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SME Speaks: Plotting SME'S Purpose: Skills and Knowledge for Innovation

Michael F. Molnar







By Michael F. Molnar, FSME, CMfgE, PE
SME President
Member Since 1982

We all have favorite teachers from our past, and perhaps why they remain so memorable from many years ago is their role in some notable “ah-ha” moment. It might be an insight of value or clever approach useful throughout our lives. A favorite engineering professor of mine was famous for framing everything in a two-dimensional chart. Every lecture began and ended with such charts. While some thought this was overly simplistic—after all, complex systems have many variables—the lesson to me was with the power of focus. There is value in identifying the two most important factors for anything, and then really understanding how these factors are related. I’ve found this “how would you plot it” focus is really useful in understanding many things. Which leads me to this question: What exactly is the “2D purpose plot” for SME today, particularly with our new brand?

By now, I hope you have noticed SME’s new brand and tagline “Making the future. Together.” The brand was unveiled in June and announced in this column by Dennis Bray, our 2013 president. In my October 2013 editorial, I further discussed the reasons for the new brand, symbolism behind the logo and our 2014 implementation focus. You may even have seen a nice new “Rediscover SME” pamphlet, which covers our new vision/mission/purpose statements, explains the four SME “brand pillars” and the five SME “strategic areas.” These are all important, but perhaps those not very involved in SME today may not envision the inherent “purpose plot” of SME. Notably, while we have a new brand, the underlying basis for SME has not changed. Rather, our new brand serves to amplify this purpose: To advance manufacturing and attract future generations. The underlying “purpose plot” for SME is all about technology and workforce.    

SME Speaks Chart

I posed this question to our 2014 Board of Directors and was surprised at the energetic dialog, all in agreement that the above graphic powerfully conveys SME's purpose. Manufacturing is incredibly important, yet suffers from a misperception that it is not high tech, is somehow separate from design and innovation, and is not a desirable career path. This misperception creates both knowledge and skills barriers to advancing manufacturing and attracting future generations. For more than 80 years, everything SME has done is focused on addressing either this knowledge gap, individual skills gap or both. This need is greater now than ever before, and the new brand is all about making our purpose more visible. 

In fact, while every director was in agreement with this purpose plot, many said their “ah-ha” moment was noting that this is what makes SME special. Manufacturing is exceptionally broad, and there are many organizations, associations and consortia involved in manufacturing. SME is a proud partner and collaborator with many of these organizations—yet it was observed that SME is unique in having this purpose.

SME’s mission is to inspire, prepare and support people for a profession in manufacturing. This is especially so for advanced manufacturing, which requires more education and training than what was previously needed years ago. It's also a different mindset—a mindset that knows and understands that manufacturing jobs of the future will require individuals to think of their job as a profession. It doesn’t matter if a person works on the shop floor or in the office; as an operator, technician or as an engineer; as a manger or CEO—the need is the same.  

For many manufacturing companies, there is a real business imperative to use innovation as a competitive differentiator. This is where our SME purpose plot shines, with the notion that true “Innovative Capacity” is the result of “Talent-Driven Innovation.” Think of the technology axis as advancing the tools in the tool bag and the workforce axis as enhancing the skills of the professional using those tools. Understanding technology advancements requires learning to address knowledge gaps, and gaining the understanding to make use of this knowledge requires learning to address skills gaps.   

So in the end, it really comes down to what SME has to offer to advance manufacturing and fill the knowledge and skills gap. SME has continuously and simultaneously extended both the knowledge boundary and the skills boundary…with the aim to realize our overarching value proposition. To continue to do this, and to promote and implement our new brand, all strategic areas of SME—events, training and development, membership, Manufacturing Engineering Media and the SME Education Foundation—must all work together to ensure that SME is fulfilling its stakeholders expectations and ultimately exploring its endless potential. 

In 2014, we will continue our work to advance manufacturing, share knowledge, and train and educate the current and future manufacturing workforce. It’s an exciting time for manufacturing, and an ideal time for SME growth. If you are a member, I invite you to become more involved. If you are an SME customer, stakeholder or manufacturing practitioner, I’d like to hear your thoughts about SME.   

Going beyond SME, I invite you to share your ideas and thoughts about manufacturing today. People learn by stories, and the stories of how manufacturing enhances people’s lives and spark innovation is the best means of addressing the manufacturing image issue. Please consider adding your voice by sharing your story at Your story could be the catalyst for someone else to reimagine what is possible. Thank you for being a part of manufacturing! ME


This article was first published in the January 2014 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF

Published Date : 1/1/2014

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