Sustainable manufacturing will attract customers, UL study finds
What’s the direct relationship between consumer expectation and manufacturing production? That’s the question Underwriters Laboratories set out to discover when it launched its “Navigating the Product Mindset” study in 2011.
“In general, Navigating the Product Mindset was meant to provide thought-provoking insights to all members of the product supply chain with the end goal of helping all stakeholders create and consume safe, innovative, reliable, and sustainable products,” said Sara A. Greenstein, senior vice president and chief marketing and strategy officer for UL. “We look forward to continued dialog with industry thought leaders on the ideas generated from this study.”
Among other achievements, Ms. Greenstein helped to expand UL’s footprint in Japan, India and China. She established a joint venture in China and continues to serve as a trustee on the venture’s Board of Directors. She discussed the study’s details (a copy of which can be found by searching for this story at www.plantengineering.com) with Plant Engineering.
PE: One of the more interesting parts of the study is that consumers have a different view on component parts as it relates to product safety than do manufacturers. Why is there this disconnect?
Greenstein: It’s clear from the study that consumers are becoming more interested and savvy about products, and not just about the assembly of their products, but about the components of their products. A holistic view of the data leads one to presume that consumers are becoming more aware of the global supply chain’s complexity, and with that, how component parts impact the quality and safety of a final product.
Added to that is the power of social media and the Internet. Consumers have greater access to uncover the details surrounding products’ components. Manufacturers could view this as an opportunity to differentiate their products by informing consumers about component parts.
PE: Product quality – and by extension manufacturing quality – is an important issue for both manufacturers and consumers. Is there a sense that product quality has declined in recent years?
Greenstein: No, quite the opposite. The study says that more than half of all consumers perceive product quality to be better today than five years ago in all categories (with high tech having the highest response and processed food the lowest), and Chinese and Indian consumers are the most positive about product quality today versus five years ago.
So, in general, confidence in product quality is quite high, among both consumers and manufacturers. It is interesting to note despite the perceived improvement in product quality, on average 76% of all consumers feel manufacturers do not use the best materials in their products,
PE: There surely is a perceived innovation gap between the developing markets, such as China and India, and the developed markets of the U.S. and Germany. Is perception reality in this case? How do the developed markets recapture that push for innovation?
Greenstein: There are many possible ways to interpret the data on this topic. Speed to market ranks low among Chinese manufacturers. (30% of Chinese manufacturers rank innovation first and only 4% rank speed to market most important). This may be because the majority of Chinese manufacturers already have strength in making products cost effective, efficient and dependable rather than in advancing technology. The competitive and fast-growing climate in China may be a key reason why innovation is currently so prized there.
Another interpretation is that U.S. manufacturers rank the four competitive factors (reliability, safety, speed to market, and innovation) more evenly because all of these factors are viewed as equally essential to U.S. manufacturers. UL will conduct this study annually, and it will be interesting to see if these priorities change with time and across countries.
The full interview with Sara Greenstein will appearin Plant Engineering’s Forecast issue, which will be published in mid-February. To receive the digital edition of Plant Engineering in time for the Forecast issue, which also will feature the 2011 Plant Engineering Salary Survey, click here: