Effective production best bet for improved global market shares

You can become a champion for measures that improve your global market share, says R. Keith Mobley in his latest Boiler Room column.

By R. Keith Mobley

Every manufacturing facility wants its production systems and equipment to operate and be operated in a reliable manner. When that equipment does what it needs to do when it needs to do it, it maximizes plant output and profitability. No organization wants its production systems or processes to break down, to produce poor quality products, or to operate inefficiently. We want and expect them to operate perfectly.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. No physical asset operates flawlessly forever. In most organizations, breakdowns are the norm. So is reduced quality and lost productivity.

Scheduled shipments are too often made much too late.

Because the majority of deficiencies manifest themselves as equipment-related problems - breakdowns or maintenance-related corrective actions – inadequate maintenance is too often blamed for all the problems that plague a plant, facility or corporation. In truth, all functional groups share responsibility for these problems.

American industry has lost its competitive edge. It’s no longer the principal source of high-quality, low-cost products that were in such great demand following World War II. In the international market of the 1990s, offshore competitors have usurped America's role as the leader in both manufacturing technology and production capacity. As a result, America was ranked no better than fifth as a manufacturing power in the mid-1990s. Not only have we lost our majority share of the international market, but offshore competitors now claim a substantial percentage of our domestic market. Non-American companies now control what were traditionally American industries, such as steel, automotive, electronics and textiles.

The net result of this marked increase in offshore competition is a serious reduction in the worldwide demand for U.S. manufactured goods. This reversal in our domestic market has already reached a point where it’s impossible to purchase any consumer good that is totally American-made. To regain its place in the world market, American industry must make some changes.

Focus on effective production: Reverse the current management mode and put production ahead of finance and monetary manipulation. Managers who don’t really understand production will lose the competitive battle to managers who know their business intimately.

Cultivate a new economic citizenship: The workforce is the only means to improvement. Develop a new workforce that is involved, educated, responsible and rewarded. Given a fighting chance, they will maximize productivity.

Restructure organizational hierarchies: Aim for fewer job categories to promote the most productive blend of individualism and cooperation. Eliminate adversarial relationships, such as the tradition relationship between maintenance and production.

Learn to live in the world economy: Learn other languages, cultures and technologies. Protectionism only invites retaliation, but the U.S. also must insist that our goods be treated abroad as fairly as imported goods are treated here.

Provide for the future: Invest in education and save for productive investment. Americans must be provided with an education that is fundamentally different from what is available today. Only a tiny fraction of young Americans are technologically literate and have some knowledge of foreign societies. Unless we remedy these inadequacies, we’ll make no real progress.

If your plant could more consistently produce quality products at competitive prices, it could overcome most, if not all, of the factors that limit your market share. Unfortunately, too many plant professionals think that simple changes in organization structure or implementing one or more of the Japanese management concepts, such as Total Productive Maintenance or Total Quality Control, will provide a quick fix and reverse their position. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t that simple. Our problems are deep-rooted and can’t be resolved by simple means. To reverse the downward spiral that’s destroying our standard of living, we must eliminate the inherent problems that have evolved within our society, government, and corporations during the past 50 years.

E-mail Contributing Editor R. Keith Mobley, CMRP, principal consultant at Life Cycle Engineering, at kmobley@lce.com.

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