The GM execs that believe robots create quality should take a 390 mile road trip to Mequon, Wisconsin to see what excellence is really about. Unfortunately there’s no In-N-Out Burger on that route, so they’ll have to settle for a Bob Evans… and I’ve told you what happens when execs eat at that joint. Maybe they’ll meet their cohorts in incompetence from NCR and Whirlpool and convince them to join them on the trip to Mequon. There must be something in the gravy.
Mequon is home to General MetalWorks. While GM focuses on quality initiatives that require robots who get fired at the drop of a screw, GMW is focused on growing their company. 70 people in 43,000 square feet that have grown the company from $3 million in 1996 to almost $12 million today. What has fueled the growth?
Employee-led continuous improvement activities.
Not a "robot-led" continuous improvement activity. That type of thing only happens in Wagoner’s dreams. And how did those GMW employees learn how to lead such activities?
Ongoing education is part of being a General MetalWorks employee. All employees are instructed in Lean Manufacturing training, and the company uses Value Stream Mapping initiatives.
Of course it takes a special kind of employee to want to learn and lead.
If a good person comes to us, I’m willing to make a job for him or her.
I bet if one of their employees drops a screw, he or she wouldn’t be fired. They would try to figure out what process failure led to the screw being dropped instead of getting rid of years of training, experience, creativity, and knowledge.
Competing in a basic metalworking industry is tough in the United States. Most companies would claim they simply couldn’t do it and join the groups that are trying to claim they’re going out of business due to "competitiveness burdens." Not GMW.
Confronting reality is necessary. A manufacturing company must find ways to compete on other than price. If part quantities are present and a manufacturer doesn’t have reasons for his customer to come then the manufacturing will go overseas. Employees must be an integral part of decisions and improvements or a company cannot survive in this day and age.
"Compete on other than price." Like a short supply chain that can react almost instantly to customer demand, quality issues, and design changes? They understand value from the perception of the customer. But the last line really sums things up, so I’ll repeat it:
Employees must be an integral part of decisions and improvements or a company cannot survive in this day and age.
Something that GM should think about as they wonder why their new robots aren’t helping them compete with Toyota.