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SME Speaks: Planning for the Future of Manufacturing

Paul K. Oldroyd






By Paul K. Oldroyd
Technical Fellow
Bell Helicopter Textron Inc.
Member Since 2012

In Texas, a “brand” usually means “this livestock belongs to so-and-so…” You might be smiling right now, but this is not a bad analogy. A brand is distinct. A brand is recognizable. A brand is a mark of influence or ownership—in some ways it is an identity. “Making the future…,” if applied to industry seems ethereal, almost too broad and too philosophical to have a reasonable chance to define, to anticipate and to reduce to actionable steps. However, applied to an organization, it has a more definite meaning. It becomes a charter or a challenge.  

SME’s brand and associated tagline “Making the future. Together.” requires having a vision of the future state, and recognizing the steps needed to be taken to realize that vision. It infers an understanding of the dependent relationship between imminent action and that future state. It requires visionary thinking, preparation and education. It demands action, but that action must be sufficiently controlled to preserve the proper trajectory. Unlike Jules Verne, if you expect to reach the moon, you don’t just aim at it and shoot—you must know where it will be in a future state and navigate to that point in space to ensure a successful rendezvous. Trajectories are calculated based on fundamental laws, predictable response to physical conditions. In the manufacturing community, trajectory is a function of market demands. SME’s members are uniquely positioned to understand and respond to these demands as they relate to and influence domestic manufacturing.

The perception of how manufacturing technology responds to market demands is something like a blacksmith shop in an old-west town, or like Chicago during the industrial revolution…“hammer on it until it’s done, and get a bigger hammer if you need to.” There is nothing wrong with a success-oriented attitude, and brute-force often works, but when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything tends to look like a nail. The reality is that the tools available today are much more sophisticated than those in our old toolbox. Automation, mechanization, robots and digital manufacturing are common. Perhaps our approach to how we plan for the future of manufacturing should be as sophisticated, as scientific, as capable as the mechanical tools that are currently being deployed for our production lines. Simulation should be exploited to avoid trial and error. Project and program planning phases should employ statistical methods from the onset. Perhaps we should sequester some of our limited ManTech research funds to more thoroughly define a systematic, scientific approach to the manufacturing process as opposed to just to the product. 

In the business reality, “respond to market demands” is often translated as “seek rate opportunity.” Increasingly, OEMs have a difficult time competing for low-tech, high-labor manufacturing, and domestic labor cannot compete with foreign labor rates. Tier-1, Tier-2 and foreign suppliers will continue to provide the bulk of manufacturing’s “heavy-lifting,” with lower overhead and accepting smaller profit margins. From a manufacturing perspective, we need to understand when to seek rate opportunity versus when to add value to domestic manufacturing by applying new technology throughout the supply chain. Rate opportunities tend to normalize over time, while technology insertion (assuming capital is carefully planned and amortized) tends to have a longer half-life. This is particularly true in long-cycle, low-volume business. The cautious use of tailored automation, selective mechanization and modular manufacturing can offer a step-function change in efficiency and provide improved quality. In the end-game, a prescient, dedicated approach to high-value processing can compete and win over a rate-only philosophy.

Here are a few points that we might keep in mind when contemplating what we can do to ensure a robust manufacturing presence in our future economy:

  • Encourage the manufacturing community to continue the shift from a traditional “can-do” philosophy toward a more sophisticated, strategic, mechanized, modular approach to manufacturing throughout the supply chain.
  • Preserve and defend active, prescient ManTech research and development at all levels of the manufacturing supply base—OEM, Tier 1, Tier 2, university and government.
  • Encourage the manufacturing community and professional organizations to establish and participate in appropriately sized collaborative relationships and consortia.

In summary, I think a more sophisticated approach to “how” we build as opposed to just “where” we build, and a commitment to continued business-case-based ManTech research, still has an opportunity to impact the future of domestic manufacturing…and to realize the SME tagline “Making the future. Together.” ME

Chapter Planning One-Day Conference

SME’s Silicon Valley Chapter 98 will be holding its 9th Annual Conference, Thursday, May 22 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. The one-day seminar will focus on 3D printing and robotics. Currently, the chapter has 20+ speakers and panelists, including serial entrepreneurs, company founders, R&D leaders, manufacturers, design firms and colleges. The conference is being held in conjunction with the Design-2-Part Show in collaboration with SME’s North Bay Chapter 431 and Sacramento Valley Chapter 145. Conference details are available at


SME Leadership Series

Since 2006, SME has not only been training its members on how to be effective leaders, but also the art of recruiting and retaining volunteers. The Leadership Series is held several times per year and in various parts of the United States and Canada. In 2013–14, the Leadership Series shifted into a dual-track format, where attendees were given the option of attending the traditional Leadership Series track or choosing to partake of the additional track focused on various topics. In 2014, the Leadership Series will return to its single-track format, but the content will be updated, and one Leadership Series in particular will be held after a larger SME event. Below are the dates and locations for the 2014 SME Leadership Series:

  • Atlanta, March 28–29
  • Covington, KY (Cincinnati area), April 11–12
  • San Francisco, September 19–20
  • Toronto, October 17–18

Please mark your calendars and join us, even if you’ve attended before! To register, visit


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

Published Date : 2/27/2014

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