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My Christmas List

Today I had a long discussion with a gentleman conducting research on manufacturing and manufacturing automation. After covering a myriad of topics from the need for low cost open control systems to the negative influences of government policy on manufacturing (especially in California), he brought our discussion to a close by asking me a question; "If I could ask for any two things to improve manufacturing, what two things would they be?" I decided to share my wishes with you as my Manufacturing Christmas List.
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First, I wish for a change to our national dialog on the topic of higher education.  Because our dialog reveres university bachelor degrees, we send far too many students down the wrong path only to have many of them fail along the way.  Too many students drop out, incur unmanageable debt, or obtain degrees for which no jobs exist; all while we continue to lower educational standards to serve the masses.  If our dialog also revered education leading to the development of technical skills, we would develop better operators and technicians and better scientists, engineers, teachers and business leaders.  A simple change in our dialog, similar to that during World War II and the Cold War Space Race, would lead to our building the human infrastructure necessary for a vibrant manufacturing economy.

My second wish is to see more engineers and scientists in the executive suites of our businesses and in the halls of our government.  An old adage says that one manages what one understands.  When our institutions are run by marketers, financiers and lawyers, no one is managing the technology.  Technological advances drive economies.  Somehow we've come to believe that we can drive an economy by shuffling the deck chairs. We can't.  When I came to manufacturing, engineers were represented throughout the ranks of management, all the way to the Chairman of the Board.  Technological development of both products and processes was being actively managed.  Today's executives think they can outsource technology management and offshore manufacturing.  Both are prescriptions for failure.

Of course, there a few smaller items that could be put in my Christmas stocking, like financial regulatory reform, a common sense energy policy, or workable immigration reform.  These would help manufacturing too.  But the two big gifts to be wrapped up for under the tree are a change in our national dialog regarding higher education and better representation in executive suites of scientists and engineers.   Santa, I've been a good boy this year.

 

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Comments


I agree with Keith on both items for the wish list. I was a product of an engineering apprenticeship program and wish we would add that to the wish list also.

Posted by: Robin Thurgood on December 21, 2011


Very nicely said, Keith. Education and technical management are very important.
When we can't measure, read drawings or visualize spacially, we're in trouble.

Posted by: Gerard Makovec on December 21, 2011


You really nailed it this time, Keith, especially in your comments about how fundamentally wrong-headed our higher education system is. I'll call you in the new year to see about making this some sort of cause celebre in our editorial coverage. Who are the individuals in government and in higher education whose blindness perpetuates this mistaken approach to education? Maybe we can marshall together the informed opinions of folks like you and use them to challenge the policy makers whose views of higher education could use a little challenging. In the meantime, here's hoping Santa agrees that you have indeed been a good boy.

Posted by: Pat Reynolds on December 21, 2011


Keith,

I agree!
I also think enginners tend to be able to form a concensus more easily than lawyers.
Happy Xmas.

Chris

Posted by: chris rutter on December 21, 2011


You are right on both counts.
Our education system has for years under rated the trades. We will always need plumbers and electricians and technicians....and they are not currently being validated by our education system. We seem to have adopted as a society the notion that unless you have a university degree, you are a failure. Nothing could be further from the truth...Just try to call for a plumber or an electrician and see if he is lacking for work.
As for technical folks getting into management and politics...we techies are probably too pragmatic by nature to want to go to a place of huge frustration. Most politicians refuse to believe what the techies say, unless it is politically expedient.

Posted by: Gerald Beaudoin on December 21, 2011


I agree. Also, a part of the problem is our higher education institutions have become "tuition collectors" instead of educators. They have to have "X" number of students to keep the doors open, so they recruit to degrees, as you stated, that do not lead to jobs. They also place importance on research, which is important, over education.
We also need a renewed sense of purpose and work ethic among our younger people. I my business, I emplyee licensed professional and technicians. The technician side in lacking in available persons for positions, and the one that do work-seem to work for the car payment and insurance and the cellphone bill. The desire to work fulltime, god forbid overtime, is really cramping their life. As long as these basics are met, they can survive. Long term goals are not in their plans and responsibilty is a theory. Technical education is really what we need more of.

Thanks,

Posted by: Don Haley on December 21, 2011


Amen to that, especially your first wish. I have been listening to NPR and the troops coming home...a perfect opportunity to utilize their technical skills.
Have a great holiday!!!!

Posted by: Nancy Cobb on December 21, 2011


I agree. That same thinking holds true for almost all so called developed nations. We need people who create real value not data manipulators. Lawyers exist because we are taught that confrontation is a profit generator.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Posted by: Paul on December 21, 2011


I whole heartedly agree. Dunlop Holdings was once a huge world wide corporation - run and managed largly by "technocrats" and engineers. Now some influence from the Financial side is necessary but when the Accountants from BTR came along they dismantled a Britiash icon and sold off the parts. Now Dunlop is only a Logo and a marketed trade name little is MADE by Dunlop anymore. I retired from the remnants of Dunlop Holdings Limited and remember its achievements and contributions - they will be missed.

Posted by: Steve on December 21, 2011


Great comments Keith. We definitely need more engineers in management and politics to restore technological common sense and to lead our country back to true prosperity, not just shuffling electronic money from here to there and creating no actual value and outsourcing all of our manufacturing base.

Posted by: Glenn Whiteside on December 21, 2011


Right on! Two very legitimate requests that many of us can endorse personally. The question remains, will the current powers in place accept either one, even partially. Lets pull together to see what we can do!

Posted by: Bob on December 21, 2011


Very good points! Thanks.

Posted by: Glen on December 21, 2011


Great comment, hit all essential points on the head.

Posted by: Alfredo Schneider on December 22, 2011


Spot on Keith, spot on

Posted by: Michael @ 1MTA Chuck Jaws on December 29, 2011


great post as usual!

Posted by: SCM on January 1, 2012


It has been a pleasure to meet you at the PMMI Educational Committee meetings and the Mechatronics test session.

I read your "My Christmas List" post and you are right on all of your points. The one thing that I would like to add is a worrisome trend that is also happening. I have talked to older engineers/designers that learned their craft by first working with their hands and later with their minds to bring many new products and machine systems to reality. Along the way some of them took the time to study and pass the testing process to become PE licensed engineers. These self taught guys would not be allowed to sit and take the EIT exam today because of the academic requirements that have been changing recently.

I think this is the wrong path to go on. We should be doing what it takes to bring the bright and talented forward and if a there is highest level testing process as a measure of achievement we should not be putting up a stone wall to a MET graduate that can solve the problems but does not know how to derive Bernoulli's equation for example.

I disagree with my fellow ME's in that I do not believe engineering is about learning how to derive an equation and then not understand how it applies to a pump system. Engineering is about problem solving and finding solutions to simple and complex problems. Some engineers work in the purely research realm and need to understand why things work the way do but the vast majority work in the how things work realm and just need to figure out the problem

In all honesty, in my work I don't need an ME to set up a matirx of equations to derive the mass moment of inertia of a timing screw and create a system of motion equations to calculate the theoretical acceleration torque. I need engineers that can read the dynamic properties for the entire system modeled in CAD and than set up a motion system in AB's Motion Analyzer to simulate the running of the drive. The equation guy will take a week to set things up and another 1/2 day to solve the first scenario. The practical guy will take an hour to get the data into the program and then we can test 10 scenarios and what if's in another hour. More importantly the one doing the simulation will have a better understanding of the true system behavior since he can quickly see what changes effect what outcome.

Why should the guy or gal that can solve problems but not have the right degree be excluded from taking the EIT & PE exams? If they pass I think the engineer community as a whole will be better off and we can honor their talents and intellect


PMMI is going in the right direction by not setting some minimal academic requirement for the Mechatronic's program. If you can pass the exam you have displayed a certain amount of knowledge and that is what counts


Since I am a resident of Indiana I am going to try to find out why they are limiting access to these exams over the next couple of weeks

Cezary Mroz
Director of Engineering & Development
 

Posted by: Cesary Mroz on January 7, 2012


Keith,

I agree with you wholeheartedly, since (just like Robin T.) I am also the product of such a career path.
And would in fact suggest that everyone be competent in at least one trade before they are allowed to graduate high School. Trades could be based on one of the following: electrical, mechanical, welding, plumbing, book-keeping, computer, networking and wireless applications.

Graduating High School without a fundamental skill is the biggest problem we face in the USA.

You could also let us know what Santa did decide to deliver to you. :-)

Posted by: Arnold Offner on February 15, 2012

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