Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Innovative Manufacturer 

Rick Jarman, President & CEO of NCMS, talks about the innovative manufacturer, explaining it will take more than just technology to bring manufacturing into the 21st century. It will take companies whose philosophy, business approach and culture are totally committed to innovation — to exploring all avenues associated with the latest advances in digital manufacturing, from the shop floor to the executive office.

Innovation is a term that is thrown around quite a bit these days — this may be because the definition of innovation is so simple. According to the World English Dictionary it is defined as:

-n

1. something newly introduced, such as a new method or device

See what I mean? This can be applied to nearly everything and it will never be dated, because with the right framing anything can be considered innovative.

In this article, let's take a look at the "innovative manufacturer."

Based on my years in the manufacturing industry, I can tell you that it will take more than just technology to bring manufacturing into the 21st century. It will take companies whose philosophy, business approach and culture are totally committed to innovation — to exploring all avenues associated with the latest advances in digital manufacturing, from the shop floor to the executive office.

This is a paradigm shift.

Steve Jobs revealed not so long ago, that Apple has nearly 700,000 contract manufacturing workers in China. If these workers were directly on Apple's payroll, the company would be the fifth largest employer in the world.

Surprisingly, saving money through wage differential is not Apple's only reason for outsourcing to China; Jobs said that "Mid-level, factory-floor engineers are too hard to find in the US. Not the person from MIT or Cal Tech but the guy in the factory who is constantly improving operations."

Surprising? Not really, we're still producing "traditional manufacturers," lacking the skills of the innovative manufacturer — we're re-tooling our factories, but not our workers — and the US is falling behind because of this.

Many say they want to save manufacturing. The Administration is putting a half of a billion dollars to this end with their Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) initiative. But they are looking at the edifice, the concept — MANUFACTURING, not the philosophy, approach and culture of it.

We need to reinvent the concept of manufacturing.

And as we've said before, engaging the "missing middle" is one part of this as they are the organizations that will revitalize the economy, drive jobs and realize the concept of innovative manufacturing.

So what are the qualities of an innovative manufacturer?

As an organization, they need to be forward-thinking, predictive, tech-savvy and aggressive. This new manufacturer is always evolving and the organization builds loyalty through ownership of what it does, not of individual's jobs.

They listen to their people, regardless of their position on the proverbial totem pole. This means that when a particularly gifted assembly line worker notices that the way widget A is fitting into widget B is going to create quality issues down the line, a knowledge they possess from their life/work experience, there are open communication channels to get that information to the shop foreman, engineers and designers for evaluation.

Each person, regardless of their role, is respected for their inherent knowledge, even if they don't hold an advanced degree. They have the tools they need to do the job right including knowing when to use automation or installation of the right software.

The Innovative Manufacturer is not any larger than it needs to be, it is a sustainable company that is always evolving — not stopping at a single innovation, fad or "hit". They are constantly examining markets and opportunities with a critical eye and are always looking for improvement. They are always innovating, eager to adopt new approaches that show promise and to take calculated risks.

They can do this, because they invest heavily in human capital improvement and the tools they need to make them as good as they can be — they understand that their employees are their greatest asset.

Who are these ideal, innovative employees?

From the CEO's standpoint, they excel in critical thinking and take a problem-solving approach to every task they encounter. They feel loyalty to the company, people and the product, not the paycheck. How does the CEO know this, because their human capital have excellent written and oral communications skills and possess an impressive level of business aptitude.

From the direct manager's standpoint, the innovative employee has technical skills beyond the traditional "line worker" with a willingness to utilize open communication channels and apply critical thinking. They are always happy to go the extra mile for the company and excel in collaborative, team environments because they feel valued and heard. They possess engineering know-how, and the desire to continuously improve.

Do you see a correlation here between the CEO and Direct Manager's view?

I know you may be saying "that's all well and good, but where do I find those innovative employees?"

BMW-plantexpansion-07It's true; we need to change the face of manufacturing and the way future manufacturers are trained in academia. When did "blue collar" become a bad thing? Manufacturing is no longer dirty, dumb and dangerous. If you don't believe me, check out some of the photos of BMW's impressive plant in South Carolina. Some hospitals or kitchens should be that clean and operate so efficiently. This is going to take a culture and education shift — and yes, a paradigm shift. We're going to need to nurture our US talent, give them the knowledge, skills and tools they need to succeed. And listen to them.

But let me tell you, with US unemployment at an all-time high, there are innovative employees out there, and they are ready to get back to work.

If you build an innovative manufacturer, they will come.

EnterpriseAI