Letters to the Editor for April 2009

U.S. should look inward for talent

Maximize the Use of Our Skills

>Re: "Manufacturers Consider Migrating Back to U.S."

I liked your article concerning divested or migrated manufacturing operations. I myself participated in migrating Mirro Cookware -- 2,500 men and women -- from Manitowoc, Wis., to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, as part of a maquiladora plan. Of course, those 2,500 lost their jobs, killing the town.

Now, it looks as if it may be better to have stayed here instead. Perhaps if so many mega businesses had not gone offshore, there might have been enough jobs and money around to actually pay mortgages, and our crisis would be different.

There is enough talent in the U.S. to bring down the bottom line so we don't have to move out of the country. As the most technologically advanced, we should lead the world in logistics. I find ways to lower our bottom line in manufacturing and logistics every day, and many of our ingredients are specialized.

We have to start fighting to maximize the use of our skills, rather than trading labor and material costs with logistics costs.

Jim Emmitt
continuous improvement coordinator
T. Marzetti Co.
Columbus, Ohio

Focus on Your Strengths and Weaknesses

>Re: "Just In Time -- Lean You Can Believe In" (Feb. 2009)

It is very difficult for companies these days to stay focused. It is difficult to hold lean events, perform training, execute projects, or even discuss forward progress when your factory loadings are down 90% (many are) and people are being laid off. That being said, we have maintained the message for a long time that no matter how bad things get you must maintain momentum, even if you shift direction.

I believe that in this environment, people must get much more focused on understanding their strengths and weaknesses and how to leverage those. It's not enough just to continue to have forward momentum. For example, if you have a strong balance sheet but low sales, then this is the perfect time to start some new capital projects. Prices are low and labor availability for installation, training and continuous improvement is high. These should be more cost improvement-driven capital projects than expanding capacity, as it is irresponsible to expand capacity in such an unpredictable time.

Several of our clients have a genuine unwillingness to layoff any more than necessary and so they have time as a strength right now, but not capital. Therefore they are focusing on labor-intensive improvement activities, such as PM standardization and reduction and cross-training.

On the weakness side, they need to be focused on things that can help people right away, not just down the road. For example, many companies were working on product-based cost reduction projects, when in fact based on their inventory levels and a fat pipeline, then I will not see the benefit of those improvements for many months to come, and in more than a few cases, over a year. Incremental product changes that can be brought to market in weeks or months instead of years is a great area of focus because of the ability to get in front of people with something new where people aren't looking as much for a deal; they are looking for value. I know of several products that are back-ordered even while the rest of the product line is outdated because the incremental changes were just right.

Overall, I believe this environment will reduce the interest in lean. When fear sets in, people revert to their comfort zone and don't invest in their future. But in the long-term I think this is healthy because lean will stop being this panacea for everything that it has been made out to be and can get refocused on its core of building an organization that is capable of learning, solving problems and improving through every person everyday.

Jamie Flinchbaugh
Lean Learning Center
Novi, Mich.

RFID Hype Comes Full Circle

>Re: "The Five Stages of RFID" (Jan. 2009)

I think this article is a fair assessment of where the market is today and what actually drives people to adopt RFID technology solutions within their supply chains. Regulatory mandates are great for moving emerging technology adoption forward rapidly, but companies will always find the lowest-cost way to comply. If they can avoid major investments in technology, they will.

Therefore, companies rarely look at regulatory or customer mandates of technology in a strategic way, at least initially. As a result, they often do not integrate compliance solutions into their ERP or WMS solutions and create specific operating procedures to manage the compliance processes outside of their normal operating procedures.

All of this means companies that implement RFID to support mandates rarely take advantage of the technology in their operations until they find an internal reason to do so. I think the article reflects well what really drives investments in RFID: increased sales. The top three business uses for RFID are: store-level replenishment, understanding consumer demand and outbound logistics. The drivers behind all these are improving stock availability and product mix to drive greater opportunity for sales.

Kim Loughead
director, product and solutions marketing
Axway Inc.
Phoenix, Ariz.

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