Rolf Biekert is the president and chief executive officer of TRUMPF Inc., which manufactures precision sheet metal fabrication equipment and industrial laser systems for industrial markets throughout North America.
CURRENT STATE OF BUSINESS
Currently business is stable, but decreasing. In the last few months the business situation has been a pretty positive one, but it is still a little weaker than we saw earlier this year. Customers might be a bit reluctant to make decisions because of uncertainty worldwide. The Euro crisis, a weak economy in Asia, very slow improvement in the U.S., and a fiscal cliff may be contributing to this hesitancy.
The greatest amount of activity is found in equipment used for the agricultural, medical, and food processing industries. In addition to these sectors, the energy industry and automotive industry are also performing well.
We anticipate strong performance in laser sales looking forward. The laser is an incredibly flexible tool and as laser applications in manufacturing continue to expand, we will naturally see an increase in laser sales. We also expect sales for equipment with automation to increase. Manufacturers are enticed by the added level of productivity and performance that is possible because of automation. Continuous or lights-out operation is just one benefit. There are also advantages in productivity and safety, especially in the material handling of large or heavy parts and between machines.
The flexibility of the technology, combined with the shortage of skilled labor necessary to operate high-tech fabricating equipment, is driving this segment of the industry.
Just as we expect laser sales to perform well overall, it is also our expectation that fiber cutting machines will continue to grow its market share within this segment of the industry. We have experienced this trend over the last few years and expect this development to continue.
Advancements in technology have generated a need for customers to develop themselves as more than a part manufacturer. Increased knowledge and performance has established requirements for the value-added services provided by component or product manufacturers.
However, as the demand for equipment utilization increases the overall levels of training and qualifications of the workforce are decreasing. As a result, there is greater reliance and dependency on the technology and programming, and therefore on the equipment manufacturer. In order to support this change, it has become increasingly necessary for support functions at the manufacturer to be further enhanced in both range and magnitude.
The amplitude of business cycles is growing larger, which makes it very difficult for the industry to adjust to an economical level of capacity. Overall, the qualification and level of technical knowledge available in this market needs to improve. This will enable companies to hire a workforce with the training and expertise necessary to be successful. A change in the educational system and the mindset of society is required to address the difficulties in capacity.
The latest financial crisis demonstrated a limited threshold for service-driven employment, yet the opportunities in high-tech manufacturing are prevalent. The renewed value of manufacturing is not well-known across our society and this must change. The task of communicating and promoting the value of production must extend past industry leaders to political leaders and others who influence the public perceptions. By changing societal regard for jobs in manufacturing we can establish an educational system to support and address the issues in capacity.
We need to work together to take advantage of rising opportunities for the United States to regain its global position and competitiveness in manufacturing. To profit, we must go back to the roots of the country and reestablish the manufacturing mindset that was lost to the appeal of financial and service-driven employment opportunities.
Leaders in education, government and business must understand the importance of manufacturing and dedicate time and resources to build a positive perception of manufacturing and reestablish a qualified workforce. Only through a united effort will we generate the support to support and profit from the growth of high-tech manufacturing.
TRUMPF Inc., 111 Hyde Road, Farmington, CT 06032, 860-255-6000, Fax: 860-255-6424, www.us.trumpf.com.
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