Monday, May 17, 2010

Up and down like a roller coaster

Just when I was beginning to feel good about global recovery, and at a time when industrial manufacturing news was overwhelmingly positive, comes the new threat of economic collapse in Europe, spawned in Greece and spreading throughout the rest of the world. While I was in Germany two weeks ago, this was all the talk amongst the European manufacturers; they were truly worried that this might be a sign that another economic recession was coming

During the last few years, it seems as though there have been a series of lurchings from one international crisis to another. For example, an expert on the morning network news today informs that the Iceland volcano saga may be just the tip of the iceberg. so to speak, A series of volcanoes may be stimulated by the current one, whose name I can’t pronounce, leading to a decade of ash generation problems, disrupting air traffic to and from Europe.

And I just read that Bender Shipbuilding, a company ILS profiled in 2003-4 was shut down and auctioned off last week. Bender was one of the first shipyards to use a laser for cutting thick plate for ship structures.

The Bender news was part of a Wall Street Journal article, stating that cuts are now common in US manufacturing, where potential capacity in April was just 70.1%, up from last June's 65.1%, but down below historic averages of 80.8%.

Bender’s demise is especially galling as the 91-year-old company built a reputations as an innovative shipbuilder, mostly of the small service boats used in industries such as the off-shore oil business and the Gulf fishing industry. Before the recession, they employed 2000 people and today the company is down to 180; it now remains as Signal Ship Repair and will not be involved in shipbuilding any longer.

I don't know what happened to the laser cutter. Itwasn’t listed as an asset of the company, but I am sure that it will appear somewhere else, maybe not in shipbuilding, but in some other company wanting to cut thick plate with high quality edges.

One bright light from this episode is that the auction brought in about $4 million, more than expected, and the auctioneer said it was a good sign that the recession was over because attendance and bidding was up. Small consolation for the employees of a once proud shipbuilder.

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