Manufacturing's Biggest Challenges -- IndustryWeek's 2007 Salary Survey Responses

If you come to work everyday worrying about global competition, finding and keeping skilled labor, raw material shortages, and the quality of your product, you're not alone.

As part of the IndustryWeek 2007 Salary Survey, we asked the open-ended question: What is the biggest challenge facing the manufacturing industry today?

Following are several hundred anonymous responses from IW readers, expressing in no uncertain terms what exactly is at the top of their to-do lists. (In the interests of readability, this list is only about half of the total response; we've deleted a few hundred responses that basically repeated the same comments others had made).

Lead time on materials. Trained manufacturing leaders at contract manufacturing.

Lean manufacturing.

Embracing "least waste way" manufacturing transition to maintain competitiveness.

Wal-Mart.

Rising transportation and distribution costs.

Keeping up with customer demands.

Cost competitiveness.

High structural costs of doing business in U.S.

Raw material cost pressures combined with imports from Asia.

Materials prices.

Skill sets of employees. Developing and executing strategies to drive step change in performance.

Offshore material supply and offshore outsourcing of plants and engineers.

Being as cost-effective as possible without compromising quality.

Reducing lead-times for materials and keeping costs under control.

Offshore competition.

Environmental and legal compliance.

Hiring and retaining quality people.

Being more competitive in efficiency to combat higher wage rates in the Northeast.

Maintaining quality.

The cultural numbness that is causing the majority of companies in manufacturing to ignore new lean ideas and defend the old fashioned departmental batch style of thinking and operating.

Lack of people willing to work in manufacturing.

Finding and keeping skilled production employees who are drug free.

Managing to the changing global market.

Lack of operators/assembler level employees with the proper skill sets (technical, verbal, math) to handle the needs of growing technology.

Obtaining motivated and caring workers. Quality control can be challenging also.

Qualified associates to think out of the box. Qualified associates to work until the task is finished. Qualified associates willing to take the extra to learn their responsibilities. Domestic transportation from port to destinations.

Foreign competition.

Determining the value-added versus the cost of manufacturing in the U.S.

Labor costs and finding 'high tech' employees.

China manufacturing.

Increasing productivity.

Inefficiency.

Maintaining efficient operations and motivated and technically skilled employees with increased regulations (i.e., FMLA.) 98% of our customer based in the U.S.

Government healthcare regulations.

Available qualified resources to fill positions.

Lowering cost, increasing speed, improving quality.

Corporate belief that offshoring is best solution.

Foreign competition.

Corporate regulation, skilled employees.

In automotive, the primary North American customers are not performing well financially, and this is placing nearly impossible cost out expectations upon the supply base which is driving employee turnover in the professional job positions and a high degree of burn out.

Focus on short term quarter to quarter results which drives strategic decisions out further for short term gains.

Skilled workforce.

Politics.

Competing and managing the supply chain in a global environment.

Material and labor costs.

Interconnection between cable companies and telecommunication companies.

Transitioning labor to a competitive package.

Consistent pressures to reduce costs and the misunderstanding of quality.

Capital spending required to update old facilities/equipment to meet capabilities of new foreign, competitive facilities/equipment.

Regulations.

Keeping good talent at all levels. There is a disconnect at up levels of management. Ego and greed holding them back. There is a need to feel a part of an exclusive group. This produces the disconnect, consequently the discontent in talented employees.

Lack of skilled workers and tradesman.

Public company customers' inability to grow their business leading to over reliance on reducing COGS, i.e., purchases to achieve results.

Learning Chinese.

Global outsourcing and the logistics nightmare.

Higher costs for insurance, utilities, and fuel.

Increasing costs of raw materials and finding more efficient ways to increase productivity and finding alternate methods to offset raw material cost increases.

Overseas manufacturing.

Material costs and supplier relations.

Foreign countries manipulating their currency. Lack of skilled workers.

Recruiting people for light manufacturing positions who stay on the job.

Export of jobs and activities overseas.

Finding skilled younger workers.

Security of U.S. and foreign operations.

Manpower -- hiring good people.

We are experiencing a shortage in qualified skilled labor force (i.e., welders, technicians). Also the China growth in manufacturing is making it very difficult to be price competitive and still provide customer with the level of quality.

Greed on the part of upper management and the stupidity of sending manufacturing overseas.

Overseas competition. In our business it continues to be a struggle to maintain gross sales as many of our customers gradually continue to purchase more from China. We were on a 15% growth pace from 1992-2003 and since then have declined in sales at about the same pace.

Competition with offshore companies. Outsourcing to foreign vendors.

The impact of the global economic factors on U.S. production. The impact on investor expectations on ROI / EBIT.

Doing more with less -- becoming leaner and competitive. More innovating thinking and less mediocrity.

Staying competitive with overseas markets. U.S companies need to drop the traditional style of management and move to self-empowered work teams driving the decision making process as low into the organization as possible. Use the traditional supervisor position for training and facilitation to drive continuous improvement. This will drive down cost and improve quality keeping us competitive.

Reducing costs in order to compete while making a profit.

Insufficient emphasis on R&D and new product development.

Offshore sourcing, erosion of manufacturing base in U.S.

Vacuum of China taking jobs to Asia. Manufacturing tends to become distracted with lean manufacturing when the inevitable is looming in the distance. Labor and improvement initiatives tend to drag down the overall efficiency of an organization.

Finding qualified manufacturing personnel.

Managing the global supply chain.

Movement of manufacturing to other lower priced countries. Lead times are increasing and quality decreasing. We are losing our domestic vendors to overseas, and cannot afford overseas because of ever rising transportation cost.

Low capital expenses for improving production.

Controlling purchase cost of batch materials for manufacturing given the extreme inflation caused primarily by oil and natural gas increased cost. Our industry uses a lot of energy to convert. We rely heavily on materials such as resins that are derived from oil by-products. We purchase glass containers which rely heavily on natural gas for conversion. Our glass and plastic-type products constitute my two largest buying categories. I cannot understand why inflation is running rampant and the indices are not reflecting it. We have taken substantial hits this past two years on corrugate, PET containers, glass containers and transportation. These increases are in the range of 20-30% on a delivered cost basis to our plants.

Locating talent in rural area.

Rapid process of change.

Reducing waste in processes and procedures to stay competitive with overseas competition.

Outsourcing by companies just to make an extra buck for the CEO to have more to squander.

Losing 60% of experienced personnel in the next 10 years.

Qualified people, interested in manufacturing.

Becoming flexible enough to meet constantly changing consumer desires as well as globally changing competitive pressures. U.S. manufacturing is typically very traditional and slow to respond to changing demands. New economies demand a flexible and attentive manufacturing base.

Customer demands and cost effectiveness.

Finding qualified and interested people.

Changing from traditional manufacturing to lean manufacturing. Cultural change in how we do everything.

Keeping employees.

Coordinating multi-functional efforts to improve overall performance.

For U.S. companies to maintain or improve their competitive manufacturing advantage. To help reverse the offshore - outsourcing trend.

Reducing the labor portion of manufacturing to keep domestic manufacturing competitive.

Creating new, high quality products which will result in sustaining/new jobs.

Continuing erosion of the domestic manufacturing base. From offshoring of jobs to insufficient employees with adequate skill sets.

Creating maximum efficiencies in converting raw materials domestically so that we can compete with finished goods from overseas.

Balancing economies of scale cost management against increasing customer demand for more variations in less time.

Purchasing capital equipment using short term price decisions over long term quality and up time success of the equipment.

Cost.

Job outsourcing and loss of manufacturing technology and infrastructure to foreign countries, erosion of the manufacturing base.

Outsourcing to foreign soil.

Finding employees with zeal and desire for longevity.

Understanding world market conditions and the constantly changing supply chain conditions.

Lack of quality customer service support at vendors coupled with stock-outs at vendors since they are importing a large portion of their goods and have little inventory to handle demand.

Attracting and retaining talented manufacturing employees.

Reducing manufacturing costs in order to keep manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

Controlling spend.

Cost + Throughput = Productivity.

More manufacturing going overseas. Young buyers losing sight of relationship buying/selling.

Outsourcing.

Making a notable profit, finding qualified workers.

Becoming competitive through technology to bring manufacturing operations back from overseas.

Productivity gains.

Material and labor cost against global competitors.

Global diversification of supply chain and regulatory requirements (customs/transportation/homeland security/country specific regulations).

Finding talented employees.

Innovating products and competitive pricing.

To gain new business along with keeping old business.

Competing in a global economy.

Profitability of U.S. manufacturers.

Skilled labor source. Skilled tech/engineering sources in the electrical manufacturing power equipment field.

Exporting of American jobs.

The U.S. trade policy that has resulted in the gutting of much of basic manufacturing and very possibly the U.S. edge in technology as mfg fails to support/attract technical education/graduates. The now $6 trillion + foreign debt on top of an $8 trillion + national debt is the testimony to failed policies. Unless we achieve a level playing field in global trade and hold our officials accountable for the horrific trade situation this sector, and others, are toast. Most certainly, middle class America, our strength, is rapidly becoming globalization's roadside litter. The insanity must stop.

Finding skilled employees.

Finding required domestic material for Dept. of Transportation projects.

Finding new hires that want to get dirty and work on equipment. Everyone wants to sit behind a computer. Operating equipment requires hands on attention and problem solving.

Offshore supply.

Keeping up quality as we grow, while hiring and grooming the right people.

Outsourcing.

Providing healthcare for employees at reasonable cost.

Forecasting which variables will have the greatest affect on materials pricing.

Keeping pace with foreign competitors and foreign wages.

Loss of manufacturing plants to overseas. Energy costs and health care play a large role in this.

Staying afloat amidst foreign competition.

Low cost competition.

Changing perceived value in the market on products due to worldwide competition.

Attracting 20-35 year old professionals into industry.

Finding and keeping qualified welders.

Staying competitive to be able to remain in business.

Continual focus on the customer and their expectations.

Foreign threats and the apathy associated with it. Not enough engineers graduating in the US due to some sort of negative view of the field of study in my mind. It is simply not cool to be a technical type these days. This perception seems to come at an early age in our school systems. Most of our teachers are non-technical in their background and teach like it as well. Would you want a liberal arts grad teaching science? Me neither.

Material and transportation cost.

Foreign competition.

Industry contraction/overseas competition.

Staying in business in a manufacturing company in New England/United States.

Talent.

We're constantly threatened with moving all textile manufacturing plants offshore. Finding qualified, motivated individuals wanting to make textiles their career or continue in this field.

Asian competition.

Maintaining pricing competitive with offshore producers.

Pool of direct labor.

Overseas manufacturing.

Raw material prices.

Remaining competitive in a global environment.

Being competitive with offshore operations; we either compete better or we lose the market.

Locating or training skilled workers such as welders, fitters and machinists. There are not many new people being properly trained and schooled and some who have a number of years experience are looking for other fields because of job shortages five or 10 years ago.

The ability to change at the pace required to compete globally

Lean manufacturing.

The biggest challenge is adapting to the change brought about by globalization.

Changing the culture

If we are going to have China as a major player in all supply chains of parts, lead time issues at their manufacturing plants must be addressed.

For U.S. manufacturers, it is staying competitive and being ultra creative in a global marketplace.

Finding qualified engineers and technical operators.

Hiring the right people and retaining them.

Lower cost manufacturing capability offshore requiring continuous improvement while lowering cost basis and yet maintaining a technological advantage.

Addressing the issue of continued relocation of manufacturing jobs offshore. The U.S. cannot survive with only service as an economical base. We in the manufacturing world must continue to address cost issues as well. The federal government must address this issue and a master plan developed for the entire U.S. economy and complete buy-in by all parties for the U.S. to survive long-term.

Shorter lead times and trying to compete with China.

Controlling costs.

Lack of communication.

Better quality at lower cost.

Staying competitive while meeting stringent requirements of FDA and other regulatory agencies

Steel pricing and availability.

Employee retention.

In the U.S. it is establishing a culture of continuous improvement throughout the whole organization to enable us to compete with competitors located in lower labor cost countries.

Government, taxes, over regulation, etc.

Staying competitive in a global market. Identifying the right opportunities and approach in the business utilizing a portfolio management type of approach.

Finding qualified people for the production floor. Most incoming employees do not have the problems solving skills and/or work ethic.

"Go East" strategies and the effect on the supply chain.

For those of us in the U.S., it is managing the shrinking manufacturing base as jobs and operations transfer to low cost areas of the world.

Balancing customer expectations with the demands of the extended supply chain, especially as it relates to sourcing in Asia.

Lean manufacturing and diversification.

Dealing with incompetent management within my own company and inside our customers.

Staying competitive with low labor cost imports.

Managing and optimizing a distributed, outsourced supply chain.

Tax overhead.

Overall competitiveness in a global market.

Finding qualified people.

The transition of job functions to China/Asia. Rising raw material costs.

Diminishing manufacturing sources.

Maximizing profits.

Waste.

Availability of experienced labor.

Inflation.

Jobs being outsourced to Asia.

We have a dominant customer (auto manufacturer.) that is squeezing the profitability out of the supply chain, making it difficult to invest in our future, attract/retain good talent, reward our current workforce, etc.

Meeting the challenges of an international marketplace.

Skilled labor shortage.

Material costs still on the rise.

Over-influential unionized work forces.

Imbalance of living standard among major world economies.

Competition from China and unstable steel market.

Cost control (excess domestic capacity with imports going to discount retailers) and finding operating personnel.

Educated/skilled workers.

Fighting the urge to move it all to other countries.

Staying competitive in the USA against companies going outside of the U.S. and using cheap labor.

Being able to efficiently handle diverse product requirements and configurations, i.e., responding to the "custom" in customer.

Profitability within the niche markets we serve.

Replacing engineers as they retire.

Cost containment.

Understanding and delivering to customer expectations vs. assuming what customer wants and overprocessing.

High cost of doing business in the U.S. due to government policies, healthcare costs and energy costs compared to subsidized industries in China and elsewhere.

Trained techs.

Lack of basic economic knowledge among politicians and public. Immigration is motor of our prosperity. The tax system is the death of prosperity.

How to compete with China.

Staying competitive.

Finding and training employees who have both the intelligence and the desire to do a good job in a timely manner.

Availability and ability to attract the required management and engineering talent.

Low cost foreign labor. EPA regulations. Unfair trade laws.

Finding a stable work force, minimizing turnover.

Succession of processes into the next set of graduating engineers.

The biggest challenge for U.S. manufacturing is long term viability. Do we, as a country, have the desire to continue to manufacture products? If so, we need to begin educating and encouraging future generations to develop interest and excitement in manufacturing as a career for all levels of a manufacturing operation.

Providing high quality items at a lower cost to the customer and keeping costs down.

Workforce turn over due to poor wages.

Offshore competition and the loss of talent that will ensue as more people move manufacturing offshore.

Keeping domestic business, and the ever challenging prospect of outsourcing mfg to Asia, India and china. How do we manufacture in the U.S. and stay competitive in our market and pricing?

With an aging workforce it is becoming very hard to find people interested in working nights, weekend, holidays.

Non-level international playing field with China and India.

Globalization and finding qualified operations managers.

Employee engagement, training, and cost control.

Keeping it alive in the USA, not sending more to China.

Inventory control.

Global competition and logistics.

Finding effective ways to operate globally. To harness the full power of operations spread across the globe, while maintaining a lean orientation.

Competing on an uneven playing field. The U.S. government is doing nothing to help us compete; in fact it's as if they want American manufacturing to disappear. I believe at the root of this issue is Wall Street and that's who's really in charge.

Environmental compliance.

Improvement to compete with lower cost labor in developing countries. Management accountability.

Inability to compete with international costs. Lack of investment for improving current capability thus driving the market growth down.

To remain competitive with overseas manufacturing we need to continuously improve our operations and supply chains to increase efficiencies and decrease costs.

The costs of regulatory compliance and the competitive disadvantages U.S. industry faces relative to foreign companies that are not subject to the same requirements.

Consistency in purchased components.

The challenge of changing the mindset of management away from a strictly management by quarterly result and performance figures to management by leadership.

Turning data into information that actually means something.

Unfairly priced imported products, mainly due to currency manipulation, especially Turkey and China.

Chinese influence and robotics.

Coping with demand fluctuations and materials availability.

Access to talented, motivated middle managers.

Acquisition of qualified machinists to perform required tasks.

Time to market with new designs.

Getting managers to invest time and MONEY into training and development of human capital.

Slow speed of improvement changes.

Relevance.

Adapting better approaches for organization wide improvement like the Baldrige Criteria and its model.

Finding manufacturing employees with an interest in growing with the company and contributing accordingly.

Imports. Textiles is a global business. All but a fraction of the jobs have moved offshore. In order to maintain our business and continue to grow, we have developed niches which enable us to perform better than our competitors. We have also diversified our product line and focused on multimedia tools to communicate with our customers, convert prospects into buyers and outperform the market.

Finding qualified people that want to work in the 'shop floor' environment.

Rapid changes in the IT arena.

Culture of "I don't want to change" persists.

Problem solving the built in inefficiencies of existing production processes.

Financing & know-how to implement technology and e-commerce initiatives and upgrades.

Providing great customer service for the product produced.

Inability of 'brown field' work force to adapt to new strategies, i.e., lean manufacturing, Six Sigma.

Adequate resources to do the job.

The fact that some U.S. companies do not know how to compete with our foreign counter parts. Some companies are trying very hard and with others it is business as usual.

Loss of customer base. Excess supply capacity. Predatory pricing.

Working in an environment where ethics and morals are viewed as negative traits.

Continuous adaptation to change

Keeping our supply chain agile enough to maintain customer base.

Global political and economic disparity.

Cheap labor outside of the U.S. makes keeping jobs in the U.S. extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a lot of manufacturing industries.

Slowing economy.

The overwhelming influence large customers have on suppliers' operations. They want to run suppliers as a risk-free division of their own company.

Diminishing base of potential customers in North America.

For publicly traded companies, it is Wall Street's pressure to focus on short term results versus long term systemic reliability, and good manufacturing practices. For private manufacturers as with public, ability to effectively and expediently transition to the latest technologies that will allow the U.S. to compete globally.

Getting good product out of third world countries

Supply chain cost and benefit analysis -- measuring the true costs and benefits of global sourcing and supplier partnering vs. local or regional.

World stability.

Providing enhanced customer service and improved inventory turnover while maintaining cost competitiveness with Chinese manufacturing.

Finding a niche that your company can excel and financially thrive in.

Declining interest in manufacturing positions due to the 'unglamorous' view of the industry.

Environmental concerns. I believe many adjustments will be required over the next several decades. The concept of industrial ecology will spread into everyday decision making as the century progresses.

I believe there is increased pressure on manufacturers and suppliers today due to the prohibitive cost of running small lots of high overhead product while large companies and buyers try to keep there prices and overhead (read: inventory) low. Small to medium size companies have much of there resources tied up in more profitable large runs of such parts which now take longer to unload as buyers run leaner inventories or purchase only on demand.

Shortage of skilled labor resources. This may be related to the increased hours worked by the average worker in the U.S. Hourly and management are putting in more hours than ever before.

The lack of understanding of the effects of globalization on the parts of senior government and industry managers.

Competitiveness of plants in high cost mature economies vs. plants in emerging economies with substantial technical capabilities and no legacy issues to deal with. These newcomers are able to invest in the latest technologies and compete globally while it seems much more difficult for established companies to "walk away" from existing (but dated) investments in the western economies. Also, we need to find a way to reduce the indirect costs in a plant (overhead ?) -- without that, we will not be able to compete with plants in locations where people make less. Finally, what kind of a society will we have if most manufacturing is outsourced and /or the mfg that is left pays very little to be competitive? What will happen to the middle class and to the American dream of always moving up in the standard of living? I worry about the future of my grandchildren in the U.S. and worry about what kind of a country they will live in vs. what I have enjoyed.

True followers/believers/understanding of lean principles.

Imports and countries acting as the robber barons acted in the 1800s in the U.S. Specifically lowering the price until a company goes out of business or sells out then raising prices. Selling for less than cost. We need worldwide antitrust protection.

Learning to save costs, improve operational performance, and increase market share without having to outsource labor oversees or go through frequent layoffs. Toyota is so far advanced in this area through the use of the principles that Dr. Edwards Deming brought to Japan, more commonly known now as the Toyota Production System or lean. The challenge as I see it in American manufacturing is getting upper management to understand that lean must start at the top before it starts on the manufacturing floor in order to see the biggest gains made. This is why so many American manufacturers don't think lean will work in their environment. It is because they think to implement it directly on the production floor without any regard or requirement of change within the thinking and decisions of upper management. Lean must start at the top.

Converting traditional batch and queue old school companies to lean so they can be competitive in this country. Continue to provide jobs that support our families, communities, and country.

Consistent Product offerings. Innovations that generate shareholder value.

Leadership character issues: greed, lack of personal integrity, managing for short term.

Continual corporate restructuring.

Manufacturing is looked down upon by higher education, news media, environmentalists and others. Our state has seen many more new jobs being created by companies outside the U.S. than by companies inside the U.S.

Getting our customers to consider the total cost of buying a product that includes post delivery services such as certifications, warranty follow up, easy of completing D & PFMEA work, etc. This is all value add that seems to have gotten missed in rush to achieve the lowest possible price.

Manufacturing the right product and getting it to the customer on-time. Related to that is the overall inventory levels to cover forecast errors and short delivery cycles.

Operational cost -- the increase in this area will continue to drive operations off shore. Workers understand it's a matter of time before it affects them directly at one time or another. Another challenge for the industry is translating to all associates the importance of applying operational improvement concepts. Industry/management must continue to look for new ways to address the growing concern of offshore manufacturing.

In my specific case, a shrinking manufacturing base, extremely so in our region (within 100 miles). Where there is manufacturing growth, it is higher tech and not in our region. Another big challenge is not with new, younger employees, but with older veterans that do not embrace lean and technology advancement. This is particularly true in the sales side of the business.

Corporate initiatives that do not recognize the manufacturing expertise in the U.S.; the focus is totally on costs but global initiatives are burying those related costs into U.S. manufacturing operations, making the overseas initiatives artificially better and U.S.-based manufacturing worse.

Maintaining skill levels (technical and non technical) to adapt to the need for technological change and consumer demand. Also, management courage to effectively lead risk-taking in this changing environment.

The balancing act of reduction of inventory levels, improving productivity, improving return on assets while reducing customer lead times and improving customer satisfaction. Teaching the frontline employees on the management of cash or cash equivalents, while still producing products.

Determining the true value of domestic manufacturing and accurately predicting the costs of going offshore with products. The total infrastructure of the U.S. is at risk if manufacturing continues to decline in years to come.

Finding skilled machinists and manufacturing engineers.

Manufacturing appears to be a dead-end career because of factory closings/outsourcing, making it difficult to recruit qualified people. Also, wages are becoming uncompetitive. Without qualified people, a company can't compete making closure/outsourcing more attractive -- a vicious cycle.

Complacency where success has been achieved whether it be on the shop floor, office, lean, quality. Need to have the Toyota paranoia to continue to drive for perfection.

Pushing the sales price to cover the increase in manufacturing cost.

To recognize the real cost of manufacturing a product. I believe understanding the real cost would eliminate many outsourcing decisions and influence product design (DFM).

Too much math for employees... need for more computer use on the floor with easy to use programs.

Overseas competition has advantages to control lower unit costs. Today's industry does not recognize total cost, nor the impact of allowing a non-knowledge-based workforce to remain stagnant, and un-informed in the U.S. Too many of our high priced overhead positions do not recognize the potential within their own facilities.

The aging facilities/equipment maintenance workforce. The lack of new/younger workers into the trades careers.

Lack of leadership at management level: no vision, no systems, no organizational development for the future, lack of roles and responsibilities.

Being competitive in the open market against the Chinese, India, Indonesian countries, which is very difficult but can be done. Being as efficient as possible with labor dollars and implementing a plan for good employees into cross-training for many different manufacturing jobs, thus being able to reduce the workforce and save in payroll dollars.

Attracting the best and brightest.

Rising cost of raw materials

Getting answers quickly.

Aligning everyone's objectives.

Competition from the Far East and U.S. management philosophy. The thought now is that workers should be totally dedicated to the job and work 50 plus hours per week. We have lost our focus -- equating time spent at work as the prime indicator of top performance.

Americans have to realize in order to survive, we have to be competitive and agile. We can no longer blame our problems on off-shore, cheap labor, little or no government regulations. The 21st century requires us to produce the best quality product at competitive prices. This is everyone's goal from the top to the bottom.

Wall Street

Developing new products suitable for manufacture in the U.S.

Frivolous lawsuits.

Getting employees working to their full potential and having a passion for their work.

Constant change in the industry due to ever changing inventories, usually becoming smaller and requiring much more time spent on dual and triple suppliers or sources. This creates many more problems with deliveries.

Managing resources and cycle time. No specific seminar available that I know off that can help high-tech manufacturing to accurately monitor cycle time and use it effectively.

Making small lots efficiently (at low cost).

One of the largest challenges is maintaining the gross profit margin. Costs have jumped for many different reasons over the past two to three years and the push from distributors to hold and demand price reductions have been unwarranted.

In the manufacturing arena it is difficult to find skilled workers for certain sheet metal processes.

Shrinking average sell prices.

Using time effectively.

Effectively managing the lengthening and increasing complexity of the global supply chain.

Innovating to keep costs down by reducing variation.

Downward price pressure.

Bearing the burdens imposed by unions and the governments and competing with foreign manufacturers that do not have these burdens.

Keeping my job.

Too many people have short-term vision only.

Keeping up with the changing quality and lean manufacturing programs. In the last three years we have focused on QS 9000, Six Sigma, MQ12005, and now combining all into one with Vision 2020.

Continuing to reduce process costs to maintain product cost despite an increase in material costs.

Getting trapped in the "too much management" syndrome.

The transformation from a big box manufacturing facility to a nimble service focused organization capable of short lead times, global interface while maintaining profitability. All at the same time re-educating the traditional union workforce of the need for flexibility.

Lack of critical thinking skills.

Maintaining a competitive U.S.-based manufacturing operation (cost and quality) in the face of competition from low-cost country sources.

Corporate buy outs for cheap quick growth.

Keeping salaries competitive with other industries in order to retain the best employees, and still remain competitive with over seas competition.

Being allowed an adequate margin to justify the investment in machinery to remain competitive seeing as the skill sets of employees has diminished and our choice to use man or machine is influenced by overseas markets.

Sustaining high performance through systematic approaches and continuous improvement in all processes throughout the business enterprise.

Failure of the U.S. primary educational system from producing skill sets applicable to the manufacturing sector.

Technology too advanced for entry-level employees.

Product/service differentiation.

Pricing and deliveries on a global scale.

I don't see any challenges that much. The companies are getting richer and the cost of living is going higher and my paycheck isn't reflecting this.

Lack of focus.

The loss of manufacturing capability in the U.S. The government and global economics working against the manufacturers and workers in U.S. manufacturing that cause this to happen. This could be catastrophic to the country if another world war breaks out, because the next time it will be in Asia.

Apathy.

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