Whether a shop serves the oil, industrial machinery, aerospace and defense, or any number of other markets, the current economic recovery has been good.
This recovery started in November 2001, and economic reports say it shows every sign of continuing at least into the early part of 2007. That makes it one of the longest lasting recoveries in the past 60 years, making this the second IMTS in a row in which good economic times are in place.
However, that is not to say that this has been the "best" economic period of growth. Sometimes it just hasn't seemed as if things are really so good.
That's because the growth over the past five years has been steady but somewhat anemic and this has been a puzzling period in which the economy has grown while manufacturing jobs have declined. That has led the general media to report repeatedly that U.S. manufacturing has suffered; but that just hasn't been the case. It's true that some leading manufacturers—General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Company immediately spring to mind—haven't done very well in these past five years, but the argument can be made that they caused their own problems. The unfortunate reality is that the mess they have made for themselves— and for their suppliers—casts shadows on the rest of U.S. manufacturing, tarring all of manufacturing with problems that start and end in Detroit.
It is also true that employment in manufacturing has fallen over the last five years by about 3 million jobs, but more than half of those jobs were lost because of productivity gains. However, the fact that U.S. manufacturers increased productivity faster in the past five years than at any other time in the past 60 is a good thing, and much of that growth in productivity has been due to the more effective uses of machines tools, technology and computers.
In short, manufacturing output is very healthy. As the showcase for the technologies and innovations that have helped to push the U.S. manufacturing economy to new accomplishments, IMTS 2006 is going to be a great place to be.
In this issue of American Machinist, we have the third report on our benchmarking survey. We are presenting information that shop managers can use to compare their operations to other shops.
You can see how your shop measures up to others beginning on page 36, and we are placing a full copy of our survey data on-line for anyone to use. This data was submitted to us by the 299 shops that responded to our survey, and it represents the first time anyone has measured performance data that can be used to evaluate and improve shop operations.
Besides offering this data in print and on-line (you can find it in the "community" menu at AmericanMachinist.com), we are using it to determine the leading shops in the U.S. and will announce at IMTS 2006 our first class of 10 Best Machine Shops.
Those shops will be among the leaders at what promises to be a very prosperous IMTS event.