Smart Manufacturing: CEOs Share Strategies, Tactics and Opportunities

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CEOs share strategies, tactics and opportunities for 21st-century manufacturing.

Smart manufacturing presents extraordinary opportunities to all manufacturers. But finding the talent to make the best of these tools is a major challenge for many companies. This talent comprises both highly skilled individuals able to maximize the potential of these new technologies and lower skilled workers who can operate the machinery.

Regarding the latter, the tasks are not necessarily traditional production jobs. Augmented virtual reality devices like Microsoft’s HoloLens provide the means for less skilled individuals to take on highly skilled manual tasks. The headset has a holographic computer built within it that lets users see, hear and interact with complex machines. In other words, a user need not be trained how to operate a new machine or to fix it; HoloLens duplicates the equipment in a virtual environment to provide real-time instructions.

This opens up vistas of employment opportunities for less skilled individuals. The problem is finding and retaining these workers. Several midsize manufacturers cited employee absenteeism and failed drug tests as key recruitment and retention challenges. Others like Lori Osterback-Boettner, chief of staff and senior director of supply chain operations at Cisco Systems, cited the need for employees and other stakeholders to buy into a manufacturer’s digital transformation as a critical challenge.

The IT and networking provider embarked on such an effort two and a half years ago with regard to its 24,000 supply chain partners across 25 locations in 13 countries. Cisco outsources manufacturing to these locations and was in the thick of reimagining itself as a software, not a hardware, provider. “We realized that the core of our behind when their employers moved production overseas.

For example, Shinola, a Detroit-based manufacturer of luxury watches, leather bags, bicycles and accessories that blend mechanization with artisanal cool, is leveraging its home city’s once dormant local manufacturing workforce by training workers to become skilled craftsmen. In many ways, Shinola and sister company Filson (Bedrock Manufacturing is the parent of the two iconic American brands) indicate that manufacturing need not be high-tech smart to succeed.

At both companies, Bedrock is emphasizing high quality merchandise with an America ethos—in Shinola’s case Made in Detroit. In doing so, Bedrock has provided much-needed jobs in a down on its luck city once considered the temple of U.S. manufacturing.

Unskilled people from in and around the Motor City were hired and trained to become skilled watchmakers at Shinola. “We pay more than the minimum wage and provide an environment in which people feel they are providing value, making things that they can feel a sense of pride and ownership about,” explained Steve
Bock, president of Bedrock.

As the Summit concluded, spirits were high among the attendees that they were at the threshold of momentous change for the better, assuming their embrace of smart manufacturing.

“For American manufacturing to compete in future, we need to be the best,” said Muilenburg. “Incremental improvements of 1% to 4% just won’t do it. To win, we need substantial and continuous improvements in product quality, leaner operations and skill sets. The convergence of information, engineering and manufacturing
provides the opportunity to achieve these aims.”

Seizing this opportunity, the world will clamor once again for products Made in America.


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