I look at global manufacturing, including labor (I consider engineers laborers) and their education, supply lines, raw materials, national boundaries, the economics and attendant politics as a big, sometimes loosely, sometimes tightly, coupled elements, etc as a big machine, a system.
Many believe that machine is stuttering, maybe there are bottlenecks, wrong balance of serial vs parallel, too tight coupling or too loose, not enough duplication of resources, maybe too much, misallocation, stalling of pipelines etc.
We should look at this as a system.
As I've already opined on here before, China and South Korea will go through the same evolution as the rest of us. As the standard of living goes up, so do the wages. And then down goes the competitiveness for low-cost manufacturing. China is already exploring building plants in Cambodia and Vietnam. As reported by EE Times.
This is a continuation of the Industrial Revolution. Labor moved from the fields to the factories. Then from building hardware to building software. Then from selling physical stuff to selling IP.
No one is immune. Companies and entire countries have to keep reinventing themselves.
Of course, but since we don't identify ourselves solely as an employee of this one company, it becomes OUR responsibility to keep ourselves relevant and marketable. And to make ourselves known to the community in which we operate.
In short, it becomes the individual engineer's job NOT to become identified as a drone working for just one company. You don't expect to be spoonfed, and you keep yourself educated and up to date.
Do you think China, S Korea and others are immune from crisis? Certainly much of Europe, including Germany, is feeling a stagnation in world trade.
From a world perspective, Japan becoming very competitive is a problem. It would heat up the competition for markets.
As Chip says elsewhere automation puts workers out of work but says says selling of products produced at higher efficiency would '... at least ... be more money from exports to retrain them in something else'.
The problem is world trade is stagnating and even shrinking.
As far as who's in control, it's not a question of individuals. Even governments and central banks have been powerless to solve the problem. They're reduced to inflating bubbles.
In that sense most of us are, or have been 'free agents'.
What I'm saying is that none of us are really free. We need to be relevant and marketable and that relevance and marketability are dictated from without.
Actually, I agree with chipmonk's ideas, including the "desperate helplessness" of sticking with a manufacturing model that no longer works, in Japan. (Or in the West, for that matter, so why should anyone over here be surprised?)
As to the "says who" aspect, it's not so much about any one person being "in control." It's more like, if a Japanese company wants to compete with China, Taiwan, and South Korea, on their terms, this is what they have to do.
Pretty obvious, actually. We've had many discussions already about what it would take to get manufacturing back to the US. Automation is certainly one key ingredient.
I'm a retired engineer.
At DEC I was a Principal Engineer responsible for designing a transaction based (mostly queued, out-of order, command) on their XMI Bus. The parent project was 'High-End' 3-D graphics workstation named 'Lynx'.
I was at least partially responsible for the Lynx project's demise. I questioned whether the low level metrics like triangle draw rate justified the product being a 'real time', photo realistic' machine.
I pointed out that drawing any photo realistic image would be so slow that it could never be considered real time.
Replay available now: A handful of emerging network technologies are competing to be the preferred wide-area connection for the Internet of Things. All claim lower costs and power use than cellular but none have wide deployment yet. Listen in as proponents of leading contenders make their case to be the metro or national IoT network of the future. Rick Merritt, EE Times Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, moderators this discussion. Join in and ask his guests questions.