The pace of change depends on where you sit

If you are simply observing change, it must seem as if everything is moving past you rapidly. Getting up to speed requires you to stop observing and get into the race.


I can’t confess that I’m a big fan of NASCAR. Most days it just looks to me like drivers making a lot of left-hand turns. And without getting too Seinfield on you, why is it always a left-hand turn? You’ve got cars that are supposed to run like clockwork and they always drive counter-clockwise…

Anyway, the one thing you do notice about NASCAR racing is that speed is relative. If you are watching the race in the bleachers, the cars whiz by at about 180 mph, and that seems fast because you’re stuck in one spot while the car is traveling past you.

If you watch NASCAR on TV, you’ll perceive the cars generally don’t seem to be moving quite as fast because the camera pans across the track as the car goes by. The camera movement keeps pace with the car movement, and it leaves the impression of a car that isn’t moving very fast.

But if you are IN the car, your sense of speed is distinctly different. You feel every bump, every rush of air, every curve. You are not observing the rate of speed as much as becoming one with the race car.

The speed of change in manufacturing is much the same. If you are simply observing change, it must seem as if everything is moving past you rapidly. Getting up to speed, in a very real sense, requires you to stop observing and get into the race.

That’s not as easy as it sounds. NASCAR drivers may use “stock cars” (that’s what the ‘SC’ in NASCAR stands for) but you can’t go to your average dealership and pull a car out of stock that is ready to get on a track and drive 180 mph for 500 miles. You need the right equipment to do the job. And since the right equipment doesn’t come cheap, you also need a sponsor. Without a car covered in paint and decals from sponsors, NASCAR would look just like a faster version of rush hour.

In the same way, getting into the manufacturing race requires the same three things: a will to compete, the right equipment, and someone willing to finance the venture. If you are happy with your current level of competition, then there’s no need to join the race to get better, faster or more productive in manufacturing. If you can’t find someone in your organization willing to bankroll the venture, or if you can’t demonstrate the financial upside, then you won’t have the equipment to compete.

But if you have the will (and presumably the skill) to compete in manufacturing and the financial support to deliver improvements in safety, productivity and quality, then all you need is the right equipment.

Welcome to the 2014 Plant Engineering Product of the Year issue.

Five years of strong, almost spectacular growth combined with the weakening of global manufacturing markets has put the U.S. in a unique position to seize stronger control of the manufacturing race. In truth, the U.S. is and has been the single largest manufacturing economy for more than a century, but changes in the global market saw that gap close until the last couple of years.

If manufacturing were a NASCAR race, what happened next was a couple of our global competitors seem to have blown a tire and fallen a lap or two behind. We have control of the race. Now the challenge is to stay ahead, and to do that we have to be smart and tactical about what happens next. We have to stop to refuel and make some adjustments at some point along the line. Will we be ready with the right adjustments, the right equipment at the right time?

The companies highlighted in the 2014 Product of the Year issue have developed new solutions to keep you ahead in the race, and to provide you with a boost to your speed or your productivity. The key to winning this race, as it is in NASCAR, is to stay on track, and to do that you have to keep trying to find just a little more speed without careening into the wall.

That is where your skill comes in. The products we offer this year as Product of the Year finalists can only do so much. They will give you the potential to go faster, but that potential cannot be realized without the skill to guide your organization across the finish line.

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