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inexpensive yet highly educated labor, cheap capital). In the early stages of this evolution, quality disciplines and process control methodologies became competitive weapons. Japan, with its national quality programs and intense focus on quality, was the first country to use this strategy widely, but others have followed suit. The global pursuit of quality has evolved to the point that quality, in itself, no longer confers a significant advantage: it is simply taken as a ''given" by consumers everywhere.

Product quality, more rapid delivery, better asset control and utilization, and the ability to execute more complex manufacturing tasks and build increasingly complex products have come to characterize excellent manufacturers. Manufacturers are now linked directly to their suppliers and customers. Many retailers collect worldwide sales data every day and modify their suppliers' schedules in response. Products are designed to suit regional styles and needs, even if they are made in other regions. International payments are made in a variety of currencies as materials are purchased, labor is obtained, ships are laden, and products are transhipped. These business and marketing issues are not usually associated with the more technical concerns of manufacturing, but in fact they are central to its success and enlarge the very definition of manufacturing. Most importantly, they are very information-intensive. Without information-driven links to financial markets, logistics services, and market knowledge, manufacturing businesses would operate in a vacuum or seek blindly to force their output on unwilling customers and ultimately fail.

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