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Who really knows the score?

American top managemetn doesn't seem ready to commit the necessary long-term investmetns to renew our manufacturing technology so industrial companies can avoid sapping their growth potential in increasingly competitive world markets. Unfortunately, we still have thousands of antiquated plants run by business managers who expect that the improving economy, the long awaited light at the end of the tunnel, is all that's needed to save them. They are obliviious to the probability of the light being the headlamp on a newly tooled japanese locomotive.

According to Dr Edward W Ungar, VP of the Battelle Memorial Institute (an R&D organization in Columbus, OH), there are three important aspects of global industrial competition that have amazingly escaped the attention of management:

* The global economy has created huge trade deficits, is taking away opportunities from American workers, and, spurred by labor cost disparities, will eventually dictate if the next generation of factories are to be built here or abroad.

* The Japanese are effectively keeping pace with technology by aggressively supporting and using R&D.

* Competition in the near future will be far different than in the recent past, e.g., traditional market share leades may not be the leaders next year or the year after that.

"Manufacturing companies can't become content--particularly if it comes at the price of failing to renew the firm's technology base," says Dr Ungar. "When y ou least expect it, someone will introduce a new product or improve an existing one that makes yours obsolete. Many of these products will come from companies that never before were rivals." Us against them

"As technology races along and world competition intensifies, our industries are increasingly run at two levels," observes James A Baker, VP of General Electric's Technical Systems Sector (Fairfield, CT). "At the upper level, the big wheels develop grandiose strategies that may or may not have any connection with reality.

"AT the other level are the manufacturing engineers--the people who smell the hot cutting fluid and walk in the metal shavings. They are the ones who really know what the score is, i.e., whether or not the enterprise is, or will remain, competitive."

Baker feels too many MEs, however, have been beaten into submission by a myopic top management armed with outdated accounting methods. He uses the story about a little boy with a communication problem to drive this point home.

It seems Craig's parents were repeatedly angered by his frequent and eloquent use of profanity. As his mother dressed him one day for a neighbor girl's birthday party, she solemnly warned that the girl's mother was told to send him home immediately if he began his customary swearing; 15 min after leaving for the party, Craig was back.

His mon spanked him soundly, sending him to bed without permitting a word of explanation. A second thrashing was administered when his father came home. The boy was told to be quiet when he tried to speak. Finally, after the spanking was over, his dad asked," Now what was it you wanted to say?" Craig looked up and said, "I just wanted to tell you that the damn party was postponed until tomorrow."

The disturbing reality of such unrelenting beatings by management is that the key players in renovating our factories, the manufacturing engineers, now seem resigne to play the role of Mr Goodwrench. They sheepishly squeeze performance out of antiquated, Rube Goldberg style machinery, all the while knowing that only radical productivity measures will ensure the long-term survival of their company. Get mad as hell because your company can't take it anymore

"In George Orwell's other book (Animal Farm)," observes Baker, "there's a heroic, lovable horse named Boxer. If you remember the story, the pigs, being more equal than the others, sit in the farmhouse drinking and issuing orders while the mismanaged farm goes rapidly downwhill. Instead of kicking down the farmhouse door and telling the pigs the score, Boxer gets up earlier every morning, vowing to work harder with what is available. Eventually he worked himself to death.

"My point," he continues, "is the people who know the score on the factory floor must soon decide whether they wish to continue being accomplices in their own destruction, or whether they are ready to force the issue of innovation in the factories that are their own livelihood.

"If you are an engineer in a stagnating manufacturing company I suggest you sound the alarm or jump ship while there's still time," advises Baker. "It's easy to grumble about management stupidity, but keep in mind that when the bridge of a big ship goes to the bottom it's accompanied by the engine room."
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Technically speaking
Author:Coleman, John R.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Jul 1, 1984
Previous Article:Flexible machining systems to make Army vehicle parts.
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