A Bird's-Eye View

Data show few manufacturers are certain of the best path for progress.

Manufacturers in the U.S. are struggling in their efforts to improve. Gains are measured in small steps rather than swaggering strides. Corporate executives and plant-level managers don't seem to share the same vision for their companies' futures. And new technologies are being thrust in front of organizations faster than many can grasp how best to use them. The quest for excellence in manufacturing is far from over. Says who? Says the Third Annual IndustryWeek Census of Manufacturers, a sweeping study of manufacturing whose data provide a comprehensive look at U.S. manufacturing from both the plant-floor level and from executive row. Nearly 10% of plant-level executives surveyed say their facilities have made absolutely no strides toward achieving world-class status; another 53% venture only so far as to report "some" progress toward becoming a world-class manufacturer. Those percentages have not changed in the three years of the IW Census. By the same token, some manufacturers seem to have gotten the message. Thirty-seven percent of plant-floor executives say their manufacturing facilities have made significant progress toward achieving world-class status or have fully achieved this lofty aim. And their performance metrics back them up, indicating better turn rates, higher productivity, and more timely delivery to customers. The question is: Where are you? Even more important, how do you improve? The Third Annual IW Census, with research conducted in cooperation with PricewaterhouseCoopers, answers these questions. More than 2,000 manufacturing executives responded to either the plant-level survey or the corporate-level survey that comprise the IW Census. They shared the manufacturing practices under way, the technologies employed, and the strategies in place in their organizations. They also shared the performance metrics their manufacturing facilities are achieving. These data allow IW to report with a high degree of accuracy the practices, technologies, and strategies under way across the entire universe of U.S. manufacturers as well as the results being achieved by the same. Thoughtful interpretation of data amassed by IW and PricewaterhouseCoopers research also shows instances where the implementation of specific practices results in better performance metrics. In short, the IW Census data allow manufacturers to explore how they stack up against their fellow manufacturers -- a key element to gaining competitive advantage. The data also show which best practices are likely to lead to better performances.

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