Component Connection

Can We Still Make Good Stuff In America …. And Sell It?

Back around the front end of March this year, ABC World News ran a segment hosted by Diane Sawyer called MADE IN AMERICA: Where Do Your Goods Come From? Essentially, Ms. Sawyer took a crew into an American family’s home, removed all goods and products made anywhere other than the US, and tried to replace said goods with items made only in America. Of course, the goal was to see how much more the US goods would cost versus the imported, better put, outsourced goods they were replacing.

A no brainer, all items were somewhat easily replaced with American-made items except … you guessed it … the electronics, i.e., TV, audio system, etc. Interestingly, the electric coffee maker posed a particularly difficult challenge. Apparently Uncle Sam does not make an electric coffee system, as per the crew’s findings. However an analog, Clint Eastwood approved campfire/stovetop percolator was an easy find in a local antique shop.

Since around the mid 1960s, most consumer electronics began coming into the US from, Japan. By the 1970s televisions, VCRs, audio equipment, and some appliances were the staple of Japanese companies like Sony, Hitachi, Panasonic, Sanyo, etc. These imported products for the most part operated properly and reliably for a fair amount of time if not abused and were repairable when they did breakdown. They were less expensive than American-made electronics, but you could not really compare an audio amplifier made in Japan to one made in America because they were in different classes, consumer and audiophile/high-end, respectively.

Over time, electronics manufacturing also moved into other areas of the world: Taiwan, Korea, China, and even Russia. Of course, the name of the game here is only economics. Wherever labor is cheap, that’s where the OEM will outsource to. Essentially, quality does not enter the equation nor does it have to.

So the mantra on the street is, don’t expect to find anything electronic made in America anymore. Is it really true? Not according to rumblings coming from certain financial analysts and reporters who shall remain nameless here. These folks are predicting a major shift from manufacturing overseas to US shores.

Hey, anything is possible and there are a few examples in the world of components pointing to what may be a “trend” (fad?). First, light-emitting capacitor maker CeeLite Technologies is now producing its formerly manufactured in Taiwan wares in Colmar, Pennsylvania. According to the company, the advantages of low foreign labor costs do not stack up in their marketplace. As per Dr. Roger Nowell, CEO of CeeLite Technologies, “We found it both difficult and ultimately more expensive to safeguard quality overseas. Reliable and timely delivery of product was often an issue as well, now we can control the entire process completely which results in a better product with short lead times and ultimately increased customer satisfaction.”

Hopefully a good sign, the company foresees this move bringing over 100 jobs to the Colmar facility. How much those jobs will pay and how long they exist may be up for debate.

Another example is Foster Tranformer’s recent claim that its “Cincinnati, Ohio facility designs and manufactures transformers that comply with "Made in the USA" stipulations contained within the Federal Stimulus Bill and Buy America Act.”  The company also claims that manufacturing locally also allows it to customize products to meet specific requirements, i.e., wire leads, connectors, voltage in or out, etc.

So essentially, Foster’s incentive is that keeping manufacturing here makes it easier for the company to service customers. The company makes no other claims or predictions at this time.

Okay, so for starts we have parts, we’re brewing components. So what do you think, can we build some good stuff with those parts in the US? Can America compete once again in the electronics manufacturing arena? Will quality and reliability standards reach the envisioned levels of the old timers who would wince when they saw a “Made in Japan” label? Can America actually sell anything other than beer, advertising, and “unique” investments? Beats me, how about you?

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