UpFront: You'll Make It
By Brian J. Hogan
It's truly impressive to consider the technologies available to today's manufacturing professionals. Despite the rather lousy economic situation everyone faces, suppliers to the world's manufacturing industries continue to innovate. They clearly believe that technology sells, and that if they can make the user of their technology more productive, they will find buyers for that technology.
Which is probably quite true. There will be survivors when the current hurlyburly ends, and if the past is a guide, the survivors will be organizations and shops that have continued to improve their capabilities during the recession. Doing so doesn't require going deeply into debt, but does call for careful, well-thought-out investment in technologies that can reduce costs and improve productivity.
Consider your processes. What do you need to do to reduce takt time? How can process cost be decreased? Can lean manufacturing techniques be useful to you, and how does the new equipment you're examining fit into the lean workplace? Are there new techniques on the market that can help you become more productive? Some vendors are offering services that look a lot like specialized consulting, at a moderate fee, and claim that those services can help customers reduce costs significantly. Have you examined the value of such services?
Where does workforce development fit into the picture? Is this the time to consider involvement with local community colleges? Is your group big enough to support an apprenticeship program?
The new equipment now being designed by the top machine tool companies, and the research underway on machining and metalforming technology around the world, will knock your socks off. And given the economic pressures on builders of manufacturing equipment of all types, there are going to be deals available the likes of which we have not seen for a long time. Don't allow yourself to assume that you can't afford new equipment or new processes; check it out with the vendors. They are going to be hungry throughout 2009.
There will probably be a great deal of negativity in the air this year. Clearly it's necessary to keep an eye on cash flow, and put extra effort into finding jobs. You can do that. But try to bear in mind that there's little point in making plans about what to do after the world ends.
Manufacturing remains a fine way to make a living. Remember that others have passed through economic downturns far more difficult than the current situation—the Great Depression and the oil shock of the early 1970s, for example—and emerged in one piece when things turned around. This ain't gonna be pretty, but you'll be standing when sun comes out again.
This article was first published in the February 2009 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.