When Jim Hawkins told attendees at The FABRICATOR’s Leadership Summit that global infrastructure demand was driving growth at his employer, Caterpillar, his statements weren’t unusual. As the director of Cat’s Machine Design Center in Mossville, Ill., explained, “The growing middle class will drive tremendous demand for energy, commodities, and infrastructure--and nowhere is this effect greater than in China.” He added that Caterpillar plans to expand its manufacturing presence to meet worldwide demand.
But at the end of his talk, Hawkins added one important coda: Yes, Caterpillar is a global manufacturing company, and yes, it may make sense to place certain plants close to customers in Asia and elsewhere in the world. But Caterpillar doesn’t make cars. Making a mining truck or large earthmoving machine is incredibly capital-intensive. Plant start-up and manufacturing machinery costs are immense, and volumes simply aren’t high enough for every Cat product to warrant building all plants close to customers. That’s why it still makes economic sense to open plants stateside and export globally--and this includes a future Cat plant to be built in Athens, Ga., an announcement that came a few days before the Feb. 29-March 2 conference.