Thursday, June 13, 2013

Digital Signs Need to Know- Is Anything Really ‘Made’ in the USA?

 - Mike Prongue

Can China compete with American manufacturing?  This legitimate question was raised a couple years ago in a Time Magazine article with the same title, by Michael Schuman (STORY) and I invite you to read it.

You may think of American manufacturing as simply rolling up into a “small ball of pity” and getting kicked around some dusty and abandoned factory floor somewhere in Ohio, by a team of aggressive Chinese workers. That is not true. China may be in the lead with total dollars output but that is not so surprising.

Markets are efficient and seek out the least expensive path, the path with the highest utility, to produce goods. Every country, including Japan and South Korea, has ridden the predictable economic life-cycle starting as an “infant” with only cheap labor, making simple products, to a maturing, high-tech, high-value, manufacturing adult. The USA has been a sophisticated manufacturing adult for over 50 years.  We design, engineer, assemble, QC check, evolve and market some of the most complex products and systems known to man. From sophisticated medical devices such as MRI systems, to devastating and futuristic weapons of war, to Boeing’s Dreamliner 787 jet airliner, the USA has the technology and capability that China can only lust after at this point.

The question this post asks is “anything really made in the USA”? The answer is sure- we make natural gas, oil, and iron ores as mining output.  Those items are made entirely in the USA as they have been dug up from American soil. There are also many other items, usually simple items that are totally made in the USA (although we can debate where the steel may have originated).

What about products that are comprised of multiple complex sub-components? What about Dell and HP, and Chrysler and Ford and GM and Apple… all icons of American manufacturing?  Do they “make” American products?

Some people say “yes, of course” while others say “no way”.

How can GM profess to have cars "made in the USA" when so many sub-components are made elsewhere in the world? How about Japan? Are Toyota and Honda American manufacturers too then, since they assemble so many cars here? Last look, Toyota Camry and Ford F-150 shared the top spots in the USA with Honda Accord taking the 3rd spot for cars built in the USA (CARS). Well, are they taking the prize as the top American manufacturing  or not? Does anyone know anymore?

Does anyone care?

Here is what you need to concern yourself with:

  •  American Designed and Engineered Who controls the drafting, design, engineering and quality expectations of the product? This is the most important part of the equation. Many times, an international component is used because there is no better product available. Certain sub-components may already be well-engineered and designed, but can be enhanced further with a beefed-up capacitor or a more sophisticated voltage regulator. This is where the “American designed and engineered” stamp determines the ultimate reliability of the product.
  •   Manufacturing in the USA or controlled by USA quality teams If it’s not actually created  by American hands on American soil then it had better be produced in a foreign factory owned and managed by the American company. If the factory is not owned by the American company then having on-site quality control engineers present during manufacturing runs is essential. You get what you inspect, not what you expect.
  •  Assembled in the USA If the well-engineered, USA designed sub-components are manufactured in a high quality environment, regardless of where the factory is located, integrated with other systems created and made in the USA, then assembled by American workers, this is a win-win. You’ll find that the proud USA airline manufacturer, Boeing, uses over 45 companies to produce its new 787 Dreamliner jet airliner. But it is assembled in the USA!
  • Backed by USA warranty Okay, so now we have a high-quality system, designed to specification, engineered by experts, manufactured to exacting standards (somewhere), delivered to the assembly plant just-in-time, and integrated into the final structure. If it breaks and there is no rock-solid warranty behind it, it does not matter if it was made in front of the Lincoln Memorial or in a rice paddy in Vietnam. Having the surety of a warranty, preferably a 3rd party warranty, one that transcends the manufacturer’s promise is a huge benefit!
  • Supported by USA technicians and qualified  support people Having a product that can be supported by qualified USA technicians with “boots on the ground”; service conversations with qualified people who can support in the English language (and others); comprehensive product documentation that is not optional. Any manufacturer who wants to be taken seriously will have these available to customers.

It is a global business world. Do not be misled into thinking that any LED Sign company has a 100 percent horizontal manufacturing process where iron ore, trees (for paper), electronic components and screws are fed into the back door of the factory and a perfectly assembled LED sign comes rolling out the front. It just "don't work like that!"

Stuff comes from everywhere, made by everyone- doesn’t matter if it’s an LED sign or a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. You just have to do your homework and research the company, talk to their people, see their product in the field, and interview a few customers. 

The truth always comes to light. Just make sure it does BEFORE you invest in an LED sign.

These comments belong to me, Mike Prongue, and do not reflect the views, opinions, hopes or dreams of anyone else, anywhere else and this includes Vantage LED. I appreciate your constructive opinion which may be sent to me at   

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