SME Speaks: Global Competition Isn't Lethal
As the president of an international manufacturing membership society, it surprises me when I hear some professionals in North America express a sense of hopelessness about increasing global competition in manufacturing.
I know that there are more opportunities than ever for these individuals and companies to improve their productivity (and achieve cost savings), influence public policies that affect their ability to compete, and make changes within their supply chains and business processes that will help them succeed within a new, global environment.
There comes a time when we all need to accept the new business realities and figure out the new supply chains, business relationships, and processes that will define each of our organizations as a global manufacturer, based wherever we happen to be based.
In a recent article in the Washington Times, reporter Jeffrey Sparshott focused on the broad supply chain utilized by my company, The Boeing Company, on its new 787 Dreamliner program, which starts mass production this year and will join commercial fleets in 2008. Sparshott wrote that, "These days, instead of 'Made in the USA,' many products could say 'Idea made in the USA, product made by the world.' For them, the key to success is in imagining, designing, and implementing an idea as much as the actual manufacturing."
Aerospace and defense have always been the most nationalistic industry within the manufacturing sector—for good reason—so, if we're developing broader supply chains, we're obviously not the first, or only, industry to do so. Global automotive supply chains have been around for decades, given large boosts by the many global partnerships and mergers that have been created by what we used to call "The Big Three" within the last several years.
The situation is similar in transportation and electronics. Deere & Co. operates in 40 countries and has suppliers around the world, and Dell, based in Texas, assembles its desktop computers at seven locations in the Americas, Asia, and Europe, including a factory that opened late last year in Winston-Salem, NC. All its laptops are put together in Malaysia.
The examples of broad supply chains are endless and, as global changes have trickled down to the small and mid-size manufacturers, everyone is affected. The common thread among those that are competing successfully is that they are doing what makes the best business sense given their unique situations. They've considered what helps them maximize productivity and minimize costs (particularly freight, labor, and raw materials), and most try to locate at least part of their operations very near their end customers.
In many cases, North American manufacturing could be better supported by changes in public policies and regulations. So, in addition to offering many resources to help manufacturing engineers compete technically, the Society of Manufacturing Engineering offers opportunities for manufacturing professionals to get their voices heard by those who make those policies.
For instance, many members had an opportunity to talk with US Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Services Al Frink last year, when he served as our keynote speaker at two international Society events. Frink, a former manufacturing-business owner, is the highest ranking government official representing manufacturing within the US Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration.
If you're interested in getting the attention of politicians and others who can help you at the local or regional level, SME chapters have organized many forums that provide just that opportunity. For instance, at the Status of Manufacturing Summit of East Tennessee organized by an active SME chapter last year, Congressman Zach Wamp of Tennessee's third district was the keynote speaker. He's also planning to attend the Society's Manufacturing and Nanotechnology Conference in Oak Ridge in August.
In recent years, SME has strengthened our partnerships with government organizations, maintaining an ongoing dialog with the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Labor, and Education, and Washington-based groups such as NACFAM, NAM, and the Smart Machines Coalition.
SME is an international organization, with active chapters not only in the United States, but in more than 60 other countries including Ireland, Taiwan, India, Japan, and more. The content of the knowledge-sharing we help facilitate in those countries is not all that different from the content desired by members in North America. And all SME members experience the advantage of sharing ideas and knowledge with engineers from around the world. For instance, our launch of a new Lean Certification program in March attracted Sven-Eric Larsson, a Sweden-based manufacturing engineer, who attended the review course in Los Angeles, where he joined nine colleagues from North America and passed the exam for the first level of the certification. He told course instructors that he especially enjoyed the interaction with other manufacturing professionals.
The Society recently announced the appointment of a new executive director and general manager, Mark Tomlinson, a replacement for Nancy Berg, who announced late last year that she would be leaving to build a new home and consultancy business. As the leader of the Executive Search Committee, I can tell you that one of Tomlinson's main attractions to us was his international experience. He lived in England for seven years, and he has worked with manufacturing professionals from the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, The Netherlands, China, Japan, and Korea. Because he is familiar with the manufacturing process around the globe, Tomlinson can help the Society identify where even more engagement and technical-resource opportunities exist.
When I think about the choices some people have made in dealing with today's global business environment, I'm reminded of the old saying, "I have seen the enemy, and it is us." Let's not be our own worst enemy by blaming others or isolating ourselves. Let's exercise our voices and our ingenuity, simultaneously affecting public policies related to manufacturing while becoming as competitive as possible in a changed, and still changing, global economy. As the saying goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I'd even take that a step further: Let's lead 'em.
New STEPS Camps Launched
Beginning this summer, the STEPS Academy, a two-week educational day camp, is being introduced by the SME Education Foundation and Project Lead The Way. STEPS Academy seeks to educate middle-school students in California and New York about science, technology, and engineering, and explore what it would be like to have careers in these disciplines.
The Science, Technology & Engineering Preview Summer (STEPS) camp was launched ten years ago at the University of Wisconsin-Stout with funding from the SME Education Foundation, and has reached more than 4000 young people since 1996. The new STEPS Academy camps are being held at:
- Cajon Valley Middle School, El Cajon, CA—July 10-21
- Emerald Middle School, El Cajon, CA—July 10-21
- Imogene Garner Hook Junior High School, Victorville (San Bernardino), CA—July 10-21
- Kearny High School Construction Tech Academy, San Diego, CA—July 10-21 & July 24-August 4
- Pittsford Middle School, Pittsford, NY—August 7-18
Traditional STEPS camps are being offered at nine colleges and universities in five states—including four new camps. These include:
- Bradley University, Peoria, IL
- Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, MI
- Gogebic Community College, Ironwood, MI
- Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI
- Oakland Community College, Auburn Hills, MI
- University of Detroit Mercy, Detroit, MI
- University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN
- South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Rapid City, SD
- University of Wisconsin-Stout, Menomonie, WI
For more information, go to the SME Education Foundation Web site at, www.sme.org/foundation.
This article was first published in the July 2006 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.