Cindy Jutras: Collaboration calling: Work together now to set proper expectations

When costs rise in an already-troubled economy, companies naturally look to tighten their belts. Recent Aberdeen research finds the need to reduce costs as being the top pressure driving business strategies. Yet as the complexity of manufacturing increases from high-volume, low-value repetitive to low-volume ,high-value “to-order” environments, the challenge to reduce costs also inc...


When costs rise in an already-troubled economy, companies naturally look to tighten their belts. Recent Aberdeen research finds the need to reduce costs as being the top pressure driving business strategies.

Yet as the complexity of manufacturing increases from high-volume, low-value repetitive to low-volume ,high-value “to-order” environments, the challenge to reduce costs also increases in complexity.

To sustain performance and profitability, “complex manufacturers” must shift the focus of enterprise application deployments to develop a more collaborative environment to integrate functionality to enable quality, speed, and agility. The end result enables visibility from the initial engineering design through manufacturing to quality control and customer service.

All this can inevitably lead to a more profitable business, and greater customer satisfaction.

What do complex manufacturers make? The answer is anything from airplanes to heavy equipment to power plants—or even smaller but highly engineered products. It may seem like a no-brainer to say that complex manufacturing isn’t as simple as building widgets, but the implications are far from simple.

Volatile energy costs translate to unpredictable manufacturing costs and facility costs. When products are complex, large, and heavy, energy costs are reflected in escalating transportation fees. The pressure to improve response time and customer experience takes on a whole new meaning when designing, building, and delivering to customer specifications.

Up front in the sales cycle, “to-order” manufacturing requires a quick and accurate quoting process. A quote that is too high could result in lost business, while a quote that is below cost may negatively affect profitability. In addition, complex products may well require a greater number of specialized component parts that must be managed across a complicated supply chain.

Engineering, manufacturing, quality control, and customer service must work collaboratively to set proper expectations with the customer up front, and ensure that the final product meets customer needs. Design engineers must collaborate with manufacturing operations to ensure manufacturability, and with service technicians to ensure serviceability. Quality needs to be part of every function, and costs must not fall only under the purview of accountants. Even after the sale is made, customized products tend to have long service life cycles that require after-market service and continued support.

Aberdeen often recommends enterprise applications (ERP in particular) as a means to increase visibility and standardize both manufacturing and nonmanufacturing processes. These capabilities represent the first step toward a unified and collaborative manufacturing operation, with all members working toward the same goal.

In a “to-order” manufacturing environment where customer specifications vary, the supply chain is increasingly complex, and the service life cycle is more demanding. Complex manufacturers will find that business processes and technologies that enable collaboration and visibility are indispensable to success.

Get more information on the role enterprise applications play in providing visibility and supporting collaboration in complex manufacturing environments.

Author Information

Cindy Jutras, who oversees research and client development related to manufacturing at Boston-based AberdeenGroup, has more than 30 years worth of ERP and supply chain-related experience. Cindy, a former director for a prominent enterprise vendor, has authored numerous white papers as well as a book titled ERP Optimization.

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...
2015 Top Plant: Phoenix Contact, Middletown, Pa.; 2015 Best Practices: Automation, Electrical Safety, Electrical Systems, Pneumatics, Material Handling, Mechanical Systems
A cool solution: Collaboration, chemistry leads to foundry coat product development; See the 2015 Product of the Year Finalists
Raising the standard: What's new with NFPA 70E; A global view of manufacturing; Maintenance data; Fit bearings properly
Special report: U.S. natural gas; LNG transport technologies evolve to meet market demand; Understanding new methane regulations; Predictive maintenance for gas pipeline compressors
Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
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
Migrating industrial networks; Tracking HMI advances; Making the right automation changes
Understanding transfer switch operation; Coordinating protective devices; Analyzing NEC 2014 changes; Cooling data centers
Upgrading secondary control systems; Keeping enclosures conditioned; Diagnostics increase equipment uptime; Mechatronics simplifies machine design

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.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role that compressed air plays in manufacturing plants.