While the majority of Americans believe safer, cleaner and more energy-efficient production are the most important economic manufacturing issues today, nearly half (42%) feel the US has lost its competitive edge in manufacturing technology and automation, says a study from Opinion Research Corp. sponsored by Rockwell Automation.

“Whether it’s toys, peanut butter or pet food, product quality is top of mind for Americans,” said Rockwell Automation Chairman and CEO Keith Nosbusch. “Consumers recognize that government incentives to invest in highly automated modern factories can both stimulate US economic growth and lead to safer, cleaner and more energy-efficient production at the same time,” he adds.

Nearly four-fifths (79%) of Americans polled said the government should provide incentives to keep American manufacturing competitive. Most (92%) felt that manufacturers should use energy, raw materials and natural resources more wisely. Other key issues, rated on average by 85% of Americans, include minimizing waste and other environmental impacts; providing safer, high quality products; responding more quickly to customer demands and providing a safer workplace.

Less than one-fifth (18%) believe US manufacturing technology is more advanced than other countries, and only about a third (34%) noted that the US has become more competitive in the past 10 years.

“While most Americans think incorrectly that the US is no longer the world’s largest manufacturer, they feel there is an urgent need for government stimulus,” said Nosbusch. Americans cited product issues as the most important consideration in determining their support for a federal stimulus package aimed at US manufacturing operations. Other related issues include continued availability of safe, quality products; prices at current or reduced levels; current number and types of available jobs; factory automation and modernization and more higher-paid, high-skilled jobs.

According to Nosbusch, modern information-enabled plant floors can track and trace incoming and outgoing materials to help ensure consumers get safe, quality products. Couple automation with sustainable production practices with government aid, and American manufacturing could get a new lease on life.