Manufacturing Summit: Cautionary Notes During an Era of Good Feeling
By James D. Sawyer
Most of the messages delivered during the Automotive Manufacturing Summit (AMS) at Detroit’s Ford Field were familiar and welcome. A few, though, were cautionary and perhaps a bit disturbing to those who have been caught up in the resurgence of the North American auto industry in general and the Detroit 3 in particular.
AMS was a day of presentations and discussions that were part of the two-day 2013 Manufacturing in America Symposium sponsored by Siemens Industry Inc. and Electro-Matic Products Inc.The symposium also included better than 40 seminars and displays by 30 vendors.
Industry consultant Laurie Harbour, president and CEO of Harbour Results Inc., outlined the bright prospects for Detroit, saying that “success factors for manufacturing in the US” exist. She noted, though, that while the industry has climbed a long way out of the trough it found itself in just before and during the Great Recession, it is not wholly certain that OEMs and vendors are profiting from lessons learned during those hard times.
It’s possible, she contended, that some vendors may have gotten so caught up recently in scrambling to fill the backorders that consumer demand for new vehicles has generated that they may be slipping into bad, old habits that helped precipitate the auto crisis in the first place. That would be a shame, she believes, because there is real opportunity ahead. She believes North America will see auto production increase by 5.4 million units by 2019 as the US becomes more of an exporter.
Part of that increase, she contended, exists because the US has become a lower cost producer—especially compared to Europe—while wages are on the rise in China. However, she said, China has awareness, money and willingness to increase manufacturing efficiency through the use of advanced technology to make up for increasing wages.
Another consultant, Guy Morgan, CEO of Performance Improvement LLC, agreed with many of Harbour’s points. He also noted that the emphasis placed on production systems and lean manufacturing by American industry has, in many instances, a case of talking the talk but not walking the walk.
The skills gap also came in for its share of mention. Mike Bastian, Ford Motor Co.’s controls engineering manager of powertrain manufacturing, said that controls engineers are in such short supply at his company that efforts have been made to train electricians to take on this role. He also bemoaned the fact that no school offers a degreein Manufacturing Controls Engineering.
Bastian said that the industry needs to attract the people it needs by promoting the positives of manufacturing, going outside the automotive industry to attract talented people—and letting them know that once they have auto experience they will be welcome in just about any industry they choose. He also said that it is important that controls engineers be recognized as an integral and important part of “the team driving the [auto] business forward.”
“I can second everything he said,”stated Raymond Caillé, global process manager machine controls General Motors Powertrain. While Caillé echoed Bastian’s position on the need for controls engineers, his presentation was aimed at Tier Two suppliers. He outlined what he looks for from these companies, but emphasized that establishing the right sort of relationships that will deliver what is best for the consumer is at the heart of things.
“It’s really a people business,”he said. “It’s not a technology business.” ME
Contact James D. Sawyer: firstname.lastname@example.org