April 2008

Beat tough times with strengths

By Gregory Hale, InTech, Editor

If the economy was a mystery movie, you could almost hear the background music playing a quiet passage, with the beat building and building. The characters keep moving around with an intense look in their eyes. The moment could go either way. Everyone is waiting to see how their company did in the first quarter. Waiting is the hardest part.

After a few tough years at the turn of this century, the industry made a strong comeback; but, now, once again, there is an eerie feeling in the air.

After surveying the landscape, economists are quick to come up with predictions of gloom and doom. Take a look. The Fed reported industrial production levels across the nation fell in February. Declines at manufacturers, factories, and utility companies sent overall production down 0.5%, the first decrease in four months.

The dreaded "R" word is cropping up in discussions. "The industrial sector remains in recession," said Daniel Meckstroth, chief economist of the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI trade group.

From the financial markets, where the Fed is lending billions to banks and investment firms, to witnessing the affect the reeling housing market is having on manufacturing, it is easy to focus on the negatives. But isn't that always the case? Pointing out the negative is much easier than focusing on a strength.

What is your strength? Peer deep into what your company is supposed to do. The answer should be to produce the best possible product in the most cost effective, timely, and productive manner.

If the sledding gets tough in the next few months, should you hunker down and ride out the rough times? Or should your company get aggressive and face the industry head-on by offering the best product or solution in the market?

The easy answer is to fall into the bunker mentality and ride it out. The hard answer is to rely on the changes your company made during the last downturn. Your operation should be running lean and mean, and it can get even leaner and meaner. This is no time for a bunker mentality.

With the big push in areas like asset management and product lifecycle management, manufacturers could see even greater gains in productivity.

When it comes to product lifecycle management, there could be greater savings for manufacturers. But it won't come without a price. It is all about change. "Rethinking of processes within the organization is what it is all about," said Raj Batra, vice president of Siemens Energy and Automation. "Part of the innovation is getting companies to rethink the process."

Producing goods is not all about facts and figures; there is a human element also.

"You can measure success via a global measurement system, but build in flexibility," said Margaret Walker, vice president of engineering solutions, technology centers and manufacturing and engineering work processes at Dow Chemical. "You also need to understand local customs and cultures."

While there are some companies that say they have enough work to keep them busy for quite awhile, there are others already feeling the affects of a slower economy. It is no mystery. Everyone should keep their heads up and trust the new manufacturing principals.

Talk to me:ghale@isa.orgor (919) 990-9275.