Yet More Opportunity for American Manufacturing

This post is about component parts. In each of the items we use every day, there are hundreds of small parts which, when assembled, make up subassemblies, which, when combined, create the appliances and machines which are the conveniences of our lives.

I was reminded about my search for dishwashers recently. You who know me somehow manage to find patience with my extensive research; which sometimes borders on the obsessive-compulsive. I live and breathe the research until I have come to a practical level of understanding.

And one thing I found whilst looking into dishwashers: No one is making component parts like electric motors or waterproof shaft seals in the US. (Motors, we’re close – GE is making them in Mexico. And get ready: Mexico is going to be a real nexus of quality manufacturing, mark my words.)

So what does that mean, anyway? One of the critical subcomponents for a dishwasher is the pump shaft seal at the bottom of the unit. This seal is the one that sits at the bottom of the tub, and it has to last for years with water, dishwasher detergent (which is corrosive), leftover food particulates (which are penetrants), all sitting up against it and attacking it. Many units have the pump and motor built as a unit of two subassemblies, with the motor just under the pump. So when the seal fails, the pump comes next, and then the motor. Presto, a $400 repair job on a $350 dishwasher.

And guess where the seals are made. China. Sometimes you can get luckier and they’re made in India. The first supplier has little, if any, quality control – or QC only when the client is looking. At the same time, their suppliers are suspect. Who knows (or cares) if the compounds that make up the seals were adulterated in the name of making a few extra bucks? The second supplier has some quality control, assuming that it was specified to exist in the first Ā place.

Control boards are another thing. When a control board is manufactured in China, there is no guarantee of quality suppliers for the subcomponents; meaning the switches, capacitors, resistors, and even the solder used to assemble the board. The board is usually run through an initial ‘verification’ test where it’s plugged into a test fixture and somebody hits all the switches to make sure they work. Anything that passes, ships.

Just to show the width of my brush, there are a few verified electronics assembly houses in China (Foxconn is by far the largest and used by Apple). QC is good there, but yet the working conditions…

Told you the research was OCD.

Subcomponent quality is the NUMBER ONE ingredient in the overall longevity (and consequent customer satisfaction) with the end product. All it takes is for everybody who touches it to CARE about what they’re doing, and hey, you have something that’s maybe not world-beating for looks and features but darnit if it doesn’t last nearly forever.

Huh, doesn’t the above sound like what you’d normally think of when you think of ‘Made in USA’?

So we CAN do stuff like pump seals: we have access to the raw materials, we already have a database of what will sell, we have systems and people standing idle; all waiting for something to do.

All we need is investors to stop pouring money down the rat-hole of useless PACs and instead do something of conscience: back visionaries in putting Americans back to work.


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