Despite bumps in the Chinese economy and global stock markets, the Federal Reserve reported that manufacturing output in the United States grew 0.5% in January 2016, rising 1.2% over the same time last year. Meanwhile, a survey by the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) indicated that new orders and production grew in January 2016.

With a cautiously optimistic eye on 2016, manufacturers and parts suppliers are looking to capitalize on new opportunities while wrestling with issues related to capacity, investment—and yes, even talent development—to wring more productivity out of their operations.

Among manufacturing executives we’ve met, several topics consistently emerge as critical to driving growth and profitability. Operationally, they are focused on optimizing equipment utilization and maximizing uptime. Also critical is competing through their ability to provide customers with exemplary service. Last, they’re working to manage and empower different generations within their workforce. Following are some of the best practices that we’ve taken away from those discussions.

Optimize your equipment utilization

With demand growing in many markets, finding the hidden capacity in a plant is critical to minimizing the need for significant capital investment and confidently dealing with customer requests for quotes.

Today, many manufacturers rely on juggling spreadsheet models to schedule production. A more effective approach is employing software designed for scheduling production in real time against finite (real) capacity constraints. This lets you run what-if scenarios to fit shifting demands while taking into account tooling and downtime for scheduled maintenance. In addition to fitting demand into every bit of processing time available, you also gain solid insights into available capacity for additional business.

Software functionality for finite capacity planning complements lean initiatives to create breathing room in floor schedules, and it can result in some very tangible returns.

For example, one medical device components maker reported that scheduling improvements led to a 50% reduction in scrap material and $36,000 annual savings in overtime costs.