Remember when the business of General Motors was the business of the United States? (paraphrase of Dwight Eisenhower cabinet member Charles Wilson) The building of the Interstate highway system was a boon to the automotive and trucking industries, while the railways were left to flounder on their own.

Now, a President of the United States can openly tout rapid rail transportation. GM needed a bailout. Toyota–bastion of good manufacturing practices–now faces a massive, and belated, recall. Tesla, the revolutionary electric powered roadster, will be out of production for two years due to loss of its borrowed body manufacturing line.

Remember when almost all automotive plants were huge? Assembly plants still are, but component manufacturing has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. Much of this had great effect upon automation companies. They often need less automation to accomplish the same tasks. No wonder all the automation systems suppliers have been chasing packaging machine OEMs. Now that market is maturing, and they are all looking for new horizons. There’s been considerable consolidation in the discrete automation market. Expect more to come, I think.

Next week I’m heading to Orlando for the 13th time to attend the ARC Advisory Group Forum. Years ago it was a great place to find out what manufacturers were up to. Then somewhere around 2004, the forum’s presentations turned into marketing talks. ARC’s clients/sponsors were allowed to present if they brought an end user/customer to also present. Some CEOs took most of the alloted time for marketing spiels. Hundreds of supplier marketing people flocked to the event to reach the hundred or less potential buyers in attendance.

This year’s preliminary numbers show about a 1:3 ration of end users to suppliers. About the norm for the past few years. This is still an industry meet and greet opportunity–but mostly among suppliers and suppliers to press. This is one of the few venues where industry marketing people can get in front of the press to make pitches. This year ARC has scheduled 14 sessions for press conference opportunities for its sponsors. Unfortunately (I suppose), I had already made plans for breakfast meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday. So when the information came that there would be breakfast press conferences in addition to the 11 scheduled on Monday afternoon, it was too late. I wasn’t going to try to reschedule.

I also notice that thre are two people from GM preregistered. There are a few from Boeing (probably mostly for the OMAC meetings) and a few packaging machinery OEMs in for a panel on packaging. I didn’t see any other discrete manufacturing people. This must be a sign of some sort.

Looks like big changes in the US manufacturing scene reflected in changes at ARC.

If you are going to Orlando, let me know. Right now I don’t have dinner plans on Tuesday evening. Maybe we can put together an automation gathering.

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