Why Smart Manufacturing is a Dumb Idea

Why Smart Manufacturing is a Dumb Idea

Someone asked me recently my thoughts on Smart Manufacturing. The so-called IT revolution in the factory. They couldn't believe that I didn't see Smart Manufacturing as the salvation of American manufacturing.

Don’t misunderstand me. Smart Manufacturing has a place in reviving American manufacturing. I have a smart factory. We employ the latest in pick to light systems, automated CNC machines, and seamless integration from order inquiry to accounts receivable.

But that isn't where I started my revolution. And you shouldn't either.

The problem with many CEOs today is they have turned away from the astonishing potential of the workforce and turned toward automation instead. Big mistake. But I hear it all the time.

Too many CEO’s view their employees as expandable assets. They should view them as renewable resources. And renew them.

What is the sense in spending millions on automating your factory if our workforce couldn't care less? What is the sense in buying expensive machine tools if your workforce can't wait to get to the bowling alley, yet drag themselves to work?

I'll tell you why. Because too many CEO’s view their employees as expandable assets. They should view them as renewable resources. And renew them.

Don't bother with smart manufacturing if you have a dumb workforce. And if your workforce is dumb, it's your fault, not theirs.

Don't bother with an IT revolution. Your revolution has to start with a "Smart Workforce." You have to make a new compact with your employees. You need to ignite the human spirit in your workforce.

Imagine this. What would happen if every day your employees came to work excited to do better today than they did yesterday? Imagine how your company would soar if your employees were absolutely dedicated to supporting the mission and each other in attaining it? Imagine what it would be like if your employees were like Cirque de Soleil performers?

This is the place where I get blank stares from many CEO's. They don’t like the "soft stuff." "Give me the hard stuff," they say. "Tell me how to build a smart factory, not a smart workforce," is what I often hear.

It has to be the other way around. Start by building a smart workforce. A workforce that is engaged, enlightened, and empowered. A workforce that trusts in its leadership. A workforce that believes in its leadership. Tall order to be sure, especially if the leadership is a bunch of boneheads that care more about depreciation than employee engagement.

Here are four key ways to start:

1. At the top.

Build leadership credibility. The only way to have leadership credibility is if your leaders demonstrate key values of respect and integrity.

2. Leaders need to treat their employees with respect.

But many don't. In a recent Harvard Business School study of 20,000 employees half of them did not feel respected by their leaders. And respect was rated by the participants as more important than anything else, including compensation. Imagine how the company performance would skyrocket if you solved this one problem alone.

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New Equipment Digest is an IndustryWeek companion site within Penton's Manufacturing & Supply Chain Group.


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