Up Front: Look, Listen, Move
By Brian J. Hogan
New Year, new beginning? We're all saying goodbye and good riddance to 2009, and we all hope for better days ahead. Will there be better days?
Many companies are reporting an uptick in business, in some places as much as a 20% increase when compared to the spring of 2009. That's great, but if your business fell by 70%, a 20% upturn doesn't make you whole. The question is, will business continue to improve, or will there be a double-dip recession?
Sooner or later, the cycle will carry us all up once again. If you believe the time has come for that change, then now is certainly the time to invest in new equipment, and bring anyone you've laid off back into the plant. On the other hand, if you don't see better days ahead, perhaps you need to plan to remain in survival mode through 2010.
In this first quarter of 2010, we all need to closely track developments in the economy. It would seem that business has achieved a delicate balance, ready to either move ahead, or quickly step back. Should there be no clear signs of a definitive, strong recovery in this first quarter, or if there's a resumption of the downturn, we will be justified in believing that 2010 is going to be another lost year for manufacturing.
The other day I saw a wonderful quote from George Orwell, the author of "Animal Farm." Orwell wrote: "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." So true. Too often, all of us look at the world around us through a filter consisting of our hopes and assumptions, and see what we want to see. At all times and in all places, refusing to look squarely at reality, and accept it, is unwise and unhealthy. These days, when so much rides on every move we make, a failure to look at the world around us, correctly interpret what's going on, and react in an appropriate way to events, can kill companies and destroy careers and personal fortunes.
Most of us enter the game with a certain number of chips, and last year many of us lost quite a few of them. The reserves are lower now, and the consequences of losses will be amplified.
Opposed to all the above are the people who drive manufacturing. You and your colleagues are the heart of manufacturing. Your skills and your willingness to invest—to take the calculated risk—will carry manufacturing forward.
By all means, let's move ahead. There's no point in planning for what we'll do after the end of the world. But be careful out there, and remember Mr. Orwell's warning.
This article was first published in the January 2010 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.