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Forethought: The once and future industry

Editorial, News | November 1, 2015 | By:

As a life-long science fiction fan, I tend to think of the past in terms of the future (and vice-versa). So as I have spent the last ten months researching the history of an industry in the archives of this magazine, I kept compiling important events and themes in my head and letting them bubble and seethe on their own. After I returned from IFAI Expo 2015 last week, what bobbed to that murky surface came from Isaac Asimov’s detective-science fiction novel “The Naked Sun,” published in 1957 but written about events two or three millennia in the future.

Detective Elijah Baley, sent to another planet to solve a murder, is asked by Earth’s rulers to tell them about the weaknesses of the “Spacer” worlds. His response: due to their increasingly long lives and dependence upon robots, they have lost the need, and the ability, to cooperate with each other to serve common needs.

In the editorial from the first issue of this magazine (published in the October issue) the editor discusses “our Association and its pioneer work of bringing together in a fraternal spirit every manufacturer engaged in the tent and awning industry.” In the November 1933 issue, Manager-Editor McGregor said: “Unregulated competition was wasting natural resources, ruining worthwhile business enterprise, and exploiting human labor. Ruthless individualism was running wild in an age when cooperation is the only thing that can save us from destruction by our own extraordinary power … We live in a highly integrated business civilization requiring a new set of industrial principles.”

Technological advances and labor issues make up two of the most important, and enduring, industry issues of the last 100 years. For the last 20–30 years, the pace of change has increased exponentially, and a new set of industrial principles is welcome. Research and development and the road to commercialization (from fiber to fabric to finished goods) are global issues now, and few manufacturers can undertake the process on their own.

Government, industry and academia have been cooperating for years overseas to promote manufacturing. These initiatives are now underway in the U.S. as well—such as the Revolutionary Fibers and Textiles Manufacturing Innovation Institute now being formed, promoting “working better, together to create transformational technologies and build new products and industries,” combining R & D with workforce development and training.

Sporting my “I’M 100!” button at the show in Anaheim, I listened to participants exchanging information, ideas and business cards, and decided that cooperation—with government, with universities, with other industries and within our own—still tops my list of industry imperatives. Inspirational keynote speaker Eric Weihenmayer summed it up, as he talked about his “No Barriers” philosophy and how important it is to have a team you can trust when you’re roped together on a mountain: “Look around. This is your rope team.”

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