ROCHESTER HILLS, MI—In an effort to stem the tide of manufacturing jobs headed to Asia and South America, FANUC Robotics America Inc. recently hosted a "Save Your Factory" forum, bringing together seven manufacturing organizations to discuss alternatives to sending jobs offshore.

The event included presentations from FANUC president and CEO Rick Schneider; Kevin Smith, executive director at American Axle & Manufacturing (Detroit); Ken Rogers, executive director Automation Alley (Troy, MI); Eric Mittelstadt, CEO of the National Council for Advanced Manufacturing (NACFAM, Washington); John Burg, CEO for Automated Concepts Inc. (Warrenville, IL); Bruce Lindgren, vice president at Daco Inc. (North Aurora, IL); and Jim Torline, manager of manufacturing engineering at Rotary Lift (Madison, IN).

The speakers shared ideas and examples to help manufacturers remain competitive, profitable and ahead of their respective markets. A common theme for all the forum speakers, many of whom cited real-world case studies in their presentations, was the use of automation as an aid to U.S. manufacturing in an increasingly competitive world.

According to Schneider, within 15 years, a labor gap will develop when 70 million baby boomers retire and only 40 million new workers enter the workforce. To fill this gap, it is important to invest in product-enhancing tools such as automation and robotics, enabling manufacturers to increase efficiency, reduce cost, maintain control over their operations and produce the highest quality products.

"Innovation and automation that produce bottom-line results will make the difference between life and death for manufacturers in the near future," Schneider says. "Automation is absolutely critical for North American manufacturers to be competitive in the world market because it helps reduce costs, increase quality and improve control of manufacturing operations."

As an example, Schneider cited a case in which welding equipment manufacturer Lincoln Electric (Cleveland) prevented a customer from shipping welding operations to China by creating an automated system that cut weld times by over 25 percent. Added benefits to the new automated process included significantly higher quality and improved process control.

"This example demonstrates how robotic welding can reduce manufacturing costs and improve efficiency, exceeding cost standards set by low-cost labor countries such as China," Schneider says. He and other presenters also discussed the hidden costs of doing business overseas, including inventory challenges, government instability, currency-exchange issues, language barriers and lead time. Ocean transit from China to the U.S. West Coast is approximately 20 days.

According to Schneider, North American manufacturing leaders can compete with foreign competitors through lean manufacturing, automation, robotics and other product enhancing technology.

"Our message is clear. There are alternatives to plant closings and moving off-shore. With robots and automation, North American manufacturers can be profitable and competitive in today's global market," says Schneider.

Launched by FANUC Robotics in September 2004, the "Save Your Factory" campaign now includes seven members working to promote the use of automation and robotics as a cost-effective, efficient and profitable alternative to moving manufacturing facilities overseas. For more information on the campaign and forum, call 866-765-5685 or visit www.saveyourfactory.com.