UpFront: What A Time It Is!
By Brian J. Hogan
Individuals caught up in a period of intense change naturally concentrate on their own lives, and their own work. In such a time, it's very difficult to appreciate what's happening on anything but a local basis, and it's impossible to fully absorb the nature of the systemic changes occurring all around.
For about 10 years, we've been experiencing great turbulence, and the rate of change in manufacturing seems to be increasing, rather than falling off. Not all of these changes are positive for everyone who is experiencing them.The domestic automobile companies and all their employees are under brutal pressure, for example. But transplant operations in Alabama,Texas, Mississippi, and elsewhere are doing well.
Lean manufacturing is bringing genuine, positive improvements at many manufacturing companies, but putting lean into action, and sustaining it, requires enormous effort—especially when people are already under stress as they try to meet production targets. Anyone who visits a production facility these days can sense the pressure on the people who work there, (yet I must say that the energy in the air can be a delight).
New technology is coming onto the market and offering the potential for significant innovations in manufacturing. Today, manufacturing software provides options for machine controls and production management that simply did not exist 10 years ago. Machine configurations, such as the latest multitasking equipment, give manufacturers tremendous flexibility. Robots are becoming more and more capable, and new cutting tools are coming onto the market at a pace that is genuinely difficult to monitor. New titanium alloys and composites, and other new materials, are challenging manufacturing engineers. New tools, controls, software, and machines are driving changes in machining strategies.
These developments, and many others, have created a situation in which there is a real need for more training to enable manufacturing engineers, shop-floor personnel, and managers to absorb the changes taking place, and to understand how to make optimum use of new equipment. And this training must be fitted into the very crowded schedules now facing everyone in the manufacturing field.
Even basic business models are under pressure.The multitier structure of the automotive industry is going to remain in place, but the relationships between suppliers and the domestic builders must change. In Michigan some mold and die shops, who are truly facing existential issues, have formed groups that seek business jointly.
You're busy, of course, but take a deep breath and look around you. What a time it is! We are experiencing wholesale, dynamic displacement of technologies and management approaches in every field of endeavor, while we work at almost maximum capacity. Someday you'll look back and remember living through the impressive reconfiguration of manufacturing now underway worldwide.
This article was first published in the November 2007 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.