Industry Voices: Mike Mitchell

Mike Mitchell, senior manufacturing director of North America for Kimberly-Clark Professional, discussed his manufacturing challenges with Plant Engineering.


Mike Mitchell Q: With the federal tax picture a little clearer as the New Year begins, how is your business poised to grow in 2013?

Kimberly-Clark Professional is coming off a strong performance in 2012 and we are looking ahead to another successful year in 2013. While we always take into account the federal tax picture, it has not caused us to deviate from our continued efforts to help provide our customers and our employees with Exceptional Workplaces that are healthier, safer and more productive. From a manufacturing standpoint, we continue to free up capital resources to allow us to invest in continuous improvement efforts.

In addition to being a manufacturer, Kimberly-Clark Professional provides safety equipment to companies in the oil and gas, utilities, metal manufacturing, automotive, aviation, pharmaceutical, medical device and electronics industries. We are committed not only to providing outstanding products, but also comprehensive service offerings that leverage our 100 years of experience as a manufacturing company. We strive to help our manufacturing customers create workplaces based on a culture of safety, lean best practices and healthy environments that can support low absenteeism.

Q: What challenges are still in front of you?

Across the manufacturing industry, costs for raw material such as fibers were low in 2012, but may become a headwind to growth in 2013. We are continuing to monitor global macroeconomic conditions. Kimberly-Clark Professional can help our manufacturing customers face these challenges based on our own experience as a manufacturer.

The industry-wide manufacturing skills gap is something we are facing head on and continuously working to prepare for within our company. For example, a limited number of people are skilled in in certain fields, such as electrical and process engineering.

Kimberly-Clark Professional believes that by significantly focusing on its employees’ career development and training, the company can maintain a well-rounded workforce while creating a strong employee culture. For example, every new company hire receives training for more than one skill—they learn about their individual role as well as expanded functions. Everyone also receives leadership training. To fill geographic needs, Kimberly-Clark Professional focuses a lot of attention on moving internal talent between roles within the organization, so people can expand into new opportunities.

The aging workforce is another challenge affecting industry and one that must be addressed in the near term. At Kimberly-Clark Professional, we continuously look at our technical needs five years out to help ensure we possess appropriate skill sets and capabilities throughout our plants.

Q: From a manufacturing standpoint, what are your goals for the year? Where does your production operation need improvement?

Kimberly-Clark Professional is investing in our own manufacturing operations around the world where we view strong growth potential and increasing demand. These are regions where we have a presence but would like to accelerate our work, such as China, Brazil, Russia, India and the Middle East.

As we pursue our growth strategy, we recognize that no goal is more important than creating safe workplaces for our employees. We are continuing to build a culture where our people are highly engaged and accountable for their own safety and everyone in each plant is responsible for documenting safety hazards and problem-solving them. We want to leverage our own successes to help our partners and manufacturing customers reap similar benefits.

We believe that continuously improving our own workplace culture can help support production operation improvements. For instance, we want to increasingly empower operations floor employees to make important decisions instead of retaining an older top-down approach. The result of this is that our people feel highly accountable for the work of the plant. We have made great strides already to enhance our workforce’s culture of accountability. This has the potential to further enhance our production operations. Additionally, we want our leaders to continually exhibit model behaviors for our workforce.

Q: Assess the state of global manufacturing. Where are the strengths and weaknesses as we begin 2013?

Across manufacturing industries, companies are extending and expanding their operations in areas close to fast-growing middle-class populations, often in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, in order to understand local preferences and to cost-effectively deliver goods. As multinational manufacturers move into these regions, they typically bring their workplace health, safety, quality and lean practices. For instance, Kimberly-Clark Professional adheres to the same safety standards globally as it does in its North American plants.

One of the most significant challenges I see facing global manufacturing operations is the macro-economic conditions in many regions that we operate. Regions that stop growing or shrink challenge us to maintain competitive costs through periods of low asset utilization. The lean manufacturing system that Kimberly-Clark utilizes is a key countermeasure allowing our teams to remain competitive through uncertain economic environments.

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