Manufacturing by the numbers

To highlight the launch of Control Engineering's newest editorial department, "By the Numbers" (page 32), I decided to devote this month's column to a little number crunching. What began as a focused search to determine U.S. manufacturing productivity numbers quickly became a study of global manufacturing economics.


To highlight the launch of Control Engineering 's newest editorial department, "By the Numbers" (page 32), I decided to devote this month's column to a little number crunching. What began as a focused search to determine U.S. manufacturing productivity numbers quickly became a study of global manufacturing economics. For the record, data from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics on seven countries (U.S., Canada, Japan, Korea, Germany, The Netherlands, and the U.K.) were averaged to provide the numbers that follow.

Currently, Korea is the clear leader when it comes to manufacturing output (productivity)—increasing at an 8.8% annual rate of change from 1986-2003. The U.S. gained an average of 3.8% a year for that period.

But the edge Korea shows cannot be attributed solely to Asian work styles. Japan averaged only a 2.7% annual rate of change over the same period, positioning the country in fourth place—behind Canada, which exhibited a 2.9% average. The Netherlands, U.K., and Germany posted average annual change rates of 1.88%, 1.31%, and 1.10%, respectively.

A look at the rates of change by output (productivity) per employee over the same period produces a slightly different ranking. Korea and the U.S. still hold the top spots in annual rates of change (Korea: 8.2%; U.S.: 4.43%), with Japan taking third at 3.88%, U.K. fourth with 3.39%, Canada fifth with 2.34%, The Netherlands sixth with 2.16%, and Germany in seventh place with 2.0%.

The rankings get shuffled when looking at "manufacturing employment" between 1986 and 2003. In terms of employment, the three biggest drops occurred in the U.K., Japan, and U.S., which experienced average annual decreases of 1.99%, 1.14%, and 1.08%, respectively. Only two of the seven countries tracked experienced an average annual gain—Korea (.71%) and Canada (.60%). Of the countries with a loss in manufacturing jobs, Germany (0.9%) and The Netherlands (0.4%) lost the least.

With unemployment in January 2005 at 5.2% for the U.S., 6.3% in Canada, ~4.5% in Japan, ~4.7% in the U.K., and 10.6% in Germany, low productivity in central Europe may serve to tighten the European manufacturing market even further.

So just what do all these numbers mean (considering that data from China were not included due to a lack of comparable information for realistic comparison)? It shows that U.S. manufacturing has held strong despite stiff competition and that we are still very much in the mix.

As you can tell, we enjoy crunching numbers here at Control Engineering . We strongly suspect you do as well, considering your choice of profession. We hope our new "By the Numbers" department, which looks at a broad spectrum of manufacturing and engineering data each month, helps to satisfy your need for numbers.

David Greenfield, Editorial Director

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