UpFront: Starting Over
By Brian J. Hogan
New Year’s Day has always pleased me. It’s a point on the calendar when we can say the past is behind us, disappearing in the rearview mirror, and good riddance! Throughout most of the year, it seems to me I live on a continuum, with days folding into one another. New Year’s Day is different; it’s a time to take a deep breath, and start over.
For all manufacturing industries and for manufacturing professionals, the year 2010 was peculiar—things getting better one month, not so good the next, then perhaps up again. Everyone went about wondering if the cycle was definitely carrying us upward, or if it would drop off a cliff once more.
It’s very frustrating to recognize that, to a great degree, one’s future depends upon decisions being made by others. The real-estate bubble and the spending explosion in Washington were certainly not driven by manufacturing, but they damaged all of us. And the consequences of both hang over the economy like a thundercloud. We can only hope that, this year, good decisions will be made in the District of Columbia.
Otherwise, what can manufacturing professionals do, as this new expanse of time stretches out before us, to secure the future?
To begin with, manufacturing needs to continue emphasizing productivity. Thoughtful investment in first-class technology is critical. The new equipment coming onto the market in every area of manufacturing is wonderful; don’t wave it aside without taking a good look. If we resume a downward slide, remember that the equipment builders are going to be looking for buyers—at almost any price.
And take care of your customers. In difficult times, they will look for reliable suppliers. Maintaining those connections can carry you through trouble to the next uptick in demand. Manufacturing is a business driven by personal relationships—trust is critical. Anyone who places a contract with a supplier takes the risk that the supplier won’t be able to fulfill the order. Support the customer who places trust in you.
Remember that real skills have real value. You’re not a juggler, a mime, or a street musician performing for quarters in the park. You make products and components that people and companies truly need and want. Much of what we see in the popular media is like the façade of a building; it’s decorative, but has no structural value. Manufacturing is part of the concrete and steel that lies behind the façade and holds up the structure. And because manufacturing really is vital, if our industrial economy is to exist at all, manufacturing must, and will, prosper. Welcome to 2011, and Happy New Year!
This article was first published in the January 2011 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.