About a year ago I visited the University of Rochester sports medicine group and met with a n orthopedist for a diagnosis of the pain in my right knee. I had tried weeks of my usual stretching and rolling without achieving any results. After an x-ray was taken the orthopedist sat me down and showed me the advanced arthritis in the knee and the bone on bone. He said I needed a total knee replacement and offered to schedule it. I asked if there were any alternatives. He offered to give me a cortisone injection which he said would delay the need for knee replacement by four or five months. I declined both of his offers and left the medical center determined to find alternatives.
I remember celebrating the first Earth Day back in 1970. As part of the celebration I ran a marathon in Central Park. It went six laps around the park. Marathoning wasn’t popular back then like it is today. There were only 200 participants and the entry fee was $2. There were other more popular attractions in Central Park that day. They included kite‐flying, skits, Frisbee throwing, band performances and chanting by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Back in the 70s when I graduated with an engineering degree, a large percentage of the new graduates went to work for manufacturing companies. A certain percentage went on for advanced degrees and ended up in research positions and academia, but much of the research was carried out by private companies building their own IP portfolios. The exception to this was civil, structural and architectural graduates who might end up working for private engineering and design firms.
Brick and mortar stores are in a steep decline. Every day we hear about another chain closing down dozens of retail outlets and at the same time malls are being shut down or repurposed. Shopping patterns are changing rapidly. We no longer go out to shop. We check out products, compare prices and do a one click purchase from our cell phones. And after we click we have an expectation that the item will be delivered to us in a day or two. It is not uncommon to get an email or text saying our item has been shipped less than an hour after we place the order.
I spent last week at the annual conference of the Control Systems Integrators Association (CSIA). Since it was founded almost 30 years ago, the CSIA has been the leading force in advancement of manufacturing automation in the United States and increasingly around the world. At last week’s conference, over 500 owners and C-level executives from more than 200 automation firms came together to learn, share and teach. They have discovered that “co-opetition” is one of the best ways to grow and improve themselves.
Do you know anyone who routinely loses their vacation at the end of the year because they have been too busy working all year to be able to be able to plan it or schedule it? Do you know people who are never able to keep up with their workload but are too busy to be able to train someone to help them, or maybe too busy to be able to delegate anything to someone fully qualified to help them? Perhaps they make the excuse that it is easier or faster to do a task themselves than to delegate it to someone else. There may be a little bit of those traits in each of us. But the further we go down those paths, the less effective we become in doing our jobs and creating paths for success in our own lives.
One of the big goals this year is to grow manufacturing jobs in the United States. It is a wonderful goal and I endorse it. There are some challenges with the plan that not too many are talking about. At face value, manufacturing jobs sound great. But manufacturing jobs in 2017 are not the same as manufacturing jobs were in the 50s, 60s or 70s. Because of advanced technologies in our manufacturing plants and the high levels of automation, many of the jobs available today require much greater levels of skills and training than those of past decades.
Machine guarding is often thought of as something associated with industry and manufacturing plants. It is true that the potential for hazards from machines is greater in those settings. But even in our homes we often have machines where safety guards have become common. Our garage doors have sensors so that if anything cuts the plane of the door the opener will reverse the action and open the door. Riding lawnmowers have seat interlocks to shut down the engine when we get off the mower. Table saws have sensors to shut the blade off quickly if it comes in contact with a finger. And even kitchen appliances like a food processor have interlocks to keep clumsy home operators from cutting their fingers.
In February, 2009 the US economy hit a new low and in an effort to spur it along the Fed dropped the prime interest rates to a historic low of 3.25 percent. It stayed there for seven years and is just beginning to rise again, but slowly. Money has been cheap and abundant. In spite of this there has not been enough demand from the manufacturing sector to use all the available cash as investment capital to build new manufacturing infrastructure. Suddenly, in the spring of 2017 we have a new interest in increasing US manufacturing capacity and building new manufacturing plants. The initial investment will be made by large multinational well financed companies. Many of them have available cash reserves and are only looking for good ways to invest it. But the growth of these firms has a multifaceted ripple effect. Smaller firms, which are suppliers to these mega-firms, will get to grow with the economy as well. A rising tide raises all boats. Perhaps the question to ask is how rising interest rates will impact medium and small business as well as individual consumers.
Some products are just too significant to die. Or so it would seem. A few that come to mind are Wonder Bread, Twinkies, the Polaroid Camera and now Ektachrome film. A question we might ask is if the product was so great in the first place why did it disappear from the marketplace. And what makes companies believe that if they reinstate a previously failed product it will succeed the second time? Reasons may vary from situation to situation. And it may be a matter of timing. Although it isn’t a single brand, the sale of vinyl records is one example of the rebound of what appeared to be an obsolete product. Sales of vinyl in 2016 reached a 25-year high. More than three million LPs were sold in 2016, the highest number since 1991. Spending on vinyl outstripped that spent on digital downloads.