Blog! Five Fast Things for December 7, 2006

By Bob Vavra, Editor, Plant Engineering December 7, 2006

1. Worker shortage gets more press: It’s nice to know that our humble little communications machine here can spot trends and let you know about them, just in time for the big guys to jump all over them. What is important about USA Today’s story Monday on the worker shortage in manufacturing is that they devoted more than eight inches of copy to it (it was a significant cover story in their Money section). The story points out the irony of the loss of manufacturing jobs on one hand and the dearth of manufacturing workers on the other hand. It also talks about what is needed to reverse this trend, and what manufacturers are doing on the local level to address the issue %%MDASSML%% a point I made again Monday in this space. Our readers seem to think the same thing. Vote in this month’s Web poll and see what plant managers think is their #1 need going into 2007.

2. I was involved in an interesting discussion at the Invensys conference in Dallas the other day. It was supposed to be a panel discussion on asset performance management, but the real issue was a group discussion about whether upper management makes the needed changes when the data points to repair, replacement, retooling or redeployment of staff.

There were two camps. A good number of the plant and operations managers felt they got a pretty good shake from their upper management when they are proactive in measuring equipment reliability. An equal number felt they were ignored and overlooked. The point seemed to be that not every corner office has figured out the value of solid plant floor data acquisition to drive productivity. It takes proactive champions on the plant floor to bang their shoe on the table and get some attention to the possibilities of plant-level data acquisition.

Blogger Ralph Bernstein has some similar thoughts on the topic. I’d also be interested in your views . Drop me a line to let me know what you think on whether your plant management is responsive to the idea of data acquisition driving real change in the manufacturing process.

3. Manufacturing slowdown: Another report shows a softening of the manufacturing sector, but that largely means things aren’t growing as fast as they once did. Still, the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI Quarterly Industrial Outlook points to several strong growth areas, especially in the oil and gas industry. Maybe the oil companies really ARE deploying those huge profits toward more R&D…

The top industry performers in the third quarter, were mining and oil and gas field machinery (up 42%); communications equipment (up 27%); aerospace products and parts (up 25%); industrial machinery (up 24%); construction machinery (up 22%) and oil and gas well drilling (up 16%).

“The industrial sector is undergoing a mid-cycle correction, not unlike the correction that occurred in 1995 during the 1990s cycle,” said Daniel Meckstroth, PhD., the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI chief economist and author of the analysis.

MAPI projects overall manufacturing industrial production growth of 4.8% in 2006, slowing to 2.6% in 2007 and 3.4% growth in 2008.

4. Ahead of the curve in a flat world: The ARC Advisory Group has been consistently ahead of the curve on a number of manufacturing trends. ARC’s 11th annual forum in Orlando in February promises to be another such event. Plant Engineering is a media sponsor of the forum, “Collaborative Manufacturing Strategies:ial changes, and business practices have come together creating a global web-enabled world.  Companies that are already using this as the basis for innovative, collaborative manufacturing strategies … are drastically reducing costs, maintaining high quality, and providing superior service.  Theyare quickly taking the lead in many markets.   

5. Two more blogs to study: Besides Ralph Bernstein’s blog noted about, here are a couple of additional blog contributions from Mike Gardner that are worth looking at, if only to stimulate a little discussion.

Joe Ely’s Leaning about Lean makes a great point about drilling down to ask the right questions, which is the only way you can get the right answers.

Kevin Meyer and Bill Waddell’s Evolving Excellence has a number of provocative topics that look at a wide range of issues. Bill’s December 6 entry goes a long way to make a simple point %%MDASSML%% cheap labor cannot overcome bad management. His highly personal views on the topic of prison labor and federal war contracts deserve respect in context, but there’s another issue. If you train prisoners to perform skilled work after their release, isn’t that better than spending $20,000 a man a year to keep them behind bars so you can pay them an additional $1.15 an hour to make other stuff? This is especially true (as noted above) because we need more skilled manufactuirng workers.

We need to keep talking about these issues.