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SME Speaks: The Value of Knowledge Sharing

Merriam-Webster defines knowledge as a body of facts learned by study or experience. During this year, as I served as president of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, I can attest to how knowledge sharing is the most critical means by which we can work together to advance manufacturing.

Our name may be the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, but we are a society of many industry professionals, wearing many hats—often at the same time. We are engineers, CAD designers, job-shop owners, plant managers, executives, machinists, skilled tradesmen, foremen, educators, researchers, purchasers, and more. We live and work throughout the world, as vital connectors in the rapidly growing web of global manufacturing. With all these hats we wear and the types of organizations we represent, it's natural to focus on what's inside our own box of knowledge and how it pertains to our industry. What's important to remember, though, is that our strength is not just in what we each know as individuals, but in what we offer to the manufacturing community as a well-rounded and engaged global knowledge team.

Every day, we face challenges in our manufacturing work environments. We assemble teams to dissect the facts and build new solutions, yet there are times when it seems like we've tapped the very last of our creative problem-solving juices. It's quite valuable to turn to other manufacturing practitioners, like those who are involved with SME and our partner organizations, to find technical and business solutions together. The old saying tells us that two heads are better than one. Well, with SME, thousands of heads are better than one.

Consider these examples:

Last month, SME launched a brand new world-class event, Collaborate 2006, in Huntsville, AL. Collaborate is unique because it facilitated, for the first time, cross-pollination within the aerospace, defense, and automotive manufacturing industries. As the world's dominant industries, these OEMs and their suppliers share numerous engineering, product development, and production and management challenges. Although their end products and end users are different, there are technologies and processes that can be taken from a given application in one industry, and be modified and applied as a solution in the next. Collaborate was supported by the Alabama Aerospace Industry Association and the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association, as well as leading manufacturers such as Toyota, GKN Aerospace, Wyle Laboratories, and my own organization, The Boeing Co. This was an amazing knowledge-sharing opportunity that came to fruition because enough manufacturers across three key industries agreed that there was much learning to be had from each other. Plans are already underway for next year's Collaborate event.

Manufacturing thrives where there is innovation, flexibility, and idea people. SME has an incredible knowledge powerhouse in its members. Our members are movers and shakers in industry. They are inventors who hold patents, leading-edge researchers, and masters of all facets of manufacturing—the people who roll up their sleeves and go to work. This year, the Society honored several individuals for their significant contributions to manufacturing. For instance, Ronald D. Sugar, chairman, CEO, and president, Northrop Grumman Corp., was installed as the 2006 SME Honorary Member for his professional eminence among manufacturing engineers. Carolyn Corvi, vice president-general manager, Airplane Production, The Boeing Co., was honored for her innovative management, including the application of lean principles, which has significantly improved the flow time of the Boeing 737 moving assembly line. And Richard E. "Dick" Dauch was recognized for his exceptional transformational leadership at Volkswagen, General Motors, Chrysler, and most recently, at the company he founded, American Axle & Manufacturing, where today he is chairman of the board and CEO.

In addition to these influential award recipients, the Society's membership ranks are also populated by a select group of extremely knowledgeable individuals who have earned the designation of SME Fellow. The SME College of Fellows was created to honor those members of SME who have made outstanding contributions to the field of manufacturing. A Fellow is a member recognized by the manufacturing community as a contributor to the social, technological, and educational aspects of the profession. This honor can only be earned through years of dedication and service to manufacturing engineering, and SME Fellows bring substantial weight to our Society's knowledge base.

Sharing knowledge is an everyday occurrence throughout SME. Recently, we launched SME Forums, where members are posting lively discussions about technical community and tech group topics, and making connections within their own local SME chapters and those beyond. On any given day, 24/7, thousands of SME members are online, on the phone, and meeting in person to share ideas and tips—talking with others in the know, and working together to expand our collective base of knowledge in manufacturing technologies and processes.

When we offer just a bit of ourselves to others, we get a lot back in return. Take, for instance, the lean practitioners who are volunteering countless hours to develop the new SME/AME/Shingo Lean Certification. Based on cross-industry need for a unique, third-party "neutral" lean certification, hundreds of industry volunteers—with the firm backing of their employers—have contributed their time and significant brain power to develop and launch this new certification. With leadership from SME and our partners, the Association for Manufacturing Excellence and the Shingo Prize, the volunteers are establishing the certification's body of knowledge, writing exam questions, and creating the required portfolio of experience requirements and tools. Support has come from companies like Ford Motor Co., Caterpillar, Cascade Engineering, The Boeing Co., the Manufacturing Extension Partnership system, universities, and others. Once the development of this lean certification was underway, it came together with remarkable velocity, thanks to the collaboration of these dedicated volunteers.

Reaching out and engaging in dialogue with other practitioners will keep our individual thinking fresh each day. It also strengthens SME, as well as all of manufacturing. Our customers have high expectations, and we have high expectations of ourselves to deliver quality products that are manufactured accurately, swiftly, and cost-effectively. The best way we can improve the business of manufacturing is to keep the dialogue of our global knowledge team flowing.


SME's Technical Community Network Connects People and Resources


The Society of Manufacturing Engineers is manufacturing's leading technology information resource for people and companies throughout the manufacturing supply chain. One of the ways SME achieves this is through its Technical Community Network (TCN). The TCN is comprised of people sharing manufacturing knowledge and resources with other people.

Currently, the network consists of eight technical communities that represent key areas within the manufacturing enterprise. The TCN provides a flexible framework where SME members gain in-depth exposure to other professionals and technical resources within specific manufacturing disciplines. The communities, in turn, host specialized technical groups, through which hundreds of members meet and collaborate 24/7 to advance both their individual and collective knowledge within key technology areas. Community members are manufacturing practitioners from every job function imaginable, as well as educators and students.

The very nature of the tech groups is that they are dynamic, and can be added, removed, combined with others, or morphed over time—it's entirely up to the community members to determine where their interests lie, and which tech groups are most relevant to their needs and interests.

SME is currently home to eight technical communities. See something that interests you? Visit or send an e-mail to


This article was first published in the November 2006 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 11/1/2006

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