Over the past several months I’ve noticed an increasing amount of Superfactory activity originating from Iraq. Several university students have requested more information on lean manufacturing methods, industry professionals have downloaded some of our tools and training presentations, and our website stats show that Iraq is becoming a measurable (albeit barely single digit) component of our visitor base. Other Middle Eastern countries are also increasing in representation, with inquiries from Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen just in this past week. Bill also mentioned that he’s seen a similar response to some of his blog posts.
I’ll refrain from getting involved in political commentary, and simply say that an industrial revitalization and re-connection with the world is occurring in Iraq. How it came about, whether it will continue, and whether it will spark similar changes throughout that region are subjects for another day and other blogs. The changes appear to be driven from two general sources: direct investment by external commercial, non-profit, government, and military organizations, and also the unleashed entrepreneurial drive of Iraqis themselves.
Jumpstart International is one such external organization, founded by an old Rensselaer roommate of mine, Sean O’Sullivan. After creating and selling a successful software company, MapInfo, he went on to pursue several personal and philanthropic goals. When the reconstruction of Iraq shifted into high gear, Sean was convinced that this activity could be performed far more efficiently, and within months he had created jobs for over 1,300 Iraqis. He’s delivering on his promises for "lean re-construction"… even though his business partner was executed. I remember (well, sort of…) Sean and I crawling back to the dorm from downtown pubs, and wondering if he’d ever amount to anything.
One of the more unique organizations is Rapid Prototyping for Baghdad. A group of RP, medical, and engineering design companies such as Materialise, StrataSys, and 3D Systems are collaborating to provide medical device RP, primarily for limb replacement prostheses. Besides providing a valuable service, they are also educating Iraqis on RP methods and techniques. This is along the lines of the personal fabrication "factories" that we blogged about several months ago.
A rather controversial article a few months ago suggested that a major advantage of the Chinese was that they could create lean-oriented factories from the ground up, while the industrialized world was constrained by existing plant layouts and methods. For better or worse, much of Iraqi industry has a similar opportunity. With a nascent stock market fueling internal capitalism, a growing number of educators and professionals trying to learn more about lean methods, external organizations transferring knowledge, and a large educated but inexpensive labor pool, conditions may be right for a strong manufacturing industry. Of course this all depends on increasing political stability, which is by no means guaranteed.
Most of us are keeping an eye on the competitive realities of the growing Asian economies, particularly China and India, but it would be wise to also watch other areas of the world… even Iraq.