Resolving there are problems, resolve to find the solutions

Plant Engineering does a series of Roundtable discussions each year designed to get at the crucial issues facing manufacturing in general and plant-floor management in particular. In this issue, you'll read excerpts from the discussions we had at the Plant Engineering Manufacturing Summit in Chicago.


Plant Engineering does a series of Roundtable discussions each year designed to get at the crucial issues facing manufacturing in general and plant-floor management in particular. In this issue, you'll read excerpts from the discussions we had at the Plant Engineering Manufacturing Summit in Chicago. The full transcripts will be at . There's a lot of great information in there.

These are great discussions because rather than working off a PowerPoint presentation, the speakers are engaged with each other and with the audience to work through crucial issues.

One of the best Roundtables I've been involved with this year was an informal discussion over a barbecue dinner in Houston, at the Plant Success event. I blogged a good bit about this event on this past month. There were no slides, no charts and no graphs. Just good barbecue and a group of manufacturing leaders facing the same problems.

While there is genuine concern about job outsourcing, there is a far greater concern about losing skilled workers in the coming five years with no obvious way to replace them. There was a sense that jobs going overseas are fueling growth overseas, and that U.S. expansion by several major international manufacturers (Hyundai, Toyota, Kia) is an indication that domestic manufacturing is alive and showing healthy signs.

And as I noted at one point in the conversation, Apple announced recently that it had sold 100 million IPods globally %%MDASSML%% an indication that if the U.S. develops the right product, the world will pay attention.

I'm not sure manufacturing's problems were solved that night, but the key issues were put on the table and the speakers were all engaged in finding solutions. We resolved that there were serious questions, but there was also resolve to find the answers.

Manufacturers talked about setting up paid high school internships and intensifying college recruiting to bring new, fresh ideas into manufacturing. They see that while China and India continue to develop their manufacturing bases, they're also developing a middle class that will want manufactured products. That leads to two big questions: can Asia supply the world and its own citizens, and at what point will costs and wages and the basic laws of economics pull the manufactured costs of goods in line with the Western world?

There is a change afoot in manufacturing, and so far it's been change fraught with pain. The people I talked to in Houston, however, sounded committed to playing through the pain. More than just survival, though, there is a sense out there that manufacturers are looking past the big picture to see what they can do on their own home turf.

And they keep talking to other manufacturers. It's through those discussions that we can find common ground and common solutions.

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