Despite hot issues, plant managers keep their cool

Companies all over the world are thriving and growing amidst the challenging economy, but certainty about the future remains murky

08/15/2013


It’s hot again this summer. We’re not going to get into the scientific, political, and sociological reasons as to why it’s hot, because it’s hot every summer. That’s why they call it summer.

But in the midst of July’s heat wave, when it was 90 degrees every day and the humidity was high, people were walking around astonished that it was 90 degrees in the summer. And they’d complain about it. As a Chicago boy all my life, I know what the opposite of 90 degrees looks like and feels like. You end up to your knees in snow, wrapped up in a parka and fighting a bitter wind.

So when people were starting to complain about the heat, I’d remind them, “You don’t have to shovel sunshine.”

I thought about this as I was reviewing a lot of the data we have this month in Plant Engineering, and the larger data we have online at PlantEngineering.com from our friends at McGladrey. Their annual Manufacturing & Distribution Monitor study takes a look at the pulse of manufacturing and how manufacturing’s leaders view the state of our business.

By far the most fascinating piece of data was this: When asked for their level of business optimism, here were the responses:

  • My company: 85%
  • My industry: 73%
  • The U.S. economy: 49%
  • The world economy: 33%

This massive gap between personal and national optimism didn’t surprise Karen Kurek, McGladrey’s lead analyst for manufacturing. “Over the years, we have found that executives are usually optimistic regarding factors under their control, such as their own companies and even extending to their perspectives of their industries, as compared to those things outside of their influence, such as the domestic and global economies,” she told Plant Engineering this month.

And that makes perfect sense. You can complain about the economy or the weather, because you can’t really control either one. You can, however, do everything in your power to manage your own reaction to that weather. The successful manufacturers, like the people who enjoy the sunshine, are the ones who know how to keep their cool.

There’s a lot of this going around. I’ve spent four months on plant tours, visiting large facilities and small. We’ve profiled some of these plants this month, and in talking to the plant managers at these facilities, you find exceptional skill and organization to meet the tasks at hand, a willingness to grow their business, and an absolute commitment to their employees. There’s no common denominator for the plants I’ve toured this quarter, except for this: They are managing to grow despite the challenges in front of them, and they seem to thrive under the challenge.

The optimism is borne of hard work and innovative approaches to meet the specific challenges of the U.S. economy. Tax laws and regulatory policies still are a mess, we still don’t have enough skilled workers, and Washington cannot get out of its own way to accomplish even the most simple of tasks.

This might lead one to wonder just how the American manufacturing economy is the pride of America and the envy of the world. The answer is right out there on those plant floors, and I suspect it’s out on your floor as well.

We complain about the dearth of help we get from our government, and the McGladrey study clearly shows we are worried about it. Yet that worry doesn’t extend to those things we can and do control every day. We can support our employees with safer workplaces and collaborative policies. We can reduce our energy spend by being smarter about how we consume it. We can improve our productivity in amazing ways by listening and looking and studying. We can take all the data we’ve captured from all of these innovative systems we’ve put in place and affect real change in our plant operations.

And it’s that attitude—not the negatives about the environment we work in, but the achievements we’ve made with what we have to work with—that permeated every plant tour I’ve been on this year. There are remarkable things happening in manufacturing today, and they are happening because we’re focused on facing the issues head on rather than just complaining about the problems.

They say it doesn’t do any good to complain about the weather, and I think that’s true. That doesn’t mean you just stand outside and sweat. The smart ones know how to keep their cool.



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Hannover Messe 2016: Taking hold of the future - Partner Country status spotlights U.S. manufacturing; Honoring manufacturing excellence: The 2015 Product of the Year Winners
Inside IIoT: How technology, strategy can improve your operation; Dry media or web scrubber?; Six steps to design a PM program
World-class manufacturing: A recipe for success: Finding the right mix for a salad dressing line; 2015 Salary Survey: Manufacturing slump dims enthusiasm
Getting to the bottom of subsea repairs: Older pipelines need more attention, and operators need a repair strategy; OTC preview; Offshore production difficult - and crucial
Digital oilfields: Integrated HMI/SCADA systems enable smarter data acquisition; Real-world impact of simulation; Electric actuator technology prospers in production fields
Special report: U.S. natural gas; LNG transport technologies evolve to meet market demand; Understanding new methane regulations; Predictive maintenance for gas pipeline compressors
Warehouse winter comfort: The HTHV solution; Cooling with natural gas; Plastics industry booming
Managing automation upgrades, retrofits; Making technical, business sense; Ensuring network cyber security
Designing generator systems; Using online commissioning tools; Selective coordination best practices

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role that compressed air plays in manufacturing plants.
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.
click me