“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

Two more industrial business-to-business magazines have bitten the dust. Penton Media’s venerable American Machinist and Welding Design & Fabrication have ceased print publication. For me, both were within that six-degrees-of-separation.

My first editor-in-chief gig was as head honcho of Gases & Welding Distributor, a sister publication of Welding Design & Fabrication. In fact, the WDF’s editor – Brad Kuvin at the time [now editor of MetalForming magazine at Precision Metalforming Association] – had the office next to mine. We even shared some staff.

In some restructuring at Penton, American Machinist moved into our publishing group. It was the big dog on the block: rarely less than a half-inch thick, the rest of the books – that’s publishing jargon for magazines – in the Industrial Group were less than dust beneath its feet. Since GWD was a small bimonthly book, it was a rare day when the editor back then had a good word – or any word, for that matter – with what he considered a pee-wee book such as GWD.

My other connection with AM came when I edited Modern Applications News. AM was one of our direct competitors, though you couldn’t tell from MAN’s name. I had just come from being a tech writer in the IT department of a large bank where computer programs were called “applications.” For me, a magazine called Modern Applications News, should have been about programs. Maybe that’s one reason it was never much of a leader in the field, despite it’s 42-year history.

All things considered, the demise of AM, WDF, and MAN bring up the issue of where people in the industry are getting their news?

Blowing Sunshine Up Readers’ Exhaust Ports
Let’s face facts, there is more than a close relationship between manufacturers and B2B magazines. While I tried to maintain something of a firewall between editorial and advertising, it wasn’t unknown for some books to be predisposed to working more closely with advertisers than I was comfortable with.

But, we all tried to maintain the idea we were independent of undue business influence. Now, however, with print publications disappearing, who will be taking an unbiased view of information coming from manufacturers?

Company in-house magazines, while slick and professionally produced give the impression of an unbiased presentation of facts, they are, in fact the mouthpieces of the company. That’s not a criticism. They wouldn’t last very long biting the hand that feeds them.

That leaves the reader in an uncomfortable, but probably unaware position, of not fully trusting what’s being printed. Not that such publications would lie, but I’m sure they would paint the rosiest picture possible of their products.

E Pluribus Stupid
Many of the websites about machining get most of their content from reader forums. I’ll be charitable and state that most of the participants are less than genius level. Is it really prudent to take advice from people who don’t know how to use the shift key, use multiple exclamation points, lack spelling proficiency, and insert emoticons? The intelligence of a crowd is inversely proportional to its size.

“Bring Out Your Dead!”
So, where does that leave things. I dunno. If I did, I’d have cashed in on it long ago. All I can predict is that newspapers and B2B magazines are on the skids, or as Grandpa Simpson said [and I’m paraphrasing]: “You’re in the newspaper business? Ho-ho! Something that’s going to die before I do!”

It’s Not a Star Trek Replicator, but It’s Getting Close

Back in 1980, an adventure novel – The Probability Broach –by L. Neil Smith was published that used the plot device of alternate universes. A police detective gets kicked into a parallel reality. A bit of evidence of his coming from a different timeline was a handgun he carried.

Analysis showed that the gun was carved and tooled from larger pieces of metal. In other words, machined. How did that differ from the weapons carried by the alternative detective? In that universe, objects were created by molecular deposition.

Okay, that all sounds interesting, but what’s that got to do with machining and metalworking. Well, it seems like we’re on the verge of building parts from scratch rather than machining them.

Various technologies over the past 20 years or so have promised prototypes built a layer at a time. First there was stereolithography and more recently we’ve seen 3D printing. Somewhere in the cluttere top of my desk is an adjustable cresent plastic wrench made using a 3D printer. They’ve gone from machines costing $100,000+ and the size of a big refrigerator to something that fits on a desktop. A big desktop, but a desktop.

But, what good is a plastic wrench except for prototyping for dimensioning? Not too much, but that’s changing.

A Fundamental Aeronautics Program team led by Karen Taminger, at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, has created a manufacturing process and prototype system for Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication, EBF3.

It uses an electron beam to melt layers of material and apply them to build a part a layer at a time using a CAD drawing as a template.

One of the advantages of this process is the ability to incorporate dissimilar materials into a part during construction. For instance, fiber-optic sensors can be built into a metallic part while it is being built.

The process holds enough promise that major aircraft manufacturers are funding part of the research.

One of the advantages this process offers is less scrap. For instance, instead of machining a 600 lb piece of titanium into a 200 lb finished part, EBF3 technology holds the promise of creating a part from near final stock.

Another advantage of EBF3 is the prospect of a machine to create universal parts. This is of interest to the space program with the eventual goal of having a system to create large or replacement parts in space without the need or heavy machine tools.

Industrial Production Slows in October

Following several consecutive months of promising growth, manufacturing production began to slow in October, signaling a recovery in the industrial sector that will likely be slower and more fragile than many expected.

Despite lagging employment numbers, the nation’s industrial sector has had rising output, profitability, growth in new orders, and improved productivity. However, new reports indicate that the recovery lost some of its momentum in October, raising concerns over the strength of the industrial upswing.

After averaging 0.9 percent growth each month for the previous three months, industrial production in the U.S. slowed to 0.1 percent growth in October, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve this week. As reported by the Fed, total industrial production last month was down 7.1 percent from its year-ago level, and while capacity utilization rose by 0.2 percent to reach 70.7 percent in October, the rate was still 10.2 percent below the average for 1972 through 2008.

The Fed report also found that manufacturing output declined by 0.1 percent in October after making promising gains of 0.8 percent in September, 1.4 percent in August and 1.2 percent in July, which marked the end of the last cycle of decline. The October factory operating rate remained at 67.6 percent, unchanged from the previous month.

The Fed’s index for durable consumer goods last month fell by 1.4 percent, including a 2 percent drop in output for automotive products, while non-durable goods gained 0.3 percent in October. Mining output declined by 0.2 percent, also following three consecutive months of growth, but utilities output rose by 1.6 percent.

Although production for the industrial sector as a whole grew, the growth was partly due to increased output from utilities offsetting the first decline in factory production since June. The two percent drop in automotive production was motivated by tapering demand following the end of the “cash for clunkers” program in August, Agence France-Presse reports.

Manufacturing output is scaling back across a wide range of markets, with many key product categories under pressure as economic stimulus effects begin to wear off. “Production cutbacks were logged last month not only for cars, but also for appliances, furniture and carpeting, clothing, computer and electronic products, paper products, petroleum and coal products, fabricated metal products and other things,” according to the Associated Press.

Incentives for vehicle purchasing boosted the durable goods product group, which includes home appliances and furniture, but as of October, the market for these items has declined by 15.53 percent over the previous year and is currently at its lowest level in nearly 30 years, economics blog Seeking Alpha reports.

In its newly released Quarterly Economic Forecast, the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI says manufacturing production is expected to decline by 11.3 percent through 2009. Despite this downturn, manufacturing output is predicted to rebound next year, growing by 4.6 percent in 2010 — faster than the general U.S. economy, which is forecast to expand at 2.4 percent. Much of the new growth is expected to be driven by inventory adjustments, high-tech products, semiconductors and computers.

The report also forecasts industrial equipment expenditures to decline by 22.7 percent for the year, with spending to recover and post a 3.5 percent gain in 2010 and an additional 22.6 percent in 2011.

“There’s no reason to panic,” Paul Ashworth, senior economist at macroeconomic research firm Capital Economics, told the Washington Post. “But, it is a timely reminder that it’s not going to be a strong recovery, even in the industrial sector. It is a bit worrying to see that softness so early in the recovery.”

ADP Says U.S. Companies Cut Estimated 169,000 Jobs

Companies in the U.S. cut more jobs than forecast in November, indicating the labor market will be slow to mend as the economy strengthens, a private report based on payroll data showed.

An estimated 169,000 jobs were eliminated last month, the fewest since July 2008, according to data from Roseland, New Jersey-based ADP Employer Services today. The figures were forecast to show a decline of 150,000 jobs, according to the median estimate of 32 economists in a Bloomberg survey.

The report signals the job market is still deteriorating and unemployment will probably keep rising even as the economy is emerging from the worst recession since the 1930s. Some economists use the ADP survey in formulating forecasts for the monthly payroll report due from the Labor Department in two days, which may show the pace of job losses slowed.

“We’re going to see job losses extend well into 2010,” Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Economy.com in West Chester, PA, said. He forecast a loss of 178,000 jobs. “The labor market is crawling toward stabilization. We need the labor market to improve to generate the wage income necessary to support spending.”

Overestimating Losses
After overestimating payroll losses by 103,000 on average in the five months to September, ADP’s initial estimate for October was in line with the government’s payroll figures.

ADP includes only private employment and doesn’t take into account hiring by government agencies. Macroeconomic Advisers LLC in St. Louis produces the report jointly with ADP.

A Dec. 4 report from the Labor Department is forecast to show the unemployment rate held at a 26-year high of 10.2 percent in November, while employers cut 123,000 jobs, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. The economy lost 190,000 jobs in October.

Economists at Credit Suisse in New York changed their forecast for November payrolls to a 50,000 drop following the ADP report from a previous estimate of no change.

Another report today showed employers last month announced the fewest number of job cuts since the recession began two years as the economic recovery encouraged companies to retain workers. Planned firings fell 72 percent in November to 50,349 from 181,671 during the same month last year, Chicago-based placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. said.

Start of Recession
The economy has lost 7.3 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007, the most of any economic slump since the Great Depression.

The ADP report showed a decrease of 88,000 workers in goods-producing industries including manufacturers and construction companies. Service providers cut 81,000 workers.

Employment in construction fell by 44,000, the 34th straight monthly drop, while financial firms decreased jobs by 17,000, ADP said, the 24th consecutive decline for the industry.

Companies employing more than 499 workers shrank their workforce by 44,000 jobs. Medium-sized businesses, with 50 to 499 employees, eliminated 57,000 jobs and small companies decreased payrolls by 68,000, ADP said.

AOL, the Internet unit being spun off from Time Warner Inc., said Nov. 19 it plans to cut about one-third of its workforce over the next several months. The company employs about 6,900 people, spokeswoman Tricia Primrose said.

The ADP report is based on data from 400,000 businesses with about 23 million workers on payrolls. ADP began keeping records in January 2001 and started publishing its numbers in 2006.

September Manufacturing Technology Consumption Up 17.8 Percent

September U.S. manufacturing technology consumption totaled $153.55 million, according to the American Machine Tool Distributors’ Association – AMTDA – and The Association For Manufacturing Technology – AMT. This total, as reported by companies participating in the United States Manufacturing Technology Consumption – USMTC – program, was up 17.8 percent from August but down 69.3 percent from the total of $500.57 million reported for September 2008. With a year-to-date total of $1.2 billion, 2009 is down 67.8 percent compared with 2008.

These numbers and all data in this report are based on the totals of actual data reported by companies participating in the USMTC program.

“The slight improvement in September orders indicates that we are in synch with the increases seen in the other monthly indicators such as durable goods sales, the PMI, and steel production,” Peter Borden, AMTDA president, said. “The factory capacity utilization number still remains in the 65-70 percent range, however, and until this number returns to 75-80 percent, our rate of growth will be slow and sporadic.”

The USMTC report, jointly compiled by the two trade associations representing the production and distribution of manufacturing technology, provides regional and national U.S. consumption data of domestic and imported machine tools and related equipment. Analysis of manufacturing technology consumption provides a reliable leading economic indicator as manufacturing industries invest in capital metalworking equipment to increase capacity and improve productivity.

U.S. manufacturing technology consumption is also reported on a regional basis for five geographic breakdowns of the United States.

Northeast Region
With a total of $36.57 million, Northeast Region manufacturing technology consumption in September was 50.8 percent higher than August’s $24.25 million but down 54.1 percent when compared with September a year ago. The year-to-date total of $237.2 million was 56 percent less than the comparable figure in 2008.

Southern Region
At $13.50 million, September manufacturing technology consumption in the Southern Region was down 42.8 percent compared with August’s $23.61 million and down 83.7 percent when compared with September a year ago. The $165.84 million year-to-date total was 71 percent less than the 2008 total at the same time.

Midwest Region
Midwest Region manufacturing technology consumption in September rose to $45.51 million, 33.8 percent higher than August’s $34.01 million but down 69.3 percent when compared with September 2008. With a year-to-date total of $334.88 million, 2009 was down 73 percent when compared with 2008 at the same time.

Central Region
September manufacturing technology consumption in the Central Region totaled $33.98 million, 8.5 percent more than the $31.33 million tally for August but off 75.7 percent when compared with September a year ago. The $293.57 million year-to-date total was down 68.7 percent when compared with the same period in 2008.

Western Region
Totaling $23.99 million, Western Region manufacturing technology consumption in September was up 39.7 percent from August’s $17.17 million but 51.8 percent below the September 2008 total. At $168.43 million, 2009 year-to-date was off 61.4 percent when compared with last year at the same time.