There's a lot of focus these days on manufacturing and the ability to compete on a global basis. The core issue is that given the cost of labor, companies have been moving manufacturing processes to countries where the cost of labor is less. But if you reduce the amount of labor involved in producing and managing any particular good, the incentive to move that process gets sharply reduced, especially in a world where the cost of transporting goods is increasing thanks to the steady rise in the price of oil.
This equation creates an interesting opportunity to apply IT to manufacturing processes in a way that not only makes them more efficient, but also makes it more likely that the process itself can be efficiently managed as close to the local market where that good is consumed.
That's the thinking that went into the development of a Work Process Management solution, a set of new process automation tools developed by GE Intelligent Platforms. According to Matt Wells, general manager for work process management at GE Intelligent Platforms, the basic idea is to first graphically capture how different processes actually work, and then use the tool to identify ways to automate very aspects of that process. Ultimately, he says the goal should be to eliminate as many routine processes as possible, thereby freeing up staff to concentrate on more high-value processes
Wells also argues that higher levels of automation also lead to higher-quality products because there is less opportunity to inject human error into the process. In effect, what GE is trying to do, says Wells, is apply many of the business process management (BPM) concepts that were first pioneered in the back office to the manufacturing shop floor.
Obviously, automation doesn't increase the number of manufacturing jobs. But it does make it easier to scale those processes in ways that make it a whole lot less economically attractive to move a particular process halfway around the globe. That in itself will save some percentage of those manufacturing jobs, not because it's the patriotic thing to do, but rather because it's the most economically sound thing to do.