Government officials are paying more attention to manufacturing these days. It’s now politically prudent to preach the merits of reshoring, near-shoring, and the return of the “good manufacturing job.” Of course, this also puts more scrutiny on manufacturing as an industry. Are these good companies, are they really providing good jobs, and are they helping communities grow?
Posts Tagged ‘skilled labor crisis’
By: Tim Heston
The Chicago teacher’s strike has a silver lining. It has gotten us talking about problems in education. These are problems metal fabricators are all too familiar with, thanks to the ongoing skilled labor crisis. Last weekend This American Life aired a show that asked a question that’s so basic it’s a little embarrassing that we have to ask it: What do our children really need to know to succeed?
By: Tim Heston
Just in time for election season (which, as a multiyear event now, is far longer than a season), a few advocacy groups are putting forth their views about what U.S. manufacturing needs. One of the most concise reports comes from the Georgia Tech and Council on Competitiveness, which released its report last week. Boiled down, the report says U.S. manufacturing needs improved infrastructure, simpler taxation and regulations, more skilled talent, and a focused industrial policy.
Many of those policies hit home for the nation’s larger manufacturers, and they’re indirectly important for the contract metal fabricators and other smaller companies that supply those OEMs. But skilled labor hits home for everybody.
By: Tim Heston
In early 2010 I attended an event hosted by plasma cutting systems maker ITT Kaliburn, near Charleston, S.C. That's when I met Joe McNamara. He had led ITT heat transfer unit's plant near Buffalo, N.Y., through a major lean manufacturing transformation.
A few weeks ago I caught up with McNamara, who has since moved on to other areas of the company; the Buffalo heat exchanger manufacturing plant now is operated by Xylem Inc. Throughout our chat, I kept asking about the typical lean stuff: How did the company's 5S program go? What value streams did you identify? What was the challenge of adapting your custom, made-to-order manufacturing operation to the tenets of lean manufacturing?
He obliged me with the details, but then kept coming back to one element he felt made the whole transformation possible: good communication, not only between shop floor workers but also (or perhaps especially) front-office personnel. They did it by tearing down barriers to communication, both literally and figuratively. They removed walls (again, literally and figuratively) between engineering, factory managers, purchasing, and quality.
“We knocked down walls constantly,” McNamara said. “We got to the point where we were functionally structured along value streams, so out on the factory floor we literally built enclosed rooms.” Those rooms were strategically placed only steps away from specific value streams on the floor.
Each focused factory had its factory manager, purchaser, planner, manufacturing engineer, and quality engineer working in close proximity. If a customer called and had a question about production, the engineer didn't have to transfer the call to anyone. He'd simply walk a few steps, talk to the front-line supervisors themselves, walk back and answer the customer's question—all in less than a minute.
“The level of emails back and forth, and the level of nonsense overall, really, dropped by 90 percent,” McNamara said.
By: Tim Heston
“We are becoming a legitimate, export-oriented country.”
So said Chris Kuehl, economist for the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, at yesterday's economic forecast breakfast at FABTECH 2011. Judging by the high traffic today at the show—evidence of a major resurgence in capital equipment spending—his point carries some weight. The weak dollar has helped exporting companies gain a foothold in foreign markets, he said, and once these midsized manufacturers prove themselves in those markets, they can stay in them and grow. This, he added, is one factor that has been driving America's manufacturers, many of which are growing much faster than the overall economy.
And it may be why the show floor is so busy. The crowds here belie an economy only projected to grow by 1.8 percent in 2011. Japan's earthquake shook supply chains. Storms from earlier this year have reduced oil refining capacity. Despite it all, metal fabricators are out in force and looking to buy. The shale gas boom continues. Aircraft orders are up. Things are looking good.