Sunday, April 5, 2009

Forged in the USA

Little's law, Jackson's theorem, and JIT are concepts that we associate with computer performance analysis and capacity planning for IT systems. But the truth is, these ideas were forged while solving business and manufacturing problems. It's also true to say that both IT and manufacturing in the USA have suffered dramatically from the effects of rapid offshoring in the new global economy. In the past decade, 5 million manufacturing jobs have been eliminated in the USA.

Walmart is one of the few USA retailers that has managed to do reasonably well in this economic recession, because they (patriotically?) cut USA manufacturers loose in favor of setting up factories offshore; mostly in China. Indeed, if you look at the tags on the items in a Walmart store, you won't see Made in Anywhere USA. Instead, it's anywhere but USA. Or so it would seem.

This piece: Despite Job Loss, U.S. Manufacturing Still Leads , on NPR this morning, caught my attention when it was pointed out that the USA still ranks as the number one manufacturer, producing some 20% of all goods in the world, ahead of Japan and well ahead of China. The reason this appears to contradict simple observation (like looking at Walmart tags) is that manufacturing in the USA is two levels of indirection away. The USA manufactures things that manufacture things. In other words, USA companies make heavy equipment and machines that are used in factories and on assembly lines that make the goods we buy, and that's not stated on those Walmart tags. But that's where Little, Jackson and JIT came in.

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