By Brian J. Hogan
In an uncertain world, there is at least one unchanging reality with which we all must deal, and that is civilization’s need for energy. In this issue, Senior Editor James Lorincz presents two articles developed after conversations with manufacturers involved in the energy-industry supply chain. Opportunities and challenges are omnipresent in this field, and the competition faced by all hands is ferocious. Energy is sure to remain an area of interest for Manufacturing Engineering for as far forward in time as one can imagine. When the world’s economy recovers from recent troubles and begins to expand, all energy companies, and their suppliers, may be overwhelmed by demand for their products and services.
Not that such turbulence is something new for the manufacturing community.
What a ride these past ten years have been! Do you remember the last recession? In the US, it seemed more like a manufacturing depression than a recession, and the few years that followed it were like a warm room in wintertime for everyone in manufacturing. Then came the free-fall that has been named The Great Recession.
No one would argue that the economy can be expected to permanently ride on calm seas—the business cycle lives, after all—but today we truly need a good long stretch of recovery and prosperity for manufacturing. As the pressures of these times bear down, many fine old companies are vanishing or becoming divisions of larger firms. And in each such case a certain measure of unique expertise and experience is erased. During hard times, strong organizations survive, and the weak go under. But we are now seeing firms with very good reputations for excellence facing real difficulty. For the sake of manufacturing in North America, this must stop.
Perhaps the demands of the energy industries can be a source of strength for North American manufacturers and their suppliers. Oil and gas companies, builders of equipment for the nuclear industry, coal miners, and suppliers of alternate energy systems all need components and products that meet very high standards. Also, the energy industry needs to work with vendors that are reliable, stable, and easy to deal with. In addition, if the energy industries desire face-to-face contact with vendors, proof that each vendor possesses an excellent skill set, high quality, and shipping costs for components and systems that won’t break the bank, then North American companies should be high on the list of preferred suppliers.
Winning contracts from energy industry companies requires certain fundamentals: stable, centered processes; continuous improvement of those processes; vigorous cost controls; and free, open communication with the customer. Manufacturing professionals who are able to meet these requirements may find the energy field a bastion against the uncertainties of these difficult times.
This article was first published in the February 2011 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.