Manufacturing: New, not dying

Sept. 21, 1998
Here's why the manufacturing naysayers are wrong.

There has been more nonsense said and written about manufacturing in the last 20 years than about nearly any other business topic. Almost all the reports are variants on a bad-news-for-factories-and-factory-workers theme. Take your pick: Manufacturing is dying. We live in a service economy. The Internet has rendered traditional manufacturing irrelevant. The manufacturing plant is a relic of the Industrial Revolution, an anachronistic link to a grittier, grimier past.

Please. What these economic neophytes fail to understand, of course, is how manufacturing changed to become more important to the economy than ever -- and not necessarily because of its contributions to GDP and employment (though those remain substantial). Simply put, no other sector creates as much innovation, as many new industries, as much improved productivity, and as much general prosperity. Even the Internet, that sinuous conduit of information that is revolutionizing management, is at its root a manufacturing phenomenon -- not only because of the manufactured cables, modems, routers, chips, and computers that comprise it, but also in Net usage. By some estimates, as much as 60% or more of e-commerce relates to the sale of manufactured goods.

Read what Stephen Rosenthal, director of the Center for Enterprise Leadership, has to say:

If we didn't get progress in the products that support the Digital Age, the Digital Age would stop. If Intel stopped delivering new advanced chips, manufacturing them, and figuring out how the heck they get more and more onto a chip and make those chips at high quality, wed come to a halt. You cant be in a Digital Age if you cant move all those bits and bytes around, so whats happening is that the excitement and the investment and the growth are in different kinds of manufacturing.

At IndustryWeek, we call this changed landscape of production The New Manufacturing, a landscape that encompasses not just the new industries driving the information revolution but also the new strategies enabling all production-based enterprises to reach new levels of productivity and wealth creation. And in this issues special report, developed by Managing Editor Patricia Panchak, IW explores how the New Manufacturing is reinventing business through its leadership in organizational theory, its creative deployment of technology, and its renewed emphasis on the potential of employees.

Manufacturing has been, is now, and continues to be the intellectual and productivity center of our modern economy. Or, as Panchak more elegantly states in the report's lead article ("Conquering a world of change"), every era is defined "not by how work gets done, but rather [by] the raw materials that drive manufacturing, much like the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages." By IW's reckoning, that should make the Digital Age a time of very good news indeed for new manufacturers and new manufacturing workers alike. Let us know what you think.

Send e-mail messages to Patricia Panchak at [email protected].

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