U.S. manufacturing plants are preparing for a strong 2004, according to plant engineers and operations professionals who responded to a February 2004 blind market study conducted by Pittsburgh-based Chromalox.

When asked about production forecasts for their specific facilities during 2004, 75 percent reported that production volumes would increase this year; only 8 percent anticipate a decrease. Of those expecting an increase, 71 percent report that is it due to increased demand for their products; 35 percent say it is due to a new product line; and 25 percent say it is due to plant expansion. Multiple responses were allowed.

Despite the forecasted production increases, 22 percent of the survey respondents say staff cutbacks are still underway as a strategy for improving competitiveness. Another 7 percent reported that their company has made top management changes to improve competitiveness.

Beyond the management and personnel changes, companies are making investments in their facilities. Fifty percent reported installing “improved production technology” in an effort to improve plant competitiveness -- the No. 1 response out of 14 different competitiveness improvement strategies listed in the survey.

Outsourcing has established itself as a valid competitiveness strategy in many manufacturing facilities, according to the survey. Today, 47 percent have outsourced plant maintenance functions at their facilities, and another 14 percent have not done so yet but say they will during the next two years.

Plant maintenance was the most likely to be outsourced (47 percent), greater than plant system integration (38 percent), product design services (38 percent), contract manufacturing (28 percent) and purchasing (5 percent).

For a complete copy of the report, call (800) 443-2640 or visit www. chromalox.com.