I recently had a chuckle over a cartoon showing a guy digging a hole while surrounded by shovels held up by folding stands. The caption explained how the new “self-standing” implements helped the company cut its workforce by 75% without sacrificing productivity. There's truth to this stereotype, and it applies to many industries, including engineering.

As American industry strains to compete in the global economy, engineering will certainly see more cuts. Many engineers are just too far from the trenches to justify their existence. And when they're gone, there will be fewer meetings and e-mails, and less paperwork for the rest of us. Let's he honest here. Engineers who actually engineer spend a significant amount of their time informing and updating higher level, nonessentials.

The engineers who survive the cuts — the ones who are indispensable to industry — will be those closest to the action. And by action, I mean motion.

Motion — power transmission and motion control — is what makes products roll off production lines. It moves potato chips and other foods through ovens and then into bags. It prints newspapers. It stacks and boxes ceramic tiles and bricks. Motion is also instrumental in making chips of another variety. It deftly handles silicon wafers, moving them though countless processing steps. Motion not only helps make ICs, but also places them, accurately, on circuit boards for soldering. In hospitals, motion moves patients into and out of imaging stations, it helps separate blood components, and it adjust beds, operating tables, and wheelchairs.

The engineers who make all these products and processes work — motion system engineers — are the true core value in any company today. Take any business in almost any industry. Its fortunes will directly correspond to the intelligence and creativity of the motion system designers it employs.

Visit my blog at http://forums.motionsystemdesign.com/groupee, and join the discussion on how to recognize these essential engineers, and why some companies are doomed to failure because management doesn't know who really makes things go these days.