by Michael Riehn
People are the resource that drives manufacturing, but they can often be overlooked in the overall process. In difficult economic times, many talented people are the first in line when cost cutting moves occur.
The standard thinking is: “I can’t keep my employees busy, so I’m wasting the bottom line”. This is a short-sighted vision, when the next economic upturn can be right around the corner.
The hydraulic press industry is especially sensitive to this resource. Finding talented hydraulic engineers can be difficult in the good times, so each great hire is a precious resource.
Electrical, Hydraulic and Structural Engineering teams are a vital component to a great press, and more importantly, a great project. A hydraulic press manufacturer’s application experience can make or break your project. It is essential that you get to know the company that you choose before making your final decision.
The lesson from the press industry can be used for almost any manufacturing processes. By investing money in new employees and updated technology training in the difficult times, you are able to ‘leap ahead’ of the competition during the good times.
Lead times become shorter, technology advances, machinery becomes more efficient and new out of the box thinking gives your company an edge when everyone else is scrambling to keep up.
Can you afford to miss out on the most talented people in your industry?
Your army is lost, your navy destroyed and you are now a captive in an enemy camp, the war is over and you are defeated. As you lay in your chamber, starving, cold and bloody you ponder of what the next day will bring and then you think back to what went wrong.
Each battle you focused on like a laser, counting the tasks that led to each victory, strategies that made you seem undefeatable. The battles, while never easy, were never a problem either. You took the enemy down each and every time but this time it was different.
Your mind races back to the moment you knew you were in trouble. It seemed like the enemy came out of nowhere, swarms of troops from every direction, bullets, bombs and missiles strategically hit you on all fronts. But how, you had complete focus on the battle and thought you knew the enemy well.
The problem is the enemy changed. While you were focused on the battles they assembled in mass, hidden on the battlefield until they came at you with ferocity you were not prepared for and overran your defenses. You failed to see the entire battlefield through the heat of battle.
Business can be a lot like war. We focus on the heat of battle, battling to maintain our lead times, making good parts and keeping the customer happy. Yet we sometimes fail to see the “battlefield” and the opportunities that are headed our way. Soon the orders come in and we are not prepared for the volume. The lead time slips, the quality suffers and the customer becomes unhappy.
The economy appears to be recovering and the uptick of demand is starting. It’s a buyer’s market because everyone is hungry for business and because everyone put purchases on hold, they need it as quickly as you can get it to them. If you are not prepared you will be overran with the demand and will not be able to satisfy the customer.
As an OEM of hydraulic presses and equipment we see the battlefield and know the influx of capital purchases is upon us. Our customers that see the battlefield as well are ordering now to be prepared for their customers. Will you be ready to deliver a “shock and awe” campaign for your customers and blow their socks off or will you be overran, left cold and bloody, pondering what went wrong?
A wise businessman once told me to “Be thankful for problems - it they weren’t so hard, someone with less ability might have your job!”. In the grip of a tough situation, these words may not be comforting but in retrospect, they carry a lot of weight. Even as child I can remember asking my father what he did at work and his response, “I solve problems” made me think. Why on earth would you get up early in the morning, put on a suit, go to work and deal with problems all day and then do it again the next day?
In reality, that’s what we do, especially as a manufacturer. We solve problems. The problem may be how to make more widgets in a shorter amount of time or how to keep an old clunker machine running. Nonetheless, we get paid to create solutions to problems. As US manufacturing continues to shrink at an alarming rate, so do the ‘easy’ problems. Replacing old, unreliable and slower equipment with newer, faster and more reliable equipment isn’t enough. If you are going to compete globally, solutions to today’s manufacturing problems require unique and ‘outside the box’ options. There is no more low hanging fruit. The words ‘value added’ have a whole new meaning.
Today, this challenge trickles further down the personnel chain. In years past, the value of an employee could be measured in terms of reliability, dedication and loyalty. Today, manufacturing professionals have to bring these same traits to the workplace in addition to an ability to solve difficult challenges with creative thinking. Doing your job the same way you did it the day before is no longer considered ‘adequate performance’.
Today, ‘adequate performance’ requires initiative, creative thinking and the energy to follow through and get the job done. This may be the strongest asset when working with new customers and their projects.
If my prospective customers did not have problems, they wouldn’t need me. So, I am thankful for problems, are you?