We’ve all heard the now routine warnings regarding the lack of skilled workers available to American manufacturing companies. This “gap” is understandable given that the United States has experienced the offshoring of countless manufacturing operations over the past three or four decades. Companies have cited many reasons for this realignment of assets from lower cost labor and raw materials to growth prospects and more hospitable tax environments. Clearly, the American economy is not as manufacturing oriented, as it was in the several decades post WWII.

Perhaps that will no longer be the case. We picked up an article that appeared in Industry Week a few months back that posited the headline: “The Global Manufacturer: Is U.S. Manufacturing Worth Investing In?”.  Poor grammar aside, the article cited government data showing U.S. Manufacturing growth has doubled that of the overall economy since 2010. Given that the economy has not exactly been on fire, that’s a pretty “meh” finding. Reading on, things got more interesting with studies showing that manufacturing executives are increasingly studying and making plans to bring operations back to the U.S.

Ostensibly in support of this trend, the industry media, prognosticators, and association groups condense a lot of information into snappy, easy to consume lists such as:

  • “5 Manufacturing Trends…” (Industry Week)
  • “Top 10: Manufacturing Trends 2015” (Manufacturing Global)
  • “Manufacturing Leadership Council Critical Issues 2015”
  • “6 Challenges Facing The Global Manufacturing…”(Manufacturing Global)
  • Search results in Google.com on “Manufacturing issues” – 344,000,000 hits

Of course, each article takes a little different slant, but at the risk of triggering a great amount of passionate email bound for our info@certitudegroup.com box, we’d like to offer up a few experiential realities that are mostly absent from these lists.

First the disclaimer: Certitude is in a unique position to comment on this topic because we have worked for a number of years in manufacturing environments. Our manufacturing “issues list” is not academic, political, economic, or cultural. It is based purely on a non-statistically relevant, small (in global terms) sample of first hand observations over hundreds of man-years of experience by our consulting teams.

In one word: it’s discipline. It’s no secret that world-class operations are “world-class” because they do more things very well than not. Manufacturers engage Certitude because they are not happy with their performance; either in a specific plant operation or their Manufacturing function in general. We always see significant discipline related breakdowns in under-performing operations. More often than not our manufacturing engagements contain interventions addressing the following types of discipline related issues:

  • Sales and Operations Planning develops plans with faulty or missing information that are overly optimistic; in essence planning to miss their plans
  • Asset reliability assumptions do not reflect reality; assets are run to failure in a futile effort to keep up with plans or crucial routine maintenance is performed while falling behind plan
  • Operations personnel feel short staffed and develop clever “work-arounds” to get product out the door while inadvertently sub-optimizing the total operation
  • “Lean” is a buzzword that drives incremental tunnel vision resulting in “spot weld” improvements that can’t save a sinking operation
  • The path to Continuous Improvement is…“cloudy”, meaning metrics are often not aligned with desired outcomes; i.e.- business strategy.

We’ve seen many variations on these themes but we note with some interest that what our project teams see with their own eyes, have very little to do with oft seen media reports on labor costs, over-regulation from the public sector, globalization of supply chains, or excessive spending on benefits (particularly healthcare).

Up next: How we uncover root causes of breakdowns in manufacturing discipline.

If you’d like to see case studies and results go here:  http://www.certitudegroup.com/downloads

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