Win the survival of the ‘fitter’

While their competitors are getting fit, great manufacturers are getting fitter.


Bob Vavra, content manager, Plant EngineeringAt the same time I was in London last month for Bentley Systems' annual conference and awards event, two major sporting events also were taking place in the shadow of Big Ben. On Oct. 31, New Zealand beat Australia 34-17 in the final of the Rugby World Cup. The next day, the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Detroit Lions 45-10 in the last of four regularly scheduled NFL games played in England this season.

There are similarities and differences between rugby and American football. The most striking similarities are the highly physical nature of both games and the emphasis on running and kicking. Perhaps the two biggest differences are the level of padding (very little in rugby, quite a lot in football) and in the physical condition of the players.

I would not suggest to anyone that NFL players aren't physically fit. I certainly would not suggest such a thing within range of any NFL player. And I'm certainly no one to talk. But based on observing those two games in London, I would argue that every single rugby player is physically fit at a higher level than every single NFL player.

When you are extending yourself at such a high level, fitness is important. It allows you to perform better for longer periods of time without stopping for rest. Fitness also allows you to return more quickly if you do get injured or need downtime.

Improving your fitness level is critical to continuous improvement. Being fit isn't enough. You need to strive to be "fitter."

The best manufacturers I come across embrace continuous improvement. I think they realize that continuing to challenge employees to get better individually and as a team is good for everyone. It makes the company more productive. It keeps the workers more engaged. It also keeps the company ahead of competitors who aren't as far down the road to plant fitness as they could be. While their competitors are getting fit, great manufacturers are getting fitter.

Here's the real challenge: If you decide to improve operational efficiency 5% each year, it's usually pretty easy to find ways to do that in Year 1 and Year 2. By Year 3, you've taken care of all the obvious areas for improvement. How do you continue to improve by 5% each year? Is there a limit to fitness?

I don't think so. Improvement is not a permanent state. As some things improve, other areas may decline. You may need to upgrade equipment, expand product lines, or incorporate new strategic or regulatory initiatives. New competitors may emerge and new markets may beckon.

The other thing rugby and football have in common is an oddly-shaped ball. In both games, the ball doesn't always bounce true. In manufacturing as in football, once you drop the ball, it can be hard to regain control. Acts of God, acts of Congress, and even bad acts have an impact on our manufacturing operations. We can try to prepare for the things we cannot control, but that's not always possible.

We can, however, prepare for everything else. We can be lean (and Lean) and fit as an organization. We can hone our talents to get the most out of our fitness level. We can look for ways to continuously improve. We can challenge our organization and our people to find new ways to improve operations.

It's been my experience that when a manufacturing plant improves from the middle out, rather than simply top-down or bottom-up, the engagement of employees is better and the potential for improvement is greater. Every job on the plant floor is vital to success; making sure everyone understands this simple principle is one way to empower the team to get better.

A teams true strength is that it is strong without exception, in all aspects of the operation, down to the last person. Manufacturing is the same way. A strong maintenance department cannot improve with a weak supply chain. Automation investments are wasted without a vital training program.

In a globally competitive manufacturing environment, everyone has some level of fitness. You will have to be fitter to survive the challenges ahead in 2016.

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2017 Top Plant.
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.
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
March 2018
SCCR, 2018 Maintenance study, and VFDs in a washdown environment.
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
December 2017
Product of the Year winners, Pattern recognition, Engineering analytics, Revitalize older pump installations
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

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

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.
Maintenance & Safety
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
Industrial Analytics
This digital report explains how plant engineers and subject matter experts (SME) need support for time series data and its many challenges.
IIoT: Operations & IT
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
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