Think positive thoughts

All eyes are on Fabtech to provide a gauge for the state of the industry

Hey, the recession is over. Heard about it late this summer when the government's advisory board trumpeted the good news. In fact they say it was over 18 months ago. Gee, that slipped by without my noticing it. Of course the fact that they told us we were in a recession months after it started sort of makes one wonder if they are working with a different calendar than the rest of us.

So why is there so much continuing pain out in the manufacturing world. Wake up guys, the recession ended last year. Just what is your problem—lack of orders, cut backs in customers' buying plans through this year, postponed or even canceled major projects, capital spending budgets that haven't increased since the 2001 cuts, and manufacturing unemployment at a record high? Come on people, smell the roses. All is well again.

Funny I haven't seen many of you leading cheers for the economy lately. You should be more optimistic. I heard a sound bite from the President's Labor Day speech and, believe it or not, he mentioned manufacturing problems and "do something about it" in the same sentence. Was that the sound of voting machines in the background?

I can hardly wait to get to Fabtech in Chicago next month so I can hear the good news from those foresighted exhibitors who must have had an inside tip about the end of the recession when they reserved floor space last year. As this was written, in early September, machine tools sales for July were up a fraction over the same period in 2002. More good news that the Fabtech exhibitors must have anticipated.

My wife says that as I grow older I am getting more pessimistic. Got to be true, optimism seems to fade after you turn 40. But I work hard at being more positive so I welcome the end-of-recession news and the item in the papers about the GDP growing at 3.1 percent in the April–June quarter, which helped to sweeten my morning coffee. And I just heard on my car radio that consumer spending was up 8 percent, the highest rate since March.

We're told the U.S. economy is rolling forward and that there is no reason the country won't have strong economic growth through the end of the year. This comment came from the same people who gave us the end-of-recession news. Productivity does continue to increase, and that's good for our side because laser-cutting systems today are so automated that they run unattended. Expect to see more automation offerings at Fabtech.

At a recent plant visit, the company CEO trotted out that quadrennial refrain about increased spending in an election year. Frankly, other than government pork projects the only increased spending I see is by the political candidates.

In case you sense sarcasm in these words let me reassure you that I will be delighted to report that Fabtech was the precursor to the return to health of the industrial laser cutting business in the U.S. We'll trumpet it on our Website the day we return from Chicago.

Laser systems for sheet metal cutting represent about 1/3 of the total world market for industrial laser systems. And sales of laser sheet metal cutters in the U.S. are, in good times, about 1/3 of that total. Right now the total cutting systems market is down a bit but the segmentation remains about the same.

A few months ago an industry publication printed a sobering article about the business of lasers this summer. Taking umbrage with the author's apparent negativism I was ready to dash off a rebuttal letter to the editor. A 24-hour cool down tempered my feelings, because the author's conclusion that automation and software advances will streamline manufacturing processes is what Fabtech system exhibitors will be featuring. If economy and technology cards are now falling in place it looks like the good times may be on the way.

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