Managers and executives of North American foundries and diecasters evaluate current business conditions, and give their perspectives on the factors shaping their sector’s activity in the coming year.
Each year during October, FM&T surveys metalcasters to capture the insights, concerns, and expectations of men and women working in North America’s foundries and diecasting plants. We seek to identify their operations' current situations, the problems they face in their businesses and the economy, to learn what plans they’re making for the coming business cycle, and to understand better their expectations for the year now approaching.
As 2017 closes and 2018 approaches, any reliable evaluation of U.S. industrial and manufacturing economics will portray a positive outlook. But economics is unstable, and unpredictable; business conditions are prone to sudden reversals, a condition that has been made more volatile, not less, by the wider availability of data and the immediate pace of communication in the current age.
This is the reason the Foundry Management & Technology 2018 Metalcasting Outlook undertakes to survey metalcasters on an annual basis – to gauge their perceptions and predictions of the current and developing conditions in their business sector.
But, the greater problem for an individual seeking to understand the effects of such trends is the accelerating influence of high technology at the production levels of manufacturing, and the increasing autonomy of individuals making decisions in these operations.
Knowing that most respondents have indicated some satisfaction with the current activities of their own business, and most also expect some measurable improvement in their results during the coming year, it is surprising to discover that most respondents are affiliated with metalcasting operations that are operating somewhat below the maximum available capacity. Just 3.6% of respondents reported that full-capacity/100% describes the “normal” rate of production at their operation; and just 9.6% indicated a “normal” rate in the 91-100% range. Even 76-90% does not qualify as “normal” for more than 21.7% of respondents. The largest pool of respondents to this question (30.12%) indicated that the normal operating rate at their location ranges from 60-75% of full capacity.
With these insights as background, it’s easier to understand the results of the following question – which asked respondents to gauge the prospects for U.S. economic growth (GDP) during 2018. Less than 20% expect GDP to improve significantly (17.65%) but more than half (54.1%) are anticipating that the overall economy will deliver some notable degree of expansion. The less optimistic views hold diminishing margins in this poll question: 17.65% expect economic conditions to remain “about the same”; 8.2% expect to see some decline; and 2.35% are predicting a dramatic decline in U.S. GDP.
The U.S. economy is proceeding toward its ninth full year of economic growth and expansion, which is a matter of great accomplishment for manufacturers. But, the more difficult challenge to manufacturers, not least to metalcasters, is the disruption caused by advanced technologies at the most basic levels of production — raising standards for precision in process and quality control, accelerating the flow of information into and out from the plant, and making the managers’ decision-making process more and more consequential.
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