I thought it was behind me and that I would move on to write about companies jumping on board with technologies and dying if they don’t. It’s now been over 2 months and I have visited and talked to many different manufacturers.
While I am impressed with some of them, I remain mostly afraid for our collective future! Given that what I hear are mostly complaints about technology moving too fast in this high-speed chase for profits and happiness, and that baby boomers still form a significant proportion of our corporate leaders, I am not optimistic about short-term prospects.
It seems to me that Generation X and the Millennials are doing a good job at transforming their businesses using the latest and greatest technology, but the challenge that I see right now is a lack of will to implement what I feel will make you or break you. The #1 challenge is not the financial aspect, but rather the people! That’s right, your #1 asset is your employees. Let’s take as an example of a recent visit to a door manufacturer. The second generation has just taken over the company from a man who built the business from scratch, with his own sweat and blood. When I walked into the plant, it reminded me of my 20 years in the office furniture business, same feel! Many employees handling products, work procedures and a process all designed by a man who didn’t even have an engineering degree. Now his son and daughter are in charge and have their own vision of how to maximize their production using technology and their valuable staff. They have a huge task ahead of them, but they’re willing to spend the time and effort it takes not only to save their company but also to make it flourish for decades to come. They realize that this will be a long and hard process, but they are committed and want to start in the first quarter of 2018.
Also on another positive note, I listened to a very inspiring presentation at a seminar on 4.0 migration at the U.Q.T.R. (Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières) by a potato produced called Patate Dolbec. Same deal: second generation, I assume, who took over the business and brought it from a manual process to a fully automated plant. Yes, it cost a lot! Mucho dinero for sure, but their story is a compelling one. One of the owners and the plant manager explained how they went about it and how they would involve their staff. They gave an example of how this new technology improved their workers’ lives. Instead of having potatoes going by on a conveyer, and the workers having to determine their size, shape, quality, etc. (can you imagine doing this for 8 hours?), now they operate the machine that does the work for them, and the machine is much better and more consistent. Happy employee for sure, to say the least. Now the company is prepared for the future in so many ways; by being proactive in their migration to Industry 4.0, the owners have secured their business and their people’s jobs for a very long time.
Is ignorance bliss?
Why do I keep coming back to this? I guess it’s because so many of our manufacturers are not even looking at how they can improve their manufacturing processes and embrace technology. The problem is that many of them will wake up when it’s too late. I get it that some of them have been improving their processes for the past 40 years and their bottom line has also improved. This isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a major revolution in the manufacturing industry and if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t be this alarmed. Major leaders in the manufacturing sector, you need to wake up! You are at a crossroads and probably don’t even know it! Start reading about it, learn what it’s about, talk about it and for the sake of our kids, start planning the next step.