Welcome to the summer of innovation

While we take comfort in familiar ideas, what drives are society is innovation and new ideas that allow us to move forward.


Bob Vavra, content manager, Plant Engineering. Courtesy: CFE MediaSummer has arrived, and with it the new staple of the warm weather months-the summer blockbuster movie. Many are sequels or remakes, so you're already familiar with the plot and the characters—you've pretty much seem this show before. The season got started early with the latest in the "Fast and Furious" franchise and the brilliantly named "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"—as if you might somehow not connect it to the money machine from a couple of years ago.

While there are a few original stories floating around out there, the biggest budget films are retreads of the same old story: sequels to "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Cars," and "Despicable Me," a movie versions of the old TV series "Baywatch," and reworkings of the scary movie classics "The Amityville Horror" and "The Mummy."

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, but that old saw wasn't coined by a Hollywood producer. There are just a just a few dozen movies that made more money than the original, and that's hard to qualify because ticket prices—and therefore revenues—can change from year to year.

Only eight movie sequels received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture; both "Godfather" sequels and both "Lord of the Rings" sequels were among them. But as this summer's movie list demonstrates, sometimes it's just easier to do what you've done before as long as it's profitable. And on the surface, that's a logical philosophy.

The challenge is that your customers want an improved product, not just the same product. You can't have the same plot in all of your sequels, although you take the best aspects of those products—Johnny Depp's outlandish performance or the ability to find creative ways to turn fast cars into smoldering heaps of metal.

We all crave familiarity. We like our weekend jeans and shirt, root for our favorite teams and enjoy comfort food—especially mom's home cooking. We are creatures of habit, and breaking out of those habits can be hard and uncomfortable.

Yet what has advanced our society, and our manufacturing industry, is the idea of improvement. We have not settled for the same; we have innovated and invented and dreamed and created new ways of doing what we do and have improved on what we've already done.

As summer arrives and plants around the country prepare for some downtime and maintenance, this is a good time to stop and evaluate what you do and why you do it. We did that this month with Plant Engineering, and you can see the results in this issue. We didn't depend on history nor instinct; we evaluated the data and asked our audience.

While we prepare to retool this summer, we should take the time to think not just about the physical plant, but our people and especially our processes. As we begin to embrace data as a driver of change in our plants, summer is a good time to take the data as a place to start the discussions with manufacturing and organizational teams throughout our enterprise.

In Hollywood, they call them "pitch meetings"—a group tossing around ideas for the next big thing. The easy thing to do is say, "Let's make another "Spider-Man" movie!" (They are, incidentally.)

Take away all the glamor, and every movie is at its core the same thing-plots and people, sets and stages, sound and film. What makes one movie a blockbuster and another a flop is what one does with those tools. Manufacturing a car is no different, and the summer is a good time to step back, take stock, and see how you can take those fundamentals and create something better.

Welcome to your summer of innovation. Enjoy the show.

Bob Vavra, content manager, Plant Engineering, CFE Media, bvavra@cfemedia.com.

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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

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