass production might seem like the obvious way to generate money, it isn’t the only way. There are many niche markets out there in need of more unusual products, and there are many business customers and individual consumers who value quality over quantity. Precisely made, reliable products are a must for businesses using them in their own goods or manufacturing processes if they wish, in turn, to make a good impression. Meanwhile, the recession has persuaded many individuals of the importance of buying goods that last, rather than relying on mass-produced items that may be cheaper but that cost more over the long term as they need to be maintained or replaced more often.
Businesses breaking the mold
Some firms have been more successful than others at making this shift. Transducer Techniques, which produces load cells, torque sensors and similar instruments, has gained significant market share by integrating advanced technology on an ongoing basis, ensuring that customers will seek out its products when they want to take advantage of recently discovered techniques. Ford, meanwhile, has invested in human resources, restructuring its working environments to ensure that employees are not only more productive but are also relaxed, confident and committed enough to be able to perform at their best.
Approaches like this, combined with a fall in the value of the dollar and increased investment in innovation, are seeing American manufacture and engineering regain its vitality. Many companies are now beginning to “reshore” jobs they had previously exported to low wage economies. There’s still a need for more and better college-level training, but as the industry’s reputation grows, the words “Made in America” are once again being seen as a sign of quality, and that means more and more people want to be a part of it. America is on the up.
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