In the article I wrote about the Delphi fiasco a few months back, I said, " There is no bright line of demarcation – lean manufacturers on one side; old school, batch manufacturers on the other." That is becoming less true all the time. It seems the manufacturing news these days is either very good or very bad, with little in between. Manufacturing and its various supporting organizations seem to be falling out on one side of the fence or the other – those who get it and those who don’t.
Take, American Coil Spring, for instance. They get it. They operate out of Muskegon, Michigan making parts for automotive and, more important, for Harley-Davidson and they are rapidly becoming very lean. They are so lean, in fact, they are making parts that used to come from Japan for use in the Harley plant in Milwaukee. No one could have summed up the results of their lean efforts more accurately or succinctly than a fellow by the name of George Hefter who runs a coiler machine. "This is going to work good," Hefter said. "It is a lot more efficient." George may be a man of few words, but he clearly knows what he is talking about.
Too bad George didn’t get a chance to explain that to the folks at Waterpik Technologies. They fall out on the ‘don’t get it’ side. The work coming back from Asia to American Coil Spring will likely pass the work going overseas from Waterpik somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Waterpik announced they are closing down their plant in Colorado and booting a few hundred folks out on the street as part of a strategy to "lower manufacturing costs by consolidating facilities and outsourcing manufacturing to overseas suppliers." Now far be it from me to question the thinking of Bob Shortt, GM of the Fort Collins operation. He makes big money to think big thoughts and make big decisions. But Bob went on to add, “The business decision to close our Loveland facility will enhance our product sourcing and delivery systems capabilities demanded in today’s globally competitive market.” So far so good. Sounds like comprehensible – wrong, but comprehensible – MBA kinda thinking.
But then Bob said, “We believe that the changes we make now will help to sustain and improve our Fort Collins headquartered business in the months and years ahead.” Improve it for who, Bob? I don’t think the people you are tossing out into the parking lot see much improvement going on.
So who is the smarter guy, here? For my money, George has Bob beat hands down. But perhaps Bob is hindered by an excess of higher education. I recently received an email from Kevin Meyer in which he brought an article in the Wharton business school rag to my attention. The article was sent to me for the sole purpose of raising my blood pressure, and I wisely chose to ignore it. While I was in the bowels of the Wharton wellspring of genius, however, I did some poking around. They have hundreds of articles written by various deep thinkers among their business school faculty, so I went to a category called "Operations Management" to see what they had to say about manufacturing. Wharton is the nation’s oldest business school – Ivy League and all, you know – so I had high expectations. What they had to say about manufacturing was nothing. Not one article out of 47 Operations Management dissertations had anything to do with factories. What they did put a lot of brain power into is outsourcing. 22 of the 47 articles had something or another to do with how to get better at sending work from American plants to someone else. So let’s write the entire Wharton faculty off to the ‘don’t get it’ side, shall we?
Leading the pack of ‘don’t get its’ by far is a woman by the name of Nicola Horlick, who is considered the leading financial wizard in the UK – they call her ‘Superwoman’, in fact. She said, "I am quite grateful for what Margaret Thatcher did to destroy the manufacturing base in the 1980’s." Go ahead and read it again – its not a typo – that’s what Superwoman said. She goes on to say that manufacturing collapsing in the UK forced the country to focus instead on financial markets and that investing British money in Chinese manufacturing had turned out to be a better deal for England than investing it in their own people and plants. Again, other than Superwoman, just who in the UK was that a better deal for? In case you are wondering, Superwoman is not a Wharton grad. She went to Oxford, an even older and more respected breeding ground for genius (and disdain for manufacturing, apparently).
Near the head of the pack of those who get it is a guy named Anil K. Agarwal who runs an outfit called The Cosmos Group and heads up the national Chamber of Commerce in India. In a recent meeting with the Prime Minister, he told the government of India to get its taxing and regulatory nose out of manufacturing’s business. Instead, the government should push lean manufacturing on a national agenda. "In its opinion, the Chamber is of the view that introduction of lean manufacturing technologies are critical to eliminate wastage, reduce delays and streamline production processes." It would be nice if the head of the US Chamber of Commerce sat Mr. Bush down and gave him the same message.
Better yet, I think we ought to send George Hefter from Muskegon to explain to Mr. Bush, Mr. Shortt, Ms. Horlick and the combined faculties of Wharton and Oxford how the economy really works. I imagine George is a product of the Muskegon public school system, which seems to have given him greater insight than the Dons of Oxford gave Superwoman, or the faculty of Wharton is giving the next generation of outsourcers. A brief lesson on manufacturing economics 101 from George (and we can count on George to be brief) might help them all to get it.