What happens when you get more than 150 fabricators from across the country in one room? Ideas start flowing. Unlike three years ago, attendees at The FABRICATOR’s Leadership Summit this year spoke of expansion and capacity challenges.
During a roundtable discussion, one operations manager spoke of an aerospace contract. The fabricator had served the customer well, and that customer now wanted to give the fabricator more work--a lot more work. Attendees batted around ideas. Should she expand, or share the work with area fabricators? Ultimately, they chose the latter, because that would provide the excess capacity the fabricator needed to meet future demand, wherever it may come from.
“The customer will thank you for it later,” said one attendee.
What a difference three years makes. In 2009 Bernard Swiecki of the Center for Automotive Research, Ann Arbor, Mich., showed slides depicting low sales and an automotive business on the brink. This year, he showed how busy the new, albeit much smaller, automotive industry really is. Many plants are running at or near capacity.
Attendees of this year’s Leadership Summit are the survivors. They got here by analyzing their operations to improve throughput with existing resources. And after years of process optimization, attendees considered the news of the mess in Washington an absurdity.
Thursday’s keynote speaker, Ned Monroe from the National Association of Manufacturers, spoke of manufacturing’s positive outlook, of the potential behind reshoring and exports. But he also spoke of the risks brought about by the dysfunction we’re now seeing inside the Beltway. Many programs, including defense, may soon be on the chopping block, “If you’re in the defense industry, I would advocate moving out of it as quickly as you can,” he said.
Many fabricators have endured contracts with year-over-year price reductions. They’ve analyzed their businesses, got lean and mean, and marched forward to gain market share and become more profitable. Why couldn’t government do the same?
It may well boil down to incentives. The more a small business (or any business, for that matter) can accomplish with less money, the better it does, the more it can grow, and the more successful its employees become. The same logic doesn’t apply in Washington. The more a bureaucrat does with less money, the less money that bureaucrat gets in the future, and the less secure that bureaucrat’s job becomes.
In the old days, implementing lean was code for downsizing. In recent years the free market has forced the matter. To survive, manufacturers needed to improve or face extinction. It’s just a business reality. Soon government may face a similar reality, but one that’s far more complex. Still, judging by all that manufacturing has been through during the past few decades, people in this business community don’t have much sympathy.