One last word on the Changing World...

If you started in the back of the magazine this month, thanks for coming here first. I appreciate it. But for this month, head to our cover story first (starting on page 35). Don’t worry. I’ll wait… (We’ll pause here while you read “The Changing World of the Plant Engineer” study and Bob whistles, “We Are the World” quietly to himself.

04/01/2010


 

 

 

If you started in the back of the magazine this month, thanks for coming here first. I appreciate it. But for this month, head to our cover story first (starting on page 35). Don’t worry. I’ll wait…

 

(We’ll pause here while you read “The Changing World of the Plant Engineer” study and Bob whistles, “We Are the World” quietly to himself.)

 

Every three years, we take a look at the world our manufacturing leaders live in. This year, we made that world a little bigger.

 

The Changing World of the Plant Engineer was a way to extend our study to a new audience. The plan was to compare and contrast the attitudes, strategies, pressures and issues a plant manager, plant engineer, maintenance supervisor or manufacturing executive faces on an ongoing basis. We heard from all of them, from every part of the globe.

 

Where do U.S. manufacturers differ from their global counterparts? The international respondents saw the recession as an opportunity to upgrade training and to look at new equipment purchases. The U.S. manufacturers hunkered down for the long recessionary winter, and many of them are not yet willing to emerge from hibernation.

 

U.S. plant personnel are more disconnected than their global counterparts when it comes to decisions about IT and automation equipment purchases. There is agreement on one area: Plant personnel should be involved in those decisions. It only makes sense to involve the people who will be operating and maintaining the systems (and the study shows plant managers believe they will be having a greater role in this area) should also be the people helping specify the systems.

 

The global community is ahead of the U.S. when it comes to environmental, energy and sustainability issues. It’s little wonder; fuel costs internationally are considerably higher than in the U.S. The nuclear energy movement is also ahead of the U.S., though there are some signs we may be rethinking our view of nuclear energy.

 

There are subtle shades of difference in other areas that we can chalk up to statistical variance. But what do plant managers have in common?

 

You all have the same pressures: to run your plants safety, efficiently, effectively and productively. You’re doing this in the face of increased political, economic and regulatory issues, and in the midst of the most competitive global manufacturing environment on record.

 

You’re asked to do more each day. You’re also asked to do more with less. There are a few areas you haven’t quite reconciled yet, primary among them maintenance. Three years ago, 60% of U.S. plant managers didn’t have a maintenance strategy. Now it’s up to 62%, and that’s actually better than the international data, which shows 72% without a maintenance strategy. I need to understand what the hold-up is here.

 

Above all other issues, though, you’re tremendously committed to the process of excellence. Despite all the challenges of the last two years, there’s a pretty healthy amount of optimism out there. You’ve seen the worst, and the worst appears to be over. Now you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and get back to work.

 

But it’s a changed world, and it’s going to keep changing. The challenges of a global recession are one thing. Imagine the challenges of emerging global manufacturing growth. It’s like the restart of a NASCAR race after a crash. The drivers who took on fresh tires and more fuel are going to be the ones in the best position to start fast and get out in front. I think the people who get behind in this recovery may not recover.

 

There’s still time. There’s room to better train your personnel, to bring in new equipment, to look at new international markets. You want to stem the tide of job loss overseas? Take that excellent product that you make and make it available to a global audience. Don’t believe that’s possible? I’ll talk to you this month from the U.S. Department of Commerce booth in Hannover, Germany to let you know just how possible it is.

 

Sure it’s a cliche, but it’s a big world out there. What keeps it from being cliche is what you do with that reality. After all, to use another cliche, there’s only one constant:

 

Change.

 

 

 



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