Recessions are challenging, and this one in particular has created more obstacles than I've experienced in my 30 years in the industry. In this economy, I need to feel like I'm doing something more that will help our company not only survive, but make us a better and stronger organization when we emerge from the economic cycle.
At our company, a sizeable amount of each employee's income is based on profits. When profits are up, so is everyone's pay. Likewise, when we are less profitable, incomes reflect this condition. It's an equitable, reward-based system that allows us to hire new people, even during recessions if they're needed. Establishing compensation scales based on your company's performance can help deal with the typical business problem of continuous adjustment of staff size based on current business conditions. Keeping good people is probably the number one thing a company can do to maintain its strength in the marketplace when the economy returns to growth mode.
Another way we reduce spending is by reducing energy costs. Much has been written about our company's "green" initiatives. Being mindful of and minimizing our environmental impact is an integral part of our corporate culture. Installing a solar array and a geothermal heating system are cases where it took money to save money. There are many small things you can do, however, that don't require a huge expense yet the savings will add up over time.
Further, if you have made any investments in energy savings, or plan to, be sure to take advantage of tax incentives and stimulus programs. For instance, I recently noticed there is money available relating to solar hot water systems.To take advantage of these incentives, it's important to be proactive about searching for such programs to find out how to qualify. No one will show up at your door promoting and explaining them to you. Start by asking your company's accountant and search the Internet.
Another way to thrive during a recession is to take advantage of the extra time that you and your staff have and use it on activities that will improve performance once the economy turns around. For instance, getting additional training in your manufacturing software, equipment, productivity-enhancing techniques, or management is a good use of that time. I would bet that even the savviest Mastercam user can learn and apply something new by delving more deeply into our CAM program. We find that certain utilities, such as feed rate optimization, are under-used yet can reduce cycle times significantly when used properly.
Slower periods are also excellent times to get back to the basics of running a business.They are times to literally take a fresh look around the factory and strategically assess where your company is headed. When we are busy, it's easy for some areas of the building to get messy. Use the extra time to de-clutter and reorganize. In the Northeast, we enjoy many warm, dry days in September. It's a great month to paint, wash windows, and deep-clean the place before we close up and brace ourselves for winter.
In addition to looking in the tiniest of corners, look from a bird's eye view, too. Consider the workflow and processes. Does your current shop layout still make sense? How about the office area? Maybe it's time to move equipment around. Although many of us claim to hate change, switching things about and cleaning can be revitalizing, almost as though we are starting a new job or entering a new workplace.
Strategically, contemplate your sales and marketing efforts, brainstorm with your colleagues, and act on new ideas. Go after new markets. Refine your Web site. Participate in industry conferences. Sometimes when you share your ideas and frustrations with colleagues in your industry, a positive new idea or approach to a problem can surface.
Working a normal week also gives us the opportunity to spend more time with our families or to pursue interests outside of the shop that will make us better people—and more pleasant to be around. And that just might be the greatest benefit of all.
This article was first published in the September 2009 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.