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SME Speaks: Corporate America Needs Associations


Six years ago, in his groundbreaking book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of the American Community, Robert Putnam observed society’s declining participation in community activities such as bowling teams, political parties, clubs, and professional associations. He noted that with the rise in dual-income households, increased work pressures, and electronic communications, people just weren’t finding the time for these critical bonding activities.

As an involved member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers at the time, that prediction concerned me. As SME’s current president, I can only say that Putnam’s observations are a sad reality. SME and most other membership organizations have seen their membership numbers decline over the last few decades.

But there’s good news. What Putnam did not predict was the increased value that corporate America would find in associations that fill an important niche for them by supporting their workforce-development needs.

North American manufacturing companies, for instance, have experienced an increased need to expose their workforces to technology-transfer and knowledge-sharing opportunities. While there are many reasons for this situation, three factors have provided most of the impetus: increased pressures to insulate new ideas, decreased training and development budgets, and significant gaps in workforce skills and knowledge.

The line between what’s proprietary and “for the collective benefit” is more firmly drawn than ever. To oversee the sharing of information with the public, corporate America has always had a checks and balances system in place between its legal and PR experts, on one hand, and its engineers and other technical experts, on the other. Manufacturing engineers have always had the steady, and necessary, eyes of their legal and PR advisors watching over them as they sought to share information with, and learn from, their like-minded counterparts in other organizations. For SME members, with our broad mission that encourages the sharing of knowledge across industries and disciplines, it’s not always easy to draw the line between which manufacturing solutions or new technologies we can share with our professional colleagues, or ask them about, and which are strictly proprietary.

Since 9/11, and particularly in the aerospace and defense industry, which I serve at The Boeing Co., the security issues associated with sharing information have been given increased emphasis. While being more cautious about sharing information is a wise and necessary element of heightened national security, one result of these pressures is that manufacturing engineers are less likely to find outlets to share their knowledge with each other even when what they bring to the table is clearly nonproprietary. The corporate ranks have tightened, and these insulating effects may—unfortunately—stifle the quality and quantity of our nation’s collective knowledge, which in turn stifles our companies’ abilities to compete. Not only is there a great need for nonthreatening knowledge-sharing opportunities, our nation is depending on it.

There’s less money for training and development, but skill gaps are widening. With fluctuating sales and changing customer demands, companies have had to become more agile and flexible than ever. Many believe that their workforces are not well prepared to lead them in this direction. In studies conducted through SME’s Education Foundation, manufacturing-industry executives cite workforce training and development as the most critical issues they face as business leaders today.

At the same time, these very companies have trimmed their budgets of all fat and are now having to eat into their muscle: areas like training and education, travel, and membership dues. The days of the corporate boondoggle are long gone; today’s workforce development options must be heavily justified, highly relevant, and much more affordable. Even though this may suggest a disturbing trend, I know from personal experience that many companies on the leading-edge of global trade and advanced technologies still see the development of their people as paramount to capturing new markets and growing their businesses. The key is to bring this focus to the forefront for all companies and industries so the entire manufacturing sector can prosper.

SME has paid attention to the changing environment and the companies we serve—and has responded. At SME, we offer well-established activities and resources such as forums and conferences, as well as new “mega-events,” customized technical resources, certifications, and a Technical Community Network of experts to help manufacturing professionals expand their knowledge in everything from general principles to specific applications across all areas of the manufacturing enterprise.

Our new lean certification program, to be formally launched later this month, is a perfect example. Developed in partnership with The Shingo Prize and AME (the Association for Manufacturing Excellence), and led by an enthusiastic team of lean experts, this certification program is the first of its kind to bring a universal standard to the practice of lean in a manufacturing environment. Companies as diverse as Kennametal, Dell, Parker Hannifin, Corning, and Boeing are preparing to use the certification to advance their employees’ knowledge, and/or utilize it as a tool to assess the outcomes of their training and improve their development programs.

Other companies have partnered with SME to fill specific knowledge gaps within their workforce. For instance, Delphi Corp.’s manufacturing engineering directors recently purchased a global license to make SME’s Tooling and Manufacturing Engineering Handbook available to all of their employees via the company’s intranet. Also, Ford Motor Co. purchased a corporate subscription to SME’s technical paper database so its staff can access our nearly 20,000 technical papers in their internal research efforts.

And many corporate executives participate in the Society’s Technical Community Network and technical groups. The communities and groups within this network are dedicated to networking and sharing knowledge in specific technical areas. The groups are self-forming and increasingly popular. At the end of 2005, we had 43, and more are coming into existence each day. As a recent example, executives from Maytag, Tenneco, AutoZone, BBB Industries and other organizations with operations in Reynosa, Mexico, have decided to start a tech group that will allow them to share their experiences in incorporating a lean enterprise model into their local operations.

These are just a few of the many examples of how SME is helping Corporate America increase the skills and knowledge of our collective workforce. Our Society’s tagline is “Where Manufacturing Comes Together” and we’re very proud of our mission.

It’s interesting to note that, since 2000, even Putnam has changed his tune a bit and is feeling more optimistic about peoples’ overall needs to bond. His newest book, published just 18 months ago, tells the inspiring stories of people who are reweaving social fabric by bringing their own communities together or building bridges to others. He highlights the extraordinary power of social networks for enabling people to improve their lives and the lives of those around them. He titled his new book Better Together.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.


A Common-Sense Intellectual with Engineering Roots

A banker once described the 2006 SME Honorary Member Ronald D. Sugar, chairman, CEO, and president, Northrop Grumman Corp., as “the only PhD I know with extraordinary common sense.”

After holding positions at Aerospace Corp., Hughes Aircraft Co., Argosystems, and TRW, Sugar became president and COO of Litton Industries in 2000. When Litton was acquired by Northrop Grumman the following year, Sugar joined his current employer. His background with TRW proved invaluable when TRW was also acquired by Northrop Grumman in 2002. When CEO Kent Kresa retired in 2003, Sugar stepped into that position.

Since being named to Northrop Grumman’s top slot in 2003, Sugar’s main challenge has been overseeing the integration of the company’s many recent acquisitions: a total of 12 acquisitions over the past five years. He has worked successfully to get these separate entities to work together and produce a stronger result than they would have achieved if they worked separately, declaring that realigning the components of a modern conglomerate has taken strong leadership and a clear sense of goals. His work continues to pay off. Northrop Grumman is respected for its technical leadership. It is the third largest military contractor in the world with 125,000 employees and earned a record $30.7 billion in 2005.

In addition to his corporate successes, Sugar has achieved academic excellence and contributed his engineering and leadership skills to drive large-scale national endeavors. He graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of California at Los Angeles, where he also received a master’s degree and a doctorate in the same field. Sugar is currently vice chairman of the Aerospace Industries Association, a trustee of the Association of the US Army, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. He has served, by presidential appointment on the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee. And he is currently serving as chair of Engineers Week (celebrated Feb. 19–25), for which SME will serve as lead Society sponsor in 2007.

An engineer first and foremost, Sugar has been quoted as recognizing the value of early program-manager positions in preparing future business leaders for the challenges they’ll face, telling attendees at a recent symposium: “In industry, a program manager is a high-stress, high-risk, high-reward job, and those who are successful often go on to general management.”

SME has proudly acknowledged Sugar for his professional eminence among manufacturing engineers with its 2006 SME Honorary Membership.


Carolyn Corvi Honored: Improved Boeing’s Production Capabilities

With enthusiasm, high energy, and a focus on results that have helped advance The Boeing Co. and the entire aerospace industry, Carolyn Corvi is the recipient of the SME 2006 Eli Whitney Productivity Award. In her current position as vice president–general manager, Airplane Production, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Corvi is responsible for managing Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ fully integrated production system from design through production and delivery.

Throughout her 32-year career with Boeing, Corvi has demonstrated creativity and innovation, and she has consistently achieved measurable results through the application of lean principles to Boeing’s operations. For instance, under her leadership, the 737/757 Programs incorporated industry-leading lean manufacturing principles, including a moving assembly line that reduced 737 final assembly flow time from 22 days when she took it over in 1999 to 11 days in 2005, just prior to her promotion to her current position. Earlier in her career, she was also responsible for a Move to the Lake project, which co-located most of the people who designed, built and supported the 737 inside one facility—a move that fostered increased teamwork and improved integration.

Corvi’s current assignment requires that she lead an unprecedented integration. She must bring together all facets of commercial airplane production, including design, fabrication, global procurement, final assembly, and delivery of all airplane models.

Corvi's success in the aerospace industry stems from her commitment to sound product development, customer relations, and supply-chain integration. She is considered a guru in applying lean practices and building the kinds of cultural changes necessary to sustain continuous organizational improvements.


Dauch Recognized for Transformational Leadership

From Volkswagen, to General Motors, to Chrysler, and, most recently, to American Axle & Manufacturing, the Tier One automotive supplier he co-founded in 1994, Richard E. Dauch has been the kind of no-nonsense transformational leader to whom SME is honored to present its 2006 Donald C. Burnham Manufacturing Management Award.

Over his four decades in automotive manufacturing, Dauch has led organizations from low productivity to world-class productivity, from being on the brink of bankruptcy to becoming highly profitable, and from operating low-tech factories to running leading-edge state-of-the-art complexes.

Dauch’s career is marked by firsts, bold moves, and exceptional leadership. At GM, Dauch became the youngest plant manager in Chevrolet history, and later at Volkswagen he planned and created the manufacturing facilities for the first volume automotive transplant in the US. In 1980, he was recruited to Chrysler by Lee Iacocca and, as executive vice president of Worldwide Manufacturing, he was the driving force behind the resurrection of the company’s ailing manufacturing operations.

In 1994, Dauch took on his biggest challenge yet: co-founding American Axle & Manufacturing (Detroit) by teaming with investors to purchase the GM axle, forge, and driveshaft driveline assets. Today, AAM is a Fortune 1000 company and one of the top 35 automotive suppliers in the world.

Dauch continues to contribute to the development of future talent, both through his generous training and development programs at AAM, and through his personal investments in engineering education, such as the recently opened Dauch Center for the Management of Manufacturing Enterprises at Purdue University (Lafayette, IN).


Ferrell Recognized for Exceptional Service

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) exists not only for its members, but because of its members. The Society is driven forward by dedicated, visionary volunteer leaders like Jack Ferrell, this year’s recipient of the SME Joseph A. Siegel Service Award.

Since joining the Society in 1982, Ferrell has continued to enthusiastically offer his time and talents to SME wherever and whenever needed. Ferrell’s contributions are particularly remarkable given that, for most of those years, he also served in manufacturing executive roles for TRW, Inc. He only recently retired from his position as TRW’s vice president of Manufacturing & Systems—Space & Defense Sector.

Ferrell served as SME President (in 1996), contributed seven years as a member of the SME Board of Directors, and has participated in a variety of project and governance-related committees. Most recently, he served on the three-person Board Work Group on Governance, which was charged with studying the feasibility of downsizing the SME Board of Directors in order to streamline decision-making and respond to the Society’s need for more agility in its governance. Ferrell’s work group finalized the proposal for downsizing that was approved by the Board of Directors last year, and the group created the implementation plan for the downsizing which will span a two-year timeframe.

Ferrell’s change-management skills and his ability to focus on the organization’s “big picture” have been invaluable to SME over the last 24 years.For more biographical information on these award recipients and more detail about the awards, go to the SME Web site,, locate your cursor on About SME at the top-right of the screen, and click on Awards & Recognition.


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

Published Date : 3/1/2006

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