Manufacturing is real. It can be really cool, too. Those are some of the messages that come across from reality TV programs showing how custom motorcycles, battling robots or other inventive contraptions are made. It's not quite the world of manufacturing that we know, but the message is one our industry has worked hard to convey, especially to young people.
My son has been watching the folks in Orange County who build motorcycles, and he is fascinated with the production challenges the builders create for themselves. The family squabbles that arise along the way entertain him, too. I was beaming when I saw a Bridgeport mill and a waterjet machine in operation during one episode. I hope my enthusiastic explanations of what these machines were doing didn't detract from the coolness factor David was obviously focused on. Perhaps other teens share this fascination with the process of turning a design inspiration into iron, steel and chromed metal. This could be the spark that lights a genuine interest in pursuing a manufacturing career.
If producers are looking for other concepts in reality TV, I suggest they find a successful job shop engaged in some high-tech machining. This idea occurred to me a few months ago while visiting a shop to gather material for an article. My visit lasted only a few hours, but in that time, several "mini-crises" came up. In each case, some quick thinking solved the problem, but the tense moments on the shop floor were real.
Opportunities to dramatize some personal relationships were present as well. The operation manager was the shop owner's daughter. She had long since proven her management savvy and toughness, but some of the lingering struggles and gender issues could be conjured up for the sake of the camera's eye.
The shop had a variety of multi-function machine tools producing the kind of intricate workpieces likely to capture the popular imagination. These included experimental medical implants and satellite components. The action inside the machines was visually appealing, too. Synchronized spindles, subspindles and tool turrets were performing a mechanical choreography of speed, precision and grace—the dance of creation.
I'd turn on the tube for such a program every week. Who knows how large an audience might also tune in and get turned on to the real world of manufacturing. It could help recruit some young talent to the industry, and it would create respect for the talent already at work turning great new ideas into reality.