About Shifting Gears

Shifting Gears is a yearlong, multi-platform project from The California Report. On public radio, and right here online, we're exploring how California's manufacturing industry -- and the people in it -- are adapting to a changing industry and economy.

It may surprise you to learn California has more manufacturing jobs than any other state in the country, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Increasingly though, operations are closing or moving out of California. We're finding ourselves having to reinvent the way we manufacture -- and develop new markets with new products.

No matter where you are in this state, no matter what you do for a living,  you care about the health of this industry.

This is a series looking for ways to get the rubber to meet the road.

Be sure to read Rachael's welcome message for a little more on what this is all about.

Comments (2)

  1. Erik Kristinsson says:

    Will you be doing any stories about manufacturing education?

    I have an idea concerning manufacturing education. Implementing this idea would greatly enhance employers’ ability to find qualified engineering talent, and help the U.S. economy in general. Both the Republicans and Democrats are under a lot of pressure to do something for private industry job growth, and this would almost certainly help do that.

    My idea essentially is to create one of the conditions that exist in the American software industry: ease of market entry and innovation. Having low barriers to entry has worked reasonably well for the US in software. I’m guessing that it would also work well for small scale manufacturing.

    My idea would reduce barriers to innovation and quality for American companies.

    We need a national program that walks mechanical and manufacturing engineering university graduates through design and manufacturing case studies, with hands-on experience with a variety of manufacturing processes.

    I wish I could have participated in such a program when I graduated college. My mechanical engineering university education was much too theoretical. Frankly, my ability to do real-world design engineering is limited by this.

    Undergraduate engineering degrees are professional degrees in reality, if not officially. Other professional schools (e.g. law, business) use case studies, but engineers are expected to function without the benefit of a similar collection of experience. This must change.

    Unlike software engineering university programs, mechanical engineering curricula typically offer inadequate chances for hands-on learning. I’m guessing that’s due to the cost of equipment, energy, materials, and liability insurance.

    There is a TV show on the Discovery Channel called How It’s Made. Have you seen it? If so, imagine actually visiting the factories they show, instead of watching it on TV. Imagine being coached and doing each step of the process, single-handedly manufacturing the product as much as possible. That’s basically what I’m looking for, for the manufacturing part of the training anyway. A discussion of the history and evolution of that process would be a really helpful addition, to understand why the process is set up the way it is.

    It seems unlikely that private enterprise factory owners would permit students to actually handle their equipment. They sometimes will allow factory tours, but that’s not enough. Also, I suspect that few, if any, universities could afford to maintain their own set of factories. If I’m right, then this makes it very difficult for people to get the broad experience that would make them highly effective innovators.

    We need one separate educational organization, funded by the U.S. government. That organization should purchase appropriate factories or equipment, and move them to suitable locations. It then would take American graduates and students from any U.S. university, and let students visit the factories that interest them. Each student would be trained to do each step of the manufacturing process.

    Beyond that, the ideal institution I’m envisioning would also have physical specimens of various devices or parts, some being exceptionally well designed and some having flawed design. Each item would be accompanied by discussion of its history and the decisions that led to the design.

    Likewise, describing examples of exceptionally good and bad manufacturing processes would be very enlightening.

    Where applicable, students should also see examples of finished products that are very easy to maintain, as well as some that are difficult to maintain.

    I don’t believe anything like this exists. I’ve been searching, and I haven’t found anything remotely like it. If you know of any such thing, please do an article about it!

    If you can think of an appropriate person for me to pitch my ideas to, I hope you will let me know. Thanks!

  2. Jerrilyn J McNair says:

    Thank you for thoughtful, positive suggestions! What a welcome change from all the personal invective. Keep it up!

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