Productivity Trends in the Photographic Equipment and Supplies Industry

Article excerpt

The introduction of computers and automated equipment, along with modifications in corporate strategy, inventory control, and employee training, was a significant factor in productivity growth during the 1980's

Prior to World War II, the photographic equipment and supplies industry primarily manufactured cameras, film, and projectors. In the postwar years and especially since the late 1950's, the industry has helped to develop and refine several products that have had a substantial impact on our lives. Photocopiers, which have become the largest item produced in the industry during the last 20 years, have greatly boosted office productivity. Advances in x-ray technology have led to significant improvements in health care. Micrographics, "instant" photography, and audiovisual communications are other examples of important product developments.

By responding to user demands for new and innovative products, the industry experienced strong growth throughout the 1960's and 1970's. However, as in the case of other advanced electronic industries, intense competition from foreign manufacturers dampened output growth during the 1980's. To regain a competitive edge, a number of the major U.S. manufacturers of photographic products have recently implemented broad, corporate-wide restructuring plans.

This study introduces a new Bureau of Labor Statistics measure of productivity in this industry. It seeks to capture the dynamics of an industry that has gone from a period of strong output growth to one of slower growth and is currently attempting to recover.

Output per employee hour in the photographic equipment and supplies industry increased at an average annual rate of 4.3 percent between 1967 and 1987, compared with 2.7 percent for all manufacturing.1 Over this period, output rose 4.9 percent a year while employee hours rose 0.6 percent. Average annual growth rates between the two subperiods defined below differ markedly with regard to output and employee hours:

  Output per
                  employee               Employee
      Period        hour       Output     hours
  1967-87            4.3        4.9        0.6
  1967-79            5.5        7.5        2.0
  1979-87            3.8        1.0       -2.7

Between 1967 and 1979, output per employee hour increased at an average annual rate of 5.5 percent, more than double the 2.6-percent rate for all manufacturing. Strong demand for such products as plain paper copiers, cartridge-loading cameras, and photographic film caused output to rise 7.5 percent a year. This strong demand was fueled by favorable demographic trends, increases in personal disposable income and leisure time, and a diverse market for photographic equipment and supplies. To meet this demand, manufacturers added production capacity and increased the number of production workers by 1.4 percent a year.

By contrast, in the 1979-87 period, output per employee hour rose 3.8 percent a year, equal to the rate for all manufacturing. With strong competition from imports of photographic products, industry output rose only moderately. The dominant factor behind this growth in productivity was a decline in employee hours. This reduction in employee hours was part of a restructuring that a number of the major manufacturers undertook in the 1980's to become more productive and cost effective. Along with a reduction in employment, these manufacturers adopted the latest automation and manufacturing techniques, improved inventory methods and supplier relations, and streamlined their corporate structures to expedite decision making. These changes, though not yet fully implemented, have led to a substantial decline in the manufacturing cost and development time for a number of new products. Output

The photographic equipment and supplies industry manufactures products which may be classified into two categories: equipment and sensitized materials. …