Building on manufacturing’s progress

Manufacturing is focused on continuous improvement. That quest to do a little better every day is the reason manufacturing didn’t stop at the assembly line.


Bob Vavra, content manager, Plant Engineering. Courtesy: CFE MediaIn publishing, the last really great idea was moveable type. Today, almost 700 years later, print communications really is not much more just people taking that basic idea and refining it and adapting it to changes in customer needs and technology.

Even in the midst of what some call the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" there is very little truly revolutionary in manufacturing. Manufacturing's last really revolutionary idea was the assembly line. Today, you are as likely to find a robot on that line as you are a human, but the materials still move along, are reformed and combined, and a finished product emerges at the end.

We do a better job today of measuring and managing all aspects of that line, and of its component parts. We know when a line may fail from the data we collect or from a sensor we've installed. We can maintain and optimize those machines by acting on the data we collect. The process, however, remains largely the same.

So how do we improve? Not by leaps and bounds, but in small ways. Incremental improvement is like watching an iceberg melt (an apt analogy these days). We cannot see the difference in minutes or days, but observed over a period of time, it is a powerful change that can occur. We have to be patient to see change.

The best practices we offer this year, and the many more great best practices you can find on any topic at will not transform your plant tomorrow. They will provide fresh ideas to improve aspects of your plant's operation. Measured another way, what would 2% improvement mean to your company and to your personnel?

Manufacturing is focused on continuous improvement. That quest to do a little better every day is the reason manufacturing didn't stop at the assembly line. The process of improving manufacturing every day continues in large plants and small. While we may not be able to see what that improvement might look like in five years, we can look back at where we began and where we are to see that progress is being made every day. This year's collection of best practices builds on that progress.

-Bob Vavra, content manager, Plant Engineering, CFE Media. 

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
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The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Power system design for high-performance buildings; mitigating arc flash hazards
VFDs improving motion control applications; Powering automation and IIoT wirelessly; Connecting the dots
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

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