Why “Made in America” isn't enough

Jan. 12, 2012
When I was a kid I believed that only Superman could fly faster than a speeding bullet. Now that I'm halfway into my 50s and any remaining innocence and idealism is quickly oozing out of me, I've come to realize that the only thing that can fly faster ...

When I was a kid I believed that only Superman could fly faster than a speeding bullet. Now that I'm halfway into my 50s and any remaining innocence and idealism is quickly oozing out of me, I've come to realize that the only thing that can fly faster than a speeding bullet is a promise during a presidential election year.

I read in this morning's paper that President Obama spoke before a group of American executives in charge of companies that are starting to bring jobs back to the U.S. The President promised these execs he would include tax breaks for such “in-sourcing” in the fiscal 2013 budget plan to be sent to Congress next month.

“I want us to be known for making and selling products all over the world stamped with three proud words: ‘Made in America,'” he said.

That's a great sound bite, but we'll see if it turns out to be the President's legacy or just another broken campaign promise. In the meantime, American manufacturers like those who heard the President's promise can always take comfort that although their made-in-America products are more expensive, they're also better quality—right?

That consolation is as viable as a political promise these days.

Product quality isn't that hard to accomplish. There are software providers who can make it possible for companies anywhere in the world to monitor manufacturing quality in plants anywhere in the world.

I saw a press release from a company called InfinityQS International, Inc., providers of quality control software, and they're expanding their international presence too. In fact like President Obama, this company's president & CEO, Michael Lyle, is taking on speaking engagements around the world, extolling the value of statistical process control (SPC) software for manufacturers. His company presented in China recently, telling manufacturers there how they could enhance their level of quality control.

The press release quotes him as saying “When considering that Chinese manufacturers account for nearly 20 percent of all manufactured goods—the most in the world—it is imperative for quality best practices to take precedence on the plant floor, throughout the enterprise and across the supply chain.”

I followed up with him to ask if American companies establishing a presence in China are raising the quality bar for manufacturers in China.

"We have clients that are tracking, via internet connection from their headquarters in the United States, real-time process data originating from manufacturing facilities in China,” he answered. “When quality issues occur, key personnel in both countries are immediately notified so the adverse events can be resolved rapidly, mitigating their effect and cost on production.”

Shortly after I had this conversation, I saw another press release announcing the retirement of Jim Malvaso from his post as president and CEO of Toyota Material Handling North America (TMHNA). I've had the pleasure of interviewing Jim several times in the past few years, and he's always had strong opinions about the challenges of competing with Chinese manufacturers on our soil and theirs.

I called him to ask what his plans were for retirement, knowing that he'd maintain a consulting role at Toyota as they grow their global markets. I'll share with you my full conversation with Jim in my next blog post, but I wanted to conclude this post with his take on the role of manufacturing in the economy. He says manufacturers in many industries, including lift trucks, often stress product quality but fail to emphasize the value of strong service and support.

“There is a significant tendency for customers to take advantage of the economy where supply exceeds demand and manufacturers often respond by undervaluing not only their product but the services and expertise that come along with it,” he told me. “I think our industry is acting way too much as commodity sellers. Our material handling products go far beyond a commodity. We need to recapture the value proposition that made this industry valuable to our customer base.”

I hope the manufacturing executives who heard President Obama's promise to reward manufacturers for bringing jobs back to the U.S. will capitalize on that promise by rewarding their own organizations for making top-level service and support equal partners with manufacturing quality.

About the Author

Tom Andel Blog | former Editor-in-Chief

As editor-in-chief from 2010-2014, Tom Andel oversaw the strategic development of MH&L and MHLnews.com, bringing 30+ years of thought leadership and award winning coverage of supply chain, manufacturing logistics and material handling. Throughout his career he also served in various editorial capacities at other industry titles, including Transportation & Distribution, Material Handling Engineering, Material Handling Management (predecessors to MH&L), as well as Logistics Management and Modern Materials Handling. Andel is a three-time finalist in the Jesse H. Neal Business Journalism Awards, the most respected editorial award in B2B trade publishing, and a graduate of Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University.

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