Strategic Importance of Manufacturing and Common Misperceptions

Many Junior Military Officers (JMOs) have a misperception of manufacturing positions in Corporate America.  Some oversimplify manufacturing and think it is just leading a team, taking raw materials or components and making a finished product; others develop stereotype images of an environment of an assembly line doing the same thing every day; and, still others think of heavy industrial environments only.

During our January Conference, a Cameron-Brooks Alumnus, who is a Director of Manufacturing at a FORTUNE 500 company, shared a story with me that highlights the multifaceted nature of manufacturing and dispels many misperceptions.

The Alumnus discussed how competitive the market is right now for their customers.  As a result, the customers’ most important criteria right now is price, whereas in prior years, his company could sell the product on the value of the features and benefits of the product that are superior to the competitor’s.  However, the customers who are buying the products are experiencing a tough economic environment, and their main goal is to control costs.  Thus, this company can no longer rely on the features and benefits to sell the product, but must also find a way to reduce manufacturing costs so they can also compete on price.

About 18 months ago, our Alumnus started implementing Lean and Six Sigma initiatives with the goal to reduce cycle (the time it takes to manufacture a product), increase yield (the amount of product made based on inputs such as raw materials and labor units), eliminate waste, decrease safety incidents, and increase quality.  All of these areas impact the cost and performance of the product.  He hired JMOs from Cameron-Brooks to lead change and implement quality initiatives and look at areas to reduce waste.  Within 6 months, the team had reduced cycle time from over 100 days to 71.  When raw materials sit in the production process or move slowly through the process, that increases the cost because the company has paid for the materials and has not received revenue in return.  Next, they increased the yield by approximately 5%, meaning they were either producing more with the same resources or the same amount with fewer resources; either way, costs are reduced.  All of the Six Sigma process improvement initiatives also reduced quality errors and the amount of rework.

All of this allowed the company sales force to lower their prices, and they recently bid on an 8,000 unit order from a major customer.  They won the bid and maintained their same profit margins as previous years because of all the work the manufacturing teams did.  The manufacturing team leaders, the manufacturing engineers and team members were the heroes.

This story illustrates the big picture impact manufacturing has on business performance.  It also demonstrates that being a manufacturing team leader is much more than leading a team.  It also includes learning and applying Six Sigma and Lean principles, as well as leading projects and process improvement efforts to improve cycle times, yield, quality, safety and more. 

There are numerous types of manufacturing environments, and we recruit for a broad range of them.  For example, we recruit for biopharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing positions which are “clean” environments highly regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Agency), in some cases the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), and other organizations.  Other “clean” manufacturing environments include semiconductor and electronics manufacturing.  We also recruit for industrial environments – i.e., manufacturing operations for glass, building materials, oil refining, cast parts, and more.  These are just examples and not inclusive.

Finally, companies really value high potential JMOs for manufacturing positions because they have strong team leadership skill, as well as skills in optimizing processes, decision making, maintenance, and familiarity of working in an environment with equipment and systems.

Manufacturing is a strategic multifaceted career field.  If you make the transition from business to this career field, you will use your complete skill set, as well as impact on the bottom-line profits of your organization.

 Joel Junker