The Only Way We Can Outperform

While at IMTS in September, I overheard a couple of comments about manufacturing competitiveness that made me scratch my head. The first went something like this: "The only way you can outperform other shops—those that typically have the same machines and cut the same materials you do—is to put better tools in your machines."

 


While at IMTS in September, I overheard a couple of comments about manufacturing competitiveness that made me scratch my head. The first went something like this: "The only way you can outperform other shops—those that typically have the same machines and cut the same materials you do—is to put better tools in your machines."

The second one was: "The long-term security of machine shops here in the U.S. will be defined by the future developments in machine technology."

We understand the contribution that our shops’ technology makes to our business’s success. But we remain surprised that both of the above opinions ignore or discount the value that our people bring to our companies’ abilities to compete and to be sustainable.

It’s the equipment. Of course it is. We are not suggesting that equipment is unnecessary to be competitive in the precision machining industry these days. Today, more than ever, our shops are pressured by global forces to make increasingly complex parts complete on a single machine.

Of course it is. We are not suggesting that equipment is unnecessary to be competitive in the precision machining industry these days. Today, more than ever, our shops are pressured by global forces to make increasingly complex parts complete on a single machine.

The old ways of doing secondary operations are no longer cost effective for many products. In my visits to shops across North America, I find that the shops with the latest machine tool technology are busy. They are outperforming their own past performance in the areas of quality and efficiency (parts per man hour). And, they are competitive globally on per-piece cost.

Having advanced, up-to-date machine tool technology is an essential component of the competitive equation for today’s precision machining shops.

Equipment alone is not the differentiator, however. Even the latest machine tools we have seen are often deployed just as they came from the factory and seldom custom-modified to any great length.

In most cases, the same machine technology is available to any other firm that cares to invest. So, if the machine tool technology is the same as what is available to anyone else, how can it be the differentiator for your shop?

Technology development, as cited in the second quote, means the discovery and implementation of new ways to produce and process. This will be an advantage to early adopters, but only in the short term.

In the longer term, the newer means of production will become widely available to others, as well. Technology focus in a business requires constant investments to sustain it as a unique business advantage.

It’s not the materials. No one really has a "material advantage" these days. To be sure, the pedigree from suppliers here in North America—and their adoption of internationally recognized, quality management systems—give our customers greater faith in our products.

No one really has a "material advantage" these days. To be sure, the pedigree from suppliers here in North America—and their adoption of internationally recognized, quality management systems—give our customers greater faith in our products.

Who knows what the origin of the material in those other economies might be? Was the mill of origin certified? How about the distributor? Are the quality credentials valid or "bought off the street?"

We have assisted a number of companies trying to determine what was going on with the materials used to make parts in foreign shops. But from a firm-to-firm basis, material is not the differentiator of competitiveness.

It’s our people. Of course, it’s our people. How could it not be? After all, it is our people who are doing the performing.

Of course, it’s our people. How could it not be? After all, it is our people who are doing the performing.

Having great technology and great materials but mediocre people is not a recipe for success. It is, to paraphrase one of my favorite wisdom teachings, "a great way to make a small fortune from a larger one."

The one thing that is unique to any business is the talent it has on staff. It is that talent which helps the company build quality and management systems and processes that can be successful at today’s high levels of quality and delivery performance.

It is the people who are able to skillfully put the latest technologies to work in order to make products that fully conform to the customer’s demanding requirements. And, it is people who are focused on continuously improving their knowledge and skills, learning something new each day and every time something unexpected develops.

The only way we can outperform is to recognize the value our people add to our organizations. We need to develop a plan to continue to reinvest in our "human resources," so they can continue to improve their knowledge, upgrade their skills and become better contributors to the value our companies add.

It is our people who learn to operate, then to optimize, and then to do magic with the latest technologies we provide. It is our people who take the raw materials we acquire and transform them into the safety-critical, highly engineered, precision components that make today’s lifesaving technologies possible.

The only way we can outperform is to recognize, support and improve our efforts to develop and maintain the craft of our workforce. Subscribing to the PMPA Listserves provides insight into ways that other shops do it. It can also help with distributed problem solving.

Attendance at local PMPA district and chapter programs can result in your people picking up a few tricks of the trade and being better informed. National-level meetings like the PMPA National Technical Conference, the Precision Machining Technology Show and PMPA Management Update all provide opportunities for your employees to gain additional knowledge and "tools they can use."

Your membership in PMPA is an important part of your shops’ employee development efforts. We sincerely hope that it is only a small part of your program for employee development.

We hope that you have an ongoing program for employee training and development, so your employees can help your company continue to outperform the demands it faces.

It’s a challenging environment for precision machined components in today’s global marketplace. I, for one, am thankful we are facing those challenges with the talented people I see whenever I visit shops like yours.