BEST PRACTICES: Finding the way forward

As manufacturing slowly moves forward – and if it has hope of returning to full capacity and growth – manufacturing’s critical issues must be addressed. The urgency to act on these issues has never been greater.



Condition Monitoring                                     Maximize Training

Energy Management                                     Steam and Condensate Leaks

Proactive Maintenance                                  Space Utilization

When manufacturing operations ran at full capacity midway through this last decade, buoyed by unprecedented growth, there was little time or motivation to address the problems that lurked below the surface. When manufacturing shifted abruptly to almost a full stop, the reaction was to reduce costs, cut workers and close plants.

In turn, that limited the opportunity to improve the overlooked operational inefficiencies that had crept into the plant. While that was also an economic decision, it was a missed opportunity.

As manufacturing slowly moves forward – and if it has hope of returning to full capacity and growth – manufacturing’s critical issues must be addressed. The urgency to act on these issues has never been greater.

We see those opportunities in four primary areas:

Maintenance: Preserve, protect and defend your assets to preserve productivity, capital and jobs.

People: We need to free our workforce to improve our plants. We must keep them safe at all cost. And we need more of them.

Energy: Managing and sustaining all energy uses becomes a business imperative, and not just an environmental slogan.

Systems: Information management for a new age are tying production, business and innovation together

How these four critical plant floor issues – and the dozens of issues which contribute to their ultimate resolution – will determine whether your plant operation grows and thrives in a dynamic global manufacturing environment, or simply grinds to a halt.

The opportunity is there

That opportunity to improve is now facilitated by a dazzling array of products, services technologies and strategies. The breakthrough opportunity to share all of this new knowledge is before us. The Internet offers a unique opportunity to connect people to other people and ideas to other ideas, anywhere on the globe. The need to exchange ideas is obvious. Best-in-class companies share manufacturing data, strategies and best practices within their own organizations, and through their supply chain, allows for greater collaboration than ever.

Our challenge is not so much to start from scratch, but to start scratching back. What seems to be the most lacking is a lack of recognition of manufacturing’s value, both as an economic driver and as a noble career. To do this, manufacturing jobs must get a seat at the table of career choices for young people. It must be seen as it is – increasingly technical and requiring math and science skills, deserving the best of our workers.

We must be encouraging young people in our communities to see our plants for what they truly are, and not what they are perceived to be. We must open our doors to our community and let them see manufacturing as it truly is.

Finding incentives

More than any other issue, the recruiting battle or the next generation of our workforce will determine how American manufacturing rebounds and grows. Those who suggest that lower business taxes, fewer regulations and global currency issues are the biggest problems in manufacturing are speaking for their individual constituencies. All should be addressed by the new Congress – but not ahead of STEM education, workforce development and incentives for innovation and employment.

We want a manufacturing strategy that champions the people who actually DO the manufacturing. We have heard about tax credits for manufacturing companies; how about tax credits for manufacturing workers as an incentive to enter the field. We have incented teachers in the past. If manufacturing is to be our economic driver, then we need to bring the best talent to the challenge.

And instead of awarding tax credit and hoping it will trickle down, how about earned tax credits tied to actual success? Reduce your energy usage and get a tax credit. Run without an OSHA recordable for 12 months, and earn a tax credit – one that compounds with each successive year. Create a workforce partnership with education, and earn a tax credit.

The break-fix mentality

We have argued, so far unsuccessfully, that break-fix is not a maintenance strategy. It is a recipe for disaster. We put maintenance at the top of our list of issues for the next decade because it is a pervasive problem that gets little praise and all the blame. A sound maintenance plan makes money for everyone who uses it. It preserves capital and protects productivity.

A lack of a maintenance strategy says that you are likely to care less about your workforce. It will be the catastrophic failures that cost you the most, of course – think of BP and Bhopal – but who has time to idle their plant in the middle of a production cycle? Who wants to pay workers and heat a plant and carry raw materials that produce nothing? Uptime is your goal, but scheduled downtime is part of maintaining and managing uptime. It should be YOUR call, and not the machine’s. But in the absence of a maintenance plan, you are at the mercy of your machines.

The way forward

Addressing these issues does not depend on government policies, economic incentives or other issues outside the walls of your plant. These can be managed with the people you have today. Looking to Washington or your state capital for an answer ignores the solution at the end of your assembly line.

The issues we cite here are not caused by the outsourcing of jobs. If you brought every outsourced job back to America today, these operational issues would still exist. The jobs issue overlooks a fundamental point – U.S. manufacturing has generally not done well enough in solving these issues, however complicated they might be.

Manufacturing is not a birthright. It is a competition. It is the endless process of continuous improvement in all areas of you operation. It is a coalition of management and labor, supply partners and distributors, all looking out for the best interest of their customers.

Plant Engineering will be one place where these issues and their solutions will find a home in this coming year and beyond. We are not the sum of our editors. We are the sum of our content users in print and online, in every part of the world. We will make these vital connections in our magazine, on our Website, in our Webcasts, our newsletters, at live events such as our 2011 Manufacturing/Automation Summit in Chicago and around the world at once in our 2011 Virtual Summit in May.

We will challenge, cajole and engage plant managers and corporate leaders and government officials to address these issues, and to find common solutions. We will celebrate their achievements at every opportunity.

We believe improvements are achievable, sustainable and critical to manufacturing’s growth. Failure to address these issues will lead to its inevitable decline. The choice is within the control of manufacturing’s leaders.

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