Flying High

Columns From: Modern Machine Shop, ,

Posted on: 7/1/1998

There was a time, long ago, when pretty much any understanding of how the universe around us worked had to be self-evident. There were no tools to help with discovery.

There was a time, long ago, when pretty much any understanding of how the universe around us worked had to be self-evident. There were no tools to help with discovery. In those days, simple observation of nature was the driver for the explanation of nature. For example, one could observe that birds fly and birds flap their wings. A seemingly correct conclusion might be that flapping wings creates flight. Using such primitive methodology and basic logic, people often got it wrong.

What's amazing too, is how long many ideas stayed wrong. We've all seen those vintage film clips of the early air pilots trying in vain to get their wing-flapping contraptions aloft. Some of that film was shot less than a century ago.

In manufacturing, one seemingly immortal idea is that those who can't do much else gravitate to manufacturing as a career. The primary requisites for a good paying factory job is a strong back and a reasonably obedient nature. People can come in off the farm, pick up a wrench, and go to work. Decisions on how to do the job are made "off-line" and then handed down through a fairly rigid hierarchy. Most of the data flow is one way—from the top down. Workers are simply an extension of the machinery they operate. Wrong as it is, this idea persists.

Much of manufacturing today is simply too sophisticated and competitive to live with the old school of worker subservience. Successful shops encourage participation in the process up and down the line from front office to shop floor. Some shops are dismantling the front office idea entirely. As a result the manufacturing professional of today is very different from yesterday's. It's a brave new world that rewards skills and training over strength and obedience.

Not only have requirements for getting a job in manufacturing become more stringent, it's become necessary to keep improving oneself to keep a job. But who is responsible for skills acquisition? Although there are changes afoot to try to remedy the current situation, mostly the burden of training potential and existing workers falls on the shops. These shops are more than willing to shoulder the burden because there is such a shortage of qualified people that making your own skilled workforce is the only way. There's significant demand for people who want to learn how to be part of manufacturing. Unfortunately, too many people still don't understand that manufacturing today works not by flapping arms but by creating lift.



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