I had the weirdest dreams this morning. They remained in my mind even after I woke up, slowly dissipating like fog in the morning sun until they are just a blurry memory as I write.
I was back in the widget factory. I was giving a tour, I guess, I was describing each department and machine. The whole thing was from a weird point of view, like a documentary shot from slightly above. We could look down at an angle at the machines, not a top view, but I was not at ground level either.
I described the screw machines, how they were set up, secondary, the CNCs, heat treat and the various grinding operations. I described in detail the complicated assembly process. The time was in the early days of my employment at the plant, when it ran in batch mode, lots of waste and useless movement of materials. Work-in-process inventories cluttered the floor space. In my dream I described in detail the antiquated semi-hand assembly process.
It was all very strange. It is very weird in that for a good while it was my job to transform that plant into a smooth, quick-reacting just-in-time factory. The tour was in the pre-changeover days, and I made special emphasis on the waste and poor manufacturing flow.
I could hear the machinery, smell the oils and coolants, feel the plant (this makes sense to anyone who has worked in heavy manufacturing). It is strange how memories from fifteen or twenty years ago can be so vibrant.
I am not sure what spurred these long buried memories. Perhaps it was a discussion with a customer earlier this week if manufacturing will ever come back on shore. We still make more "stuff" than any country on earth, but so many of the components we need to manufacture and assemble cars and machinery are all sourced overseas in this global economy. So much expertise is gone; the old guys who fabricated the tooling, who faced every problem and had the answer buried in their work experience.
This morning I pulled out a stack of business cards, encircled with a thick rubber band. It is several inches thick. Each card represents a customer, a contact, a company from my past. All no longer active. The name on the card represents a company closed, a contact retired, let go, outsourced.
i know the answer, most of those industries and plants are not ever coming back to power the employment of the rust belt. Too many operated like the plant in my dream. Too many were destroyed by the unions, by high taxes, by costly energy. For too many years the big corporations failed to reinvest in their manufacturing until it was cheaper to close than upgrade the plants. Cheap labor from Asia and Mexico were a more attractive offer. I guess I will have to be content to visit those plants in my dreams.