The Marines, The Mail and Manufacturing's Main Miracle

Sept. 1, 2001
The explosion of personal productivity can't help but rub off on the public sector, and we're all winners there.

The Marines, The Mail and Manufacturing’s Main Miracle

The Postal Service and the Marines don’t seem to have much in common. So, since I worked for one and trained with the other (more than a few years ago), this issue’s features on each had me wondering — till I read more.

Seems each has been solving their productivity problems with typical modern manufacturing solutions. These include advanced robotics and the increasing integration of vision systems.

Both the Marines and the Postal Service have had their problems in terms of training and education, albeit in different ways. The Postal Service has endured perhaps more than its fair share of jokes over the years relating to its delivery times. The Marines have, like all the armed services, been hard pressed to keep their people up to date on what the Pentagon calls modern warfare.

One needs to keep its people up on the timely delivery of mail, while the other needs to maintain the ability to deliver the enemy’s destruction. Both seem to have studied factory management, which is more and more a matter of automation.

As the ARC Advisory Group of Dedham, Massachusetts, noted recently, “Technologies such as machine vision, force sensing touch capabilities, speech recognition and advanced mechanics are all becoming integrated into robotic systems enabling new levels of functionality for areas never before considered practical for robots.”

The Marines replaced by Robocops? The Postal Service automating so well FedEx goes under? Maybe.

ARC study author Dick Slansky says, “Vision-based robotics assembly systems have matured to the point where they are now used to automate high-speed assembly work cells across a growing range of industry verticals.”

In other words, what was common in the electronics industry is now spreading throughout manufacturing. The study is titled Robotics & Vision Strategies and Technology Forecast and covers both the present use and future development of robotics and machine vision.

Today, new material, new manufacturing systems, remarkable new machine tools and material handling systems, amazing computerization techniques and, yes, the Internet are all being used to boost productivity and quality in the factory. Couple all that with visually equipped robotics, and you’re watching the future install itself in the factory.

It’s been going on since the species invented the wheel and the lever, true. But the latter part of the 20th century experienced a technological burst of creativity and a rise in output per person-hour and quality unheard of before. This creative explosion (Moore’s Law, for example, which says in effect that the cost of computing power halves every 18 months) is expected to continue, even accelerate.

Unfortunately, most folks are educated these days by television. The top stories are always matters of bad news, tragic news, and violent and sad events. The world, however, is much more than the evening’s litany of horror.

All day long, throughout the land, people are turning out ever-better and ever-affordable goods because of the world’s manufacturing experts and their creative applications of new tools. Seems the Postal Service and the Marines are headed in the same, highly productive direction.

So let’s say Semper Fidelis and “rain, sleet and snow cannot keep” the Marines and the Postal Service from more productive days. They are doing what they must to stay competitive and relevant in a world governed, albeit invisibly to most, by manufacturing’s main miracle: the continuing increase in human productivity.

George Weimer

contributing editor

[email protected]

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