UpFront: Manufacturing's 'Soft' Side Matters
By Brian J. Hogan
As a rule, Manufacturing Engineering focuses on manufacturing technology and the organization of work on the production floor. Our editors write about new equipment, and concepts such as six sigma and lean that directly impact the professional lives of our readers.
But no one who has been paying attention to the adventures of manufacturing worldwide can fail to understand that actions and factors which have nothing to do with the factory floor are critical to success, and failure, in manufacturing. This issue of our magazine acknowledges the importance of certain "soft" issues: how to purchase intelligently; how to measure and report costs; and the role of finance in management.
Have you thought about the impact of issues like those mentioned above, as well as others—for example, the incentives your company provides for employees? Are those incentives focused on personal success, or the success of the company? If your organization's reward system demands that managers produce a good stock price in the next quarter, they will strive to do so, no matter what the long-term consequences. If the guys on the shop floor get rewards for maxing-out piece-part production, that's what they'll do, whether the product goes to a customer or a warehouse.
Personally, I like equipment, and I like making things. I don't enjoy looking at financial data, grinding through organizational charts, or pondering human behavior. As I visit companies, however, I'm becoming more and more convinced that enduring success in manufacturing depends as much upon the "soft" side as on technology and the production floor. Unless the incentives are right, unless companies have costing right and financial expectations are sensible, unless groups within the company learn to work as teams, it seems to me that success in manufacturing is always going to be difficult to sustain against a capable competitor.
For example: Not long ago, I attended a press conference held by a consulting company, the Harbour-Felax Group (Royal Oak, MI), during which challenges facing the troubled US automotive industry were discussed.
Presenters Laurie Harbour-Felax and her father, the redoubtable James Harbour (founder of the Harbour Report), pointed out the tendency of design, engineering, purchasing, and manufacturing groups in the US automotive industry to go their separate ways. This behavior has resulted in one division of an (unnamed) auto company using more than 70 different sideview mirrors, while the (unnamed) best competitor uses two. Clearly, there are critical "soft" issues to address in that business. And in yours?
This article was first published in the December 2006 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.