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Back to the future - 1990: a potpourri of SDF logic, strategy, philosophy and tactics.

Back to the Future - 1990

Like the industry as a whole, SDF International has grown and prospered over recent years. With IDEA `90 rapidly approaching, we thought it would be fun, perhaps insightful, to look back over nearly three years association with Nonwovens Industry. We've selected key themes and excerpts from articles that have appeared in the "Profitable Manufacturing" column, beginning with our initial contribution in January, 1988.

We believe these extracts represent solid management principles for the 1990's - notwithstanding that we wrote them! You decide...and if you want the original articles that deal with these subjects more fully, we'll be happy to send them to you. Besides, they make excellent bathroom reading and are a proven cure for airplane insomnia.

Here goes...

Managing Change/Technology

In light of the need to reduce manufacturing costs and improve profit margins to pay for capital investment, we have to ask whether these conditions favor the larger diaper companies and whether smaller companies can successfully deal with these issues?...

The answer here is these conditions favor those companies, large or small, that plan and execute and effective business strategy.

It's easy for a company without a plan to fall into an `activity trap.' In an industry such as disposable diapers where improvement translates to business survival, it is essential to break out of this mode and focus clearly on where the company must go and how it's going to get there.

Smaller companies are usually staffed to handle normal priorities and some reasonable incremental work created by new developments. It is therefore imperative that they realistically assess their ability to execute major new priorities, considering also the full impact on existing operations.

Many business managers don't recognize that capital equipment additions, even with an outstanding return on investment (ROI), will not substantially influence overall plant success without corresponding investments in people and related operational systems.

Frequently with goals established and well communicated, management takes a deep breath, congratulates itself on how well it is moving the business ahead and forgets to consider how the goals will be achieved in the plant.

Change represents both danger and opportunity, an interesting contrast, to say the least. If managed correctly, the risks can be minimized and the chances for success substantially improved.

When does activity turn into performance improvement? When you can see `on track' progress towards the goal.

Quality Systems

Successfully using the Total Quality approach requires more than blindly following any rigid program. The Total Quality approach is not magic; it will not work on `auto pilot.' Implementing Total Quality principles requires hard work, a large amount of management attention and, most importantly, careful management judgement.

Management at all levels learned that Total Quality improvement is more than merely another program for factory workers. It requires their active participation.

The improvements began when managers started:

* Using Total Quality principles to improve the whole company.

* Evaluating statistical data, rather than using `gut feel' to make business decisions.

* Hiring and training people to supply the technical skills necessary to understand and improve their manufacturing process.

* Forming improvement teams to solve real problems.

Integrating People and Technology

Successful companies are recognizing that cutting costs and running an efficient operation can only be done when the contribution of both people and capital assets is maximized.

Inadequate training or motivation prevents people from taking full advantage of the productive capacity or capabilities of new equipment. Additionally, most other cost performance factors are in the employees' hands. Not even the most advanced technology will ever approach the saving potential of a well-trained operating crew, utilizing good operational practices and methods.

Too often, management views growth narrowly, only in terms of hardware and equipment capabilities. When the human side of the growth and expansion equation goes to zero, the transition to a business nightmare is not far behind.

Protect the core business by recognizing that major new priorities require an investment in technical resources to achieve the full potential of equipment additions.

Plant Profitability

The linkage required to achieve an effective focus effort must begin with the company's basic orientation and commitment to improvement, supported by a critically important management mentality (similar to that required to achieve total quality improvement).

Setting priorities is the key: While generating good cost savings ideas is not too difficult, selecting which projects to pursue requires excellent management judgement.

Keep it simple: A plan that provides practical guidance to people in manufacturing will be much more effective than an elaborate plan that only an accountant could love.

Expect people to meet their commitments: The time and effort devoted to cost reduction projects needs to be part of an employee's job.

Everyone should know the organization's values, purpose and philosophy as they relate to quality, production, safety and teamwork. Insuring the stage is set in these areas establishes the first link in the chain of good results.

Standards, accountability and discipline are the blocking and tackling of manufacturing.

One of the best ways to stimulate improvement effort is to frequently measure results against goals and objectives. Of course, this assumes that the group has established performance objectives.

When things aren't going well in the plant, start searching for the reason in increasingly larger concentric circles around your own desk.

In the nonwovens industry (as in most these days), the definition of `learning curve' needs to change to keep pace with the shortened product life cycles and accelerated obsolescence of equipment and processes.

Many executives and middle managers spend too much time handling crises and routine business and precious little time leading the company forward.

Team Based Work Systems

Organizations with a progressive work concept, such as a teambased employee work system, have consistently been the most cost effective, productive operations.

Team based systems are managed by principles, not rules! The focus on results emphasizes teamwork, multiple skills and encouraged and common objectives are required.

These systems require extensive training, more access to performance information and employee involvement in all aspects of running the business. Increased communication from management and a higher level of commitment from all levels of the organization are a must.

Take a minute to think out how your pay system is designed. Does it reward higher operating proficiency, or does it contribute a pecking order of limited specialized skills?

Business Growth and Start-Ups

Experience is a hard gives the test first and the lessons afterwards.

A well executed start-up will quickly produce additional capacity, profitability and organizational momentum. It also establishes a good solid foundation for long term business success. Unfortunately, a poor start-up is very hard to overcome. It drains profits, inhibits progress and has voracious appetite for company resources.

Start-ups are the best opportunity to introduce new standards and systems and to change plant behavior and performance norms. People expect new systems with new plants and equipment and the opportunity to implement `pilot programs' in a start-up organization shouldn't be missed.

There is simply no substitute for skills acquired in previous start-ups. Therefore, after thoroughly evaluating what is to be accomplished (step one), find the experience capable of pulling it off.

Successful start-up plans focus on three key elements: proven technology, trained people and effective support systems.

As you depart IDEA `90 and move on to the challenges of 1991, we leave you with the following concluding thought:

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:SDF International
Author:Schuler, Thomas
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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