competitiveness

Is the Manufacturing Outlook Sufficiently Far-Reaching?

view-from-qIn his January post, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski discusses the results from ASQ’s 2013 manufacturing outlook survey. Although the majority of manufacturers reported revenue growth in 2013, many are still very concerned about the state of the economy. Paul was inquiring whether this “optimistic but guarded” perspective was a good assessment, and asked for examples from manufacturers that might shed some more light on the situation.

I’ve alluded over Twitter that my relationship with quality – as a concept – has been changing over the past few months. That’s the main reason that I haven’t been posting as frequently on this blog… I’m trying to sort out my feelings. (It’s almost like what happens when you’ve been in a relationship for years, but then gradually discover that you’ve changed, and the relationship is no longer meeting your deepest needs.)

Paul’s January post has helped me clarify some of these feelings.

If we focus on revenue growth as a measure of “the health of manufacturing”, we’re all missing the point. Current trends in production indicate that the locus of power is increasingly shifting from large manufacturing companies to individuals and small groups. Examples such as the Maker movement, the success of online platforms like Etsy to support craftspeople, and the increasing availability of new technologies like 3D printing at reasonable costs are shifting the environmental dynamism of what has traditionally been a slowly evolving arena:

“with the Maker movement we will be increasingly surprised at what seemed small and local and small‑scale, now will continue to grow…”  —http://techonomy.com/conf/13-detroit/the-new-techonomy/can-the-maker-movement-re-make-america/

I was reminded of Clayton Christensen’s landmark 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. By successfully satisfying current needs, we are potentially blinded to the ability to satisfy future needs. We are so accustomed to the model of manufacturing working so well, over so many decades, that we may fail to recognize when the centralized approach is losing ground.

How are manufacturers addressing these shifts? Are they re-examining the core assumptions upon which their industries are based? I think this should be the focus, rather than continued revenue growth and “concern” about the state of the economy.

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