Over the last couple days I’ve come across some examples of offshore manufacturing problems that really make me wonder if it’s worth it. To be fair they aren’t by any stretch indicative of the vast majority of factories. But something to think about.
For starters, here’s a story from today’s Fox News website:
A North Korean factory chief accused of making international phone calls was executed by a firing squad in a stadium before 150,000 spectators, a South Korean aid group reported. In October, the North executed the head of a factory in South Pyongan province for making international calls on 13 phones he installed in a factory basement, the aid group said. Six people were crushed to death and 34 others injured in an apparent stampede as they left the stadium, the aid group said.
That will teach his comrades about the danger of making calls to inquire about offshore outsourcing.
Earlier this week Alex from the UK pointed me to a New York Times photo essay on how New York City’s manhole covers are manufactured in India. The photos are enough to make any manufacturing person cringe in fear and any OSHA inspector spontaneously combust, and the accompanying story is almost equally descriptive.
Eight thousand miles from Manhattan, barefoot, shirtless, whip-thin men rippled with muscle were forging prosaic pieces of the urban jigsaw puzzle: manhole covers. The scene was as spectacular as it was anachronistic: flames, sweat and liquid iron mixing in the smoke like something from the Middle Ages.
And of course I have to wonder if it’s really cheaper to ship hundreds of tons of cast steel from India to New York instead of giving some of NYC"s finest homeless folks a living wage to perform the relatively unskilled job locally. Unfortunately New York doesn’t have much of a choice.
New York City gets most of its sewer manhole covers from India. Mark Daly, director of communications for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, said that state law requires the city to buy the lowest-priced products available that fit its specifications. Mr. Daly said the law forbids the city from excluding companies based on where a product is manufactured.
When supposedly sophisticated Fortune 20 companies can’t figure out the vagarities of "total landed cost," especially taking into account subjective variables like human safety, ethics, and risk, how can government bureaucracies be expected to get it right?
Which reminded me of a YouTube video I found a year or so ago which is making the email rounds for the third or fourth time. In it you’ll see a sheet metal press at a Chinese factory, where the operators sit INSIDE the press. It opens, the operators remove the pressed steel, and then they hunch up just in time for the press to close… hopefully making sure they are within the confines of the human-sized cavities designed into the tool.
Just for grins, forward that on to your factory safety officer as an example of a new project you’d like to try!
I’m always a little skeptical about stories like the one from North Korea. It reminds me of the story Dr. Deming used to spread about the five Chinese refrigerator factory managers who were supposedly summarily executed for poor quality. That turned out to be nothing more than a story. As for the manhole covers, those gentlemen in India are working hard and making a living through sweat and talent. How many homeless have you seen who looked like they were willing to put down the bottle or the needle and work like that? And yes, the Indian factory is primitive and unsafe by OSHA standards, but it is not the same thing as the Chinese press.