Wednesday, July 04, 2007


"Nearly a fifth of goods made and sold in China have been found to be sub-standard, Beijing has revealed... The inspections did not cover exported products that have caused a number of scandals this year, particularly in the US." (BBC News).

Of course, 20 years ago, the future of manufacturing was all about Quality - with Japanese working practices held up as the model: well-skilled, highly motivated, flexible workers; automation; quality control and quality assurance. The idea being that you reduce costs by reducing your manpower requirement and making your processes more efficient and less wasteful.

Then they discovered China (and to a lesser extent India) with unlimited supplies of low-cost workers. This rather changes the balance of the cost equation.

One of the factors driving the technological innovations of the past 250 years has been the relative shortage and high cost of manpower in the West - particularly in America.

Will automation and robotics stop developing if it's cheaper to get a large number of low-cost, unskilled workers to do the job by hand?

Why dig a hole with expensive earth-moving equipment if it's cheaper to get 10,000 men to the job with spoons?