It's time to turn optimism into action

As real as the recession was, the end of the recession should be just as real. Taking all the lessons we learned, we have to move away from the shallow end of the pool and ramp up for growth.

05/10/2011


People naturally assume one of the best parts of this job is the travel. When I tell my friends I’m off to Germany for a week, they assume I get to see a lot of the area. In reality, the sights are pretty much the same, no matter where I travel. I see a lot of convention halls, hotels, airports, and taxis, and those all start to look pretty much the same after a while.

Over the last nine months, there’s been one more common thread running through all those convention halls and airports, taxis, and hotels. There’s been one thing I’ve seen and heard at every stop around the world: Optimism.

It started at a few trade shows at the end of 2010. Show floors were filled with customers who had purchase orders in their hands and a couple of years of pent-up projects that had to be dusted off. Plant Engineering’s annual Salary Survey showed a 50% increase in the plant managers who said the recession was over.

The chorus of positive chatter reached its peak last month at the 2011 Hannover Messe in Germany. While more than 250,000 people wandered the fairgrounds in Hannover, the buzz was unmistakable. It was an odd sound – no one had heard it for a while, but everyone remembered what optimism sounded like.

Growth in manufacturing has led the U.S. and the world out of the throes of a two-year recession. Manufacturing suppliers and analysts were painting a rosy picture of the near-term growth for the sector. Moreover, it was unconditional optimism.

In April, oil prices continued their steady march forward, but even that factor wasn’t enough to dim the mid-term outlook. Analysts were pointing to graphs that looked suspiciously like a V – pointing to the bottom in 2008 and sharply higher in 2011. And beyond.

Dr. Siegfried Russwurm, CEO of Siemens Industry worldwide, talked about the growth in the coming five years, predicting 5% growth per year in manufacturing, and 8% per year in software, where Siemens announced a renewed emphasis.

Beckhoff Managing Director Hans Beckhoff was equally optimistic. “We have registered pleasingly high growth across all geographical areas and branches of industry. Our existing customers have regained their previous strength and have been joined by new customers and new fields of business.”

Plant managers I’ve spoken with in the last month are seeing the changes. Shifts are running to capacity. Production orders are accelerating. One facility is running flat out on three shifts to try and keep pace with growth in the automobile market.

All this optimism is tempered with caution. Of course. The depth and breadth of this recession was historic, something out children would be talking about and (we can hope) remember to avoid the mistakes that led us into its depths. Even though it was destructive and debilitation, the recession should also have been instructive and rejuvenating.

But as real as the recession was, the end of the recession should be just as real. Taking all the lessons we learned, we have to move away from the shallow end of the pool and ramp up for growth.

We have to put maintenance in a prominent position as we restore growth in manufacturing. Reaching full capacity is only possible if we have full availability. If your line shuts down because you can’t keep it maintained, you cannot grow capacity. Maintenance is a profit center, but only if you treat it like one.

Energy is the wild card in all of this. Energy is a managed process, not a utility bill. Look for the quick ways to get quick savings, but don’t forget the long-term fixes for electrical, water and compressed air system that will deliver long-term ROI. This may take a few trips to the CFO’s office, but they will be worth his time, and yours.

Don’t overlook training and worker development. This is a great time to begin recruiting young workers and to give the existing staff the training they need to meet the new challenges around you.

There are so many external factors that impact manufacturing – government, taxes, unrest in the world, and unrest in nature – which you simply cannot directly control. The issues you can control? Those are universal. Every plant manager from Bangalore to Beijing to Boston to Berlin is facing energy, maintenance, and personnel issues. If you can act on these issues, you can turn the optimism into success.



Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
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.
June 2018
2018 Lubrication Guide, Motor and maintenance management, Control system migration
May 2018
Electrical standards, robots and Lean manufacturing, and how an aluminum packaging plant is helping community growth.
April 2018
2017 Product of the Year winners, retrofitting a press, IMTS and Hannover Messe preview, natural refrigerants, testing steam traps
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
February 2018
Focus on power systems, process safety, electrical and power systems, edge computing in the oil & gas industry
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
April 2018
Implementing a DCS, stepper motors, intelligent motion control, remote monitoring of irrigation systems
February 2018
Setting internal automation standards

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
Maintenance & Safety
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me