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SME Speaks: Competence Controls Complexity

Production forms the backbone of every economy. Industrial production includes the systems and processes of planning, manufacturing, logistics, quality management, and control. At the same time, manufacturing technique, as the core of industrial production, covers a wide spectrum of key technologies for processing of raw material and molding of components, as well as assembly of modules and products. Systems engineering, as a comprehensive methodology for analysis and design of technical systems and management of production planning and factory operation, forms a framework of competence for production engineers in planning and operation.

Furthermore, production is a decisive phase in the product lifecycle. On the one hand, product development should include production development. On the other hand, production processes should guarantee the product quality. Value creation and innovation are essential influence factors for high-quality product and reliable processes, which significantly affect the competition for market share. They also affect the choice of where the product will be made. From a long-term perspective, without competitive products, there will be no production or product-specific services. Product development requires production and service competence, while production and service depend on product competence. Product development, production, and product services model a circle of integral competence, and characterize a cycle of innovation and progress, of productivity, and value adding, as well as excellence and leadership of modeling technical systems. So both circle and cycle represent a base of process networking and knowledge management.

The worldwide competition between high-wage nations and low-wage nations for markets, locations, technologies, and capacities, as well as competition for the best products, leads to enormous dislocation in the world economy. As a consequence, mass production, on a large scale, has been displaced from industrial nations to the Far East, partly because of low labor cost in these nations, resulting in an irretrievable loss of a large number of jobs in the "old" industrial nations. According to a statistical evaluation from 1998 to 2003, within five years, industrial jobs in the US were reduced by about 18%, whereas in Germany the loss was about 4%.

This reduction presents a challenge for engineers, companies, and national economies. To alter this growing trend, a vision "with innovation to growth," must be created. Innovation describes the novelty in the development of technique, organization, and methodology. It is a process formed from new ideas and their development to new products, which will fulfill the expectations, demands, and requirements, as well as attract the buying power of markets and customers. Individualization of the product through numerous options influences the development concepts and design principles, manufacturing processes, and factory structure. Product and process innovations require new organizations and ways of working. Therefore, new strategies and structures of product and production design must be developed, tested, and evaluated.

The challenge of innovation now is not only developing a good product from a good idea, but also of overcoming increasing complexity of functions and of application, operating, and handling of new products as well as of overcoming increasingly complex design and manufacturing processes. Technical complexity results from progress in science, technology development, and application of technical devices interacting with product and process users' competence. Growing integration of product functions and process networking; increasing diversity of technologies, products, and variants; increasing power and speed in relation to lightweight structures; and less energy consumption as well as ranges of change and influences in relation to time and position, describe main criteria and factors of evaluation and management of complexity.

If innovation increases complexity, the design team has not done its job well and has not been managed well. Today's engineering competence must fulfill the customer's requirements for the design of products and processes. This means that, in addition to traditional product design competence, problem-solving skills and manufacturing competence become much more important.

Cooperation becomes the third strategic factor along with complexity and competence in a magical triangle leading to excellence in product and process design. The organization forms a comprehensive framework for holistic methodology. In combination with management technique, it forms the basis for requirements engineering and results-focused strategic and operation planning.

Manufacturing must still deal with due dates, quantities, and quality requirements. But in today's international competition, manufacturing will be judged by:

  • Effectivity—meaning customer satisfaction.
  • Efficiency—taking the optimal path to planned results.
  • Quality—sustaining quality requirements.
  • Flexibility—conformability of people and systems in a changing world.
  • Adaptability—modularity of production systems for adjustment to different missions.
  • Certainty—establishment, documentation, and control of planned product and production results.

The design and planning of overall company systems are basic requirements for output-oriented manufacturing processes. They are also necessary for strategic targets, such as zero-defect production, lean management, and just-in-time.


Elsevier Takes SME Journals Online

Elsevier will publish SME's Journal of Manufacturing Systems and Journal of Manufacturing Processes online to an international audience via the market-leading, electronic platform ScienceDirect, which currently reaches more than 15 million users worldwide.

The two journals publish relevant literature for manufacturing industries, research and development organizations, and SME membership on the underlying theory and application methodologies of integrating established and developing manufacturing processes, equipment, and software into systems. Papers encourage the dissemination of scientific methods to shop-floor personnel on systems and process concepts with the potential of decreasing manufacturing costs, increasing productivity, and ensuring product quality. Peer-reviewed contributions are received from researchers and practitioners on current and future directions of manufacturing systems and processes research, development, and implementation.

"The e-publishing arrangement with Elsevier makes possible flawless service to authors and worldwide Web-based access to the SME journals' content to improve their immediacy and impact. This is the stimulus needed for increased vitality and robust growth of the journals," said Shiv G. Kapoor, PhD, FSME, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, editor of the Journal of Manufacturing Processes.

Elsevier Publisher Christopher Greenwell added, "We have been working with SME for many years distributing the hard copies of these titles, and I am delighted to be able to expand our relationship, and to make our expertise and resources available to allow SME's journals to reach the global online audience of ScienceDirect. It will both complement and expand our portfolio in the field, and I am looking forward to exceeding SME's expectations."

To learn more about SME's two peer-reviewed journals, visit


Technologies That Could Change Manufacturing

A new initiative has been developed by SME to help identify technologies that are making an impact across the industry. Technologies that Could Change the Way You Manufacture is a member-driven program to discover and showcase new and emerging technologies that are making a difference in manufacturing.

Nominations were accepted from manufacturing leaders representing a broad spectrum of industries, applications, and technologies. Technologies were then assessed based on their readiness level, stage in market adaptation, breadth of application, and their ability to have a positive impact.

"With the wide range of new technologies available each year, manufacturers are looking for guidance to determine which might be applicable to their organization," says Mark Tomlinson, executive director and general manager, Society of Manufacturing Engineers. "We are harnessing the expertise of our members to evaluate these new initiatives, and to help manufacturers discover and adopt those technologies that will make them more efficient and more competitive."

All nominations will be reviewed by SME's Technical Community Network (TCN), who will then select the top nominations in their area. The network is comprised of eight key manufacturing disciplines:

  • Automated Manufacturing & Assembly
  • Forming & Fabricating
  • Industrial Laser
  • Manufacturing Education & Research
  • Plastics, Composites & Coatings
  • Product & Process Design and Management
  • Rapid Technologies & Additive Manufacturing

After the initial evaluation by the TCN, the top nominations will be sent to an overview committee to make the final selections. Throughout the process, additional technical experts, and the nominator, may be brought in to answer questions and provide additional information as needed to ensure the most informed decisions are made.

Winning companies will be featured in a special series of SME Speaks articles in Manufacturing Engineering magazine, SME's 2008 Competitive Manufacturers Conference, Manufacturing Business and Technology Forum sessions at IMTS 2008, technical papers, Technical Community Forums, and news releases.

For more information about the Technologies that Could Change the Way You Manufacture, go to


Workforce Development

SME is passionate about providing knowledge to the manufacturing workforce—present and future. We provide lifelong learning programs, certification and skills assessment, technical resources, publications, and industry expertise through our members. The SME Education Foundation builds the workforce pipeline through funding and resources to schools, students, and communities for innovative K-16 programs focused on science, technology, engineering, and math education.

To learn more, visit


Honoring Exceptional Achievement

The SME International Awards and Recognition Programs honor outstanding accomplishments and dedication in the manufacturing community. These programs garner international recognition and prestige for the profession, its key constituents, and the Society itself.

The SME International Honor Awards, the Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award, Award of Merit, Fellows program, and other Society honors highlight exceptional achievements of members and nonmembers who have made significant contributions to the social, technological, and educational progress of manufacturing. Those who are recognized truly exemplify the very best in manufacturing today. Through its world-class awards and recognition programs, the Society collaborates with the most accomplished and influential individuals, corporations, and organizations around the globe to continually promote the importance of manufacturing.

Nominations are accepted year-round, and recipients are presented with their awards at annual SME events and meetings. To nominate a deserving individual, visit


This article was first published in the December 2007 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 12/1/2007

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