Just In Time -- What's Keeping You Up At Night?

If misery really does love company, then you're going to love this.

They say you shouldn't ask a personal question if you don't want to hear the answer. Well, we very much wanted to hear your answers to all of the questions we posed as part of the IndustryWeek 2007 Salary Survey, the most comprehensive survey of manufacturing management. We not only found out how much you earn, but also where you're located, how long you've worked in the manufacturing industry, how big your company is, how much education you have -- you even told us what it is you do every day to justify your paychecks. The article and comments can be found here.

We also asked a very open-ended question, which is the subject of this column: "What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the manufacturing industry today?" We received well over 800 responses to that question, but this was not a case where the old clich of "ask 1,000 people a question and you'll get 1,000 different answers" applies. Many of you answered in one of three ways:

  1. Global competition, especially China
  2. Finding and retaining skilled workers
  3. Controlling costs (especially materials, labor, health care, energy, insurance and transportation).
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See Chain Reactions: David Blanchard's blog about supply chain management.
Although those answers recurred numerous times, they were far from the only challenges that you and your peers face. Here's a healthy sample of what else is bugging you ( the complete list can be found here):
  • Being responsive to customer requests for immediate service and customized product
  • Domestic transportation from port to destinations
  • Increasing productivity
  • Focusing on short-term quarter-to-quarter results
  • Capital required to update old facilities and equipment
  • Foreign countries manipulating currency
  • Security of U.S. and foreign operations
  • Greed on the part of upper management
  • Insufficient emphasis on R&D and new product development
  • Managing the global supply chain
  • Cultural change from traditional manufacturing to lean manufacturing
  • Lack of quality customer service support at vendors coupled with stock-outs at vendors
  • Forecasting which variables will have the greatest effect on materials pricing
  • Meeting stringent requirements of FDA and other regulatory agencies
  • Not enough engineers graduating in the U.S. due to a negative view of the field
  • Inflation
  • Turning data into information that actually means something
  • Access to talented middle managers
  • The work ethic of the American workforce and the quality of the products
  • Rapid changes in the IT arena
  • The overwhelming influence large customers have on suppliers' operations
  • Getting good product out of third-world countries
  • Environmental concerns and the concept of industrial ecology
  • Veteran employees unwilling to embrace lean and technology advancement
  • Having corporate agility to react quickly to changing market conditions
  • Frivolous lawsuits
  • Union wages
  • Shrinking market share
  • The loss of manufacturing capability in the United States

Needless to say, confronting all those challenges and solving the problems inherent in the manufacturing industry will require a dedicated effort from each of you, but time and again you've come through in the clutch and I have no doubt that U.S. manufacturing will continue to lead the world in productivity and creativity. The greatest strength of the manufacturing community is its dogged determination to get the job done, no matter what.

David Blanchard is IW's editor-in-chief. He is based in Cleveland. Also see Chain Reactions: David Blanchard's new blog about supply chain management.

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