Letters to the Editor For December 2008

Nov. 6, 2008
Dreaming, Designing, Creating and Building

Engaging Next-Generation Manufacturers

I have been professionally practicing product design and development in a manufacturing environment for over 30 years now. I can't imagine a more enjoyable vocation than being a multidisciplinary hands-on engineer. For me, a bad day of engineering is better than a good day of fishing (ha-ha). I had an epiphany about two-thirds of the way through your editorial ("Just In Time -- Answering the Call," November 2008), where you -- correctly -- identified the huge need to get the next generation into the manufacturing arts. Our industry needs the quintessential can-do American engineer that can practice intuitive seat-of-the-pants problem solving one moment, and use state-of-the-art design tools the next.

My generation of engineers grew up on technical hobbies -- ham radio, model rocketry and all manner of "tinkering" with electronics, mechanics and technical drawing. But it was active doing -- dreaming, designing, creating and building -- that formed our generation of technologists. We started young. A decisive moment for me was my first visit to a manufacturing trade show while accompanying my dad, when I was about 13 or 14. It was wow to the 10th power! My father and I went to trade shows whenever we could because it was so exciting and so very real. There was nothing dry and academic there -- real machines, real tools, real products -- and people who loved to talk about "how we do it." The really neat thing is that they were willing to talk one-on-one to me, a young teenager, like I was one of them.

But you know what? Today, you can't pass the door into a trade show if you are under 18 -- even with an adult. This is so wrong, and so stupid! High school technology classes should go as groups and experience the richness of engineering and manufacturing at ground-zero. Talk to the men and women who make the tools, fab the boards, mold the plastics, work the metals and sell the software. It's going to take more than lip service from the industry to get kids involved. They must insist that accompanied young folks are OK. They should encourage it, in fact. The trade show is the melting pot, the forum. Let's open that forum to future professionals as soon as possible.

Ben W. Fagen
senior mechanical engineer
Accu-time Systems Inc.
Ellington, Conn.

A Lot Going for Us

This ("Answering the Call") is a timely and important article. Although most of the news media seem to prefer doom and gloom, it's encouraging to have someone remind us that we still have a lot going for us. We would also like to see more students interested in manufacturing and related service operations.

Richard Crandall
Appalachian State University
Boone, N.C.

Whatever Happened to Common Sense?

I read the "Brandt on Leadership -- A Job to Die For" column (September 2008) and found it humorous, but also very disturbing. I was not disturbed for the dying part as much as the enormous payoffs to CEOs that we have been hearing about lately, particularly in the financial world. It disturbs me greatly that anyone would deserve as much money as a utility infielder for the Yankees. I mean, who is worth this $111 million even if he is alive and on the job?

Our economy is shaken to the core, and we the American people are being challenged like no other time. Our outdated energy policies are biting us in the butt and we are spending money (or loaning it, take your pick) like there are two tomorrows; and oh by the way, we have the funds to do neither. Factories are shutting down (the lucky ones are only downsizing) and our unemployment rates are meeting new levels every day. These should not be "golden parachute" kind of days!

I believe our only way out of this in the long term (short term is mortgage restructuring) is to get our manufacturing back in gear and somehow re-create the magic of the small business. These companies rarely exist anymore because everyone is purchasing everyone else and leaving no competition, therefore creating the climate for price collusion and, of course, creating their own supply and demand. The raw material manufacturers are selling to China at a higher price and giving the American companies the old supply & demand dance. How else are our raw material prices at an all-time high when all of our business has bottomed out? If you can explain this any other way, please let me know because I cannot.

Equally appalling is the fact that we cannot pay someone $40 an hour to sweep the floor; I'm sorry but that job is not worth that. It seems to me that all jobs in a company need to be re-evaluated and re-classified based on the value of that particular job. In my mind, common sense has left the building.

I think corporate America gets a bad rap for things like this, and for the most part they deserve it. It is hard to explain to someone who has just lost his job because of a factory closing that the CEO has just pocketed millions on his way out. The only good thing here, and it is very slim at best, is that he didn't make the playoffs... again.

Jerry Carlew Jr.
purchasing manager
Mayo Manufacturing Corp.
Texarkana, Tex.

Get Serious About Safety

Re: "Injuries at Work Drop for 6th-Straight Year."

"This report shows that employees are now safer in the workplace than ever before." Wow, what a bold statement considering BP Texas City was reported to have had top quartile safety performance and contributed to these figures, yet even their own management knew BP "was not a safe place to work."

I am pleased the airline industry doesn't measure safety performance based on workers' lost time incidence rates. How many more people need to die before we stop focusing our attention on occupational safety and turn to process safety? Most of these sites do not consider human factors issues and are not focused on the control of major hazards. We need to stop the back patting and get serious about safety.

Ian Nimmo
User Centered Design Services (UCDS) Inc.
Phoenix, Ariz.

Let's Stop Enabling Slackers

Re: "A New Generation of "Slacker" Professionals."

As a baby boomer, I am in complete disagreement with Rob McGovern [CEO of JobFox]. I see a consistent pattern in enabling not only these younger generations but a continuation of this behavior with our children. McGovern is proposing that we further enable them.

Society needs to understand that the mentality of "everyone getting a trophy, win or lose" has undermined our society. We need to start teaching future generations how to "earn that trophy," and our intentions should not be to pick up the slack and conforming corporate America to suit their mindset. This may help a personnel agency profit but not society as a whole.

Stella J. Karavas
Voltree Power
Canton, Mass.

Measuring the Cost of a Four-day Work Week

Re: "Rising Gas Prices Put a Squeeze on the Work Week."

[The four-day work week] sounds great, but at what cost? What happens to the American family? Will children also stay in day care and school for 10, now possibly 12 hours a day? Where will their morals and values come from -- the almighty dollar? Family values are what America was built on. Let's not forget that.

Sherry Gaidry
Wilson's Machine Products Inc.
Winter Park, Fla.

Biggest Doesn't Always Mean Best

Re: "Chrysler Considers Merger Options."

What is "the crown" worth? Why is it important to be the biggest [automaker]? BMW and Honda have long been regarded as leaders in the industry and profitable without being the biggest. GM has proven for some time now that being the biggest automaker in the world hasn't helped investors or resulted in superior vehicles for consumers. You get big (or at least bigger) by being the best, not the other way around.

Matthew Loew
chief engineer
DAXCON Engineering
Milwaukee, Wis.

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