Canadian Manufacturing

SME rallying cry: take back manufacturing

Society of Manufacturing Engineers' Toronto chapter has a new campaign on the go to bring manufacturing jobs back from China. SME reps were spreading the word at CMTS.



Toronto—Hell no, manufacturing won’t go, at least if the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) has anything to say about it.

The association’s Toronto chapter has launched an aggressive campaign called Take Back Manufacturing, and is spreading the word this week at CMTS (Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show) in Toronto.

The campaign, dubbed TBM, has 25 technical associations and three trade associations on board, along with representatives from education, government, media and business. The goal is to bring offshore manufacturing back to North America, before it’s too late.

“Right now we’ve still got the means, the opportunity and the motive to make this happen,” said Marie Laird, chair of the Toronto chapter of SME, in a presentation at CMTS. “But we’ve begun a perilous slide.”

According to Statistics Canada, 322,000 manufacturing jobs disappeared from the Canadian economy between 2004 and 2008—and that was before the recession.

Even hockey sticks

Canada has allowed too many manufacturing jobs to shift to China and other developing countries, said Laird’s co-presenter, Nigel Southway, SME operations lead. Even iconic products, like hockey sticks, are made in China.

“Now we’ve got kids thinking that we can’t make hockey sticks,” Southway said.

With the frenzied rush to China over the past years, he suspects companies have lost sight of the hidden costs.

It might make economic sense to offshore products with a labour cost input of 70% and higher, but below that threshold, fuel costs and the longer supply chain eat away at profit margins.

“Offshore can be more expensive than doing it right here,” he said, adding he’d like to see more “balanced sourcing,” or a better mix of offshore and domestic sourcing based on true costs.

According to Laird and Southway, we’re paying a high price—both economic and through our declining quality of life—to support a supply chain that verges on ridiculous.

Canada ships raw resources to China, where they’re manufactured into products and shipped to the US.
From start to finish, the raw materials and finished products travel thousands of kilometers and six weeks each way—costing millions in shipping and environmental impact. Canada should add value to its natural resources by making the products here and shipping to the US directly, they assert.

“Why don’t we just export something other than our resources?” Laird said.

They also pointed out the need to be prepared if and when the jobs return. The last thing manufacturers need is to win back orders, only to discover they lack the skilled workforce to complete them.

TBM has a skills development component, aimed at promoting new entrants to the field through four career stages: trade, technician, technologist and engineer.

Laird and Southway urged manufacturers to learn more and sign on to TBM.

More coverage from CMTS: Check out videos from the show floor

Manufacturing fixes from Kevin O’Leary

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