A turning point for the plant floor

Hyperbole is often unnecessary and more often wrong. The media makes claims that time proves were premature or unwarranted. We also overuse the word 'superstar' so much that its meaning is diminished. Today's 'superstar' becomes yesterday's “where-are-they-now” feature seemingly overnight.
By Bob Vavra, Editor September 1, 2006

Hyperbole is often unnecessary and more often wrong. The media makes claims that time proves were premature or unwarranted. We also overuse the word ‘superstar’ so much that its meaning is diminished. Today’s ‘superstar’ becomes yesterday’s “where-are-they-now” feature seemingly overnight. With that background, I tread lightly but confidently in making the next statement:

Manufacturing Execution Systems will fundamentally change manufacturing in America %%MDASSML%% if they haven’t done so already. In the process, they will make plant floor managers and workers the new superstars of manufacturing.

For too long, the plant floor has been told to do “better” without ever being told what “better” meant. The enterprise system was not connected to the needs on the plant floor. That led to a disconnection between the expectations of the business office and the plant floor. These disconnections are where we begin to lose productivity and profit.

If you can’t deliver information effectively between the enterprise system and the plant floor, you can’t give today’s skilled manufacturing professionals all the tools they needed to effectively build products, on demand.

And make no mistake %%MDASSML%% manufacturing has become an on-demand world. Just-in-time manufacturing has arrived. To jump on, plant floors need accurate data, dynamic supply chains and workers who are capable of changing and growing with the rush of information.

In addition, our plant floors need to be treated as intrinsic parts of the entire business model and not simply a function. MES systems will, for maybe the first time in some enterprises, demonstrate just how effective and efficient our plant floors already are while pointing clearly toward how they can improve. This may come as a revelation to some in manufacturing. PLANT ENGINEERING ‘s readers already know this.

We’ve been writing about productivity in all of its forms for 60 years now. Yet until recently, manufacturing wasn’t viewed in a holistic sense. We make things, and then we sell things, and those two processes weren’t related. Today, we sell first, then make, and those two steps are part of one whole process, interdependent and interactive.

There may be no more important technology in the coming months and years in manufacturing than MES. There may be no more important time for manufacturers to embrace the technology and what it can do.

This month, in what I consider a defining story for this magazine, we took an in-depth look at how MES works, why key suppliers have raced into this space, and above all, what it means to the plant floor. The plant floor is where the impetus for change can begin.

This is a turning point for the plant floor, and for the plant manager and plant engineer. They can lead the charge into this exciting new world and drive the success that is possible in American manufacturing.

Manufacturing has been looking for a superstar the last few years. If they look hard enough, they’re going to find the plant engineer has been the superstar-in-waiting all along.

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