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Smart Manufacturing will Require Smart Leaders

As manufacturers work to keep up with technology, their leaders must keep up their knowledge as well.

04_07HarleyTour_01Smart manufacturing concepts are offering manufacturers new ways to use data, robotics and devices to optimize their designs and production. But to truly be effective, smart manufacturing must start with smart leaders to drive cohesion between human capital and technology.

Steven Blue, president and CEO of Miller Ingenuity, and author of “American Manufacturing 2.0: What Went Wrong and How to Make it Right,” said that while smart manufacturing will offer tremendous opportunities, CEOs need to be careful not to turn away from the potential of their workforce. Blue feels there’s no sense in buying expensive machine tools when the workforce isn’t fully engaged in what they’re doing. He added that too many CEOs view their employees as expendable assets, but should instead view them as renewable resources—and then renew them.

“What is the sense in spending millions on smart manufacturing technology to automate your factory if the workforce couldn’t care less?” said Blue.

He feels that while some manufacturing CEOs tend to brush aside talk of company culture, it will become more important than ever in smart manufacturing. The blueprint for Manufacturing 2.0 will be what he calls the “7 Values of Ingenuity”—innovation, excellence, commitment, community, teamwork, respect and integrity. Leaders, he said, will need to strive to establish a company culture on these values with synergy between them all to function properly. Yet it won’t be easy, because these cultural changes will come at significant cost and organizational effort, and “will likely create turmoil in your company.”

“Any investment you make should support a strategy and have a return. CEOs need to encourage manufacturing leadership and engineers to adopt that mentality.

Leaders will need to encourage their workers to think with a single focus of meeting production and profit goals. Blue said they’ll also need to cultivate a workforce that is “engaged, enlightened and empowered, and that trusts and believes in its leadership.”

Manufacturing leaders also must be willing to embrace disruption and technological change. Denise Swink, CEO of the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition, said that will include a clear vision of how to become globally competitive on a sustainable basis through an infusion of technology and intelligence. Leaders will need to modernize legacy assets and incorporate new system designs to capitalize on new opportunities. “Dynamic, real-time management of all performance objectives, rationalizing and trading off where needed is possible, in many cases, for the first time,” said Swink.

Executives also need to have a clear vision about how smart manufacturing concepts can benefit all operations. Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich said at Chief Executive’s Smart Manufacturing Summit last year that leaders need to know how to use their manufacturing to gain a competitive advantage, and then apply technology to support that strategy.

Harley Davidson made a transformation through labor, systems and capital. This includes new discipline and rigor in the workforce, ongoing investments in technologies and the ability to view factories less as cost centers and more as strategic investments. “Any investment you make should support a strategy and have a return. CEOs need to encourage manufacturing leadership and engineers to adopt that mentality,” said Levatich.

About Craig Guillot

Craig Guillot
Craig Guillot is a business writer based in New Orleans, La. His work has appeared in Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, CNNMoney.com and CNBC.com. You can read more about his work at www.craigdguillot.com.