In depth: 2011 so far, according to Jason Speer

Plant Engineering asked Jason Speer, vice president and general manager of Quality Float Works, about productivity, manufacturing recovery, and the challenges he’s faced at his plant in 2011.


Jason Speer, vice president, general manager, Quality Float WorksBeyond his role as vice president and general manager of Quality Float Works, Jason Speer also has extensive experience on the national level as a member of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce’s Small Business Advisory Board. Quality Float Works also was the 2008 winner of Plant Engineering’s Top Plant Award.

PE: What initiatives have you undertaken to get more productive within your own plant?

Speer: We have focused on doing what we do best and have outsourced other areas of production that take away added time and labor from being efficient in our production. This includes buying more finished materials and working with a local vendor to help produce some components used in our production line. Adjusting our operations in this manner has allowed us to be much more cost-effective and run at optimal efficiency.

PE: What’s been the biggest surprise in the manufacturing recovery so far?

Speer: “Just in time” deliveries are the new normal. Every customer wants to make an order last-minute with a scheduled delivery within a week of ordering. Most of what we do is custom, so this has presented a big challenge for us—it means holding more inventory in stock or producing parts we know some customers will need in advance.

I’ve also been surprised by how many markets are still woefully untapped. I recently got back from a trade mission to Iraq and was shocked at how much opportunity existed from a customer base that is experiencing great infrastructure needs and could really benefit from access to our products.

Opportunities also exist in Korea, Columbia, and Panama. The hurdles and delay surrounding the pending U.S. Free Trade Agreements with these countries is very surprising and disappointing. There is so much potential for the manufacturing sector to make gains by leaps and bounds if we have access and opportunity to tap into the global marketplace.

PE: What are the biggest internal obstacles to a successful manufacturing operation? What are the biggest external obstacles?

Speer: Our biggest obstacles internally come with managing an ever-changing production flow. We’ve seen ebbs and flows with the orders coming into Quality Float Works over the past few years, and it can be very difficult to manage and accurately forecast our purchasing and inventory control.

Externally, our biggest obstacle continues to be threat and implementation of new government regulations. We spend a great deal of time and energy working to stay on top of what is happening at both the state level and in Washington to ensure we are protected and in compliances with guidelines and rules.

Often times, small businesses like Quality Float Works can be a casualty of the process by over-regulation and rules meant to impact only publicly traded companies. However, if we are part of those larger companies’ supply chains, we get lumped into the same compliance requirements—costing us added time, energy, and expense we do not have.

PE: You see successful manufacturing operations all the time. What characteristics do they have in common?

Speer: The key shared characteristic of successful manufacturing operations comes down to good relationships with customers, vendors, and employees. Without this, you have nothing. There is also so much we can learn from others in the industry; there are multiple benefits that come from networking, on both a personal and professional level.

Networking is about building relationships; the practice is the foundation of good business and is definitely a two-way street. It is a great tool for sharing battle wounds and gaining new insight on how others in a shared industry have faced and overcome industry challenges. There is an undeniable benefit in learning how others in the same arena are achieving new levels of success.

In short, networking is the key to personal and professional growth—and instrumental to growing your bottom line. The primary benefits are seen by the growth of business, new opportunities, and filling a sales pipeline through reaching out to people and starting a conversation about shared interests.

Return to 2011 Mid-Year Report: Grading on the curve.

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 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...
Sister act: Building on their father's legacy, a new generation moves Bales Metal Surface Solutions forward; Meet the 2015 Engineering Leaders Under 40
2015 Mid-Year Report: Manufacturing's newest tool: In a digital age, digits will play a key role in the plant of the future; Ethernet certification; Mitigate harmonics; World class maintenance
2015 Lubrication Guide: Green and gold in lubrication: Environmentally friendly fluids and sealing systems offer a new perspective
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again
Pipeline vulnerabilities? Securing hydrocarbon transit; Predictive analytics hit the mainstream; Dirty pipelines decrease flow, production—pig your line; Ensuring pipeline physical and cyber security
Cyber security attack: The threat is real; Hacking O&G control systems: Understanding the cyber risk; The active cyber defense cycle
Designing positive-energy buildings; Ensuring power quality; Complying with NFPA 110; Minimizing arc flash hazards
Building high availability into industrial computers; Of key metrics and myth busting; The truth about five common VFD myths
New industrial buildings: Greener, cleaner, leaner; New building designs for industry; Take a new look at absorption cooling; Offshored jobs start to come back

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

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.