Uptime: Factory Jobs Anyone?

 

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Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor
Imagine that you're 15 years old. You like new technology. You're a whiz at strategy games. You built your own computer and set up a wireless network. You're yearning for your first car. You have fleeting thoughts what you would like to do when you grow up. Earn big bucks! A job? A career? Go to college? Why? All they seem to care about any more in school is math and science. You would like to do things, make things, build things, solve puzzles and problems, figure things out, investigate.

 

Then, you hear the news about the auto industry's woes... the meltdown across the industrial sector... the turmoil in banking and finance. It's all over the Internet and on TV. Is this real? Now, what to do when you grow up? Maybe one or more of these global problems has hit real close to home—your home. A relative, neighbor and/or friend's parent(s) may have recently lost their jobs as manufacturing has slowed over the past few months. Would you be interested in learning more about working in a "factory?" Nah, doesn't even register as an option. So much for OUR future capacity assurance talent...

If there ever were a time when we needed to actively nurture and recruit young minds for maintenance and reliability careers, that time is NOW. Yet, the political/media machine keeps chugging along, doing everything possible—it seems—to send a "discouraging word" about one of our nation's largest economic machines: the "Big Two" in auto and truck manufacturing. (Ford, Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Mercedes, BMW, Kia, Hyundai and others in the U.S. are rarely mentioned.

Unfortunately, the impact is truly much more than cars and trucks. Look at all of the jobs in the supply chain. Look beyond all of the direct suppliers (first, second and third tier). Look past the chemical plants that supply the feedstocks for paints and plastics. Look upstream to the mines and processes that supply ore, limestone, kaolin and other minerals that go into steel, copper, aluminum, paints, composites and plastics. Look further upstream to the companies that produce oxygen, nitrogen, argon, CO2, chlorine and other gases that go into making primary metals and plastics. Look way upstream to petroleum products, another natural resource that is largely worthless until it is processed into usable forms to be used in plastics, composites and metals. Consider the oil and natural gas that fires our boilers to generate steam, hot water and gases to process metals that go into cars, trucks and ever so much more. You'll be looking a long time—the list of affected industries and businesses goes on and on and on. As you do, keep in mind that from this point on, every one of them will need increasingly more reliable equipment and processes in order to remain viable and competitive. What we're talking about here is much more than auto and truck manufacturing. Our economy depends on productive and reliable manufacturing processes found in thousands of different industries. Most are interrelated. It is rare that the auto manufacturing supply chain only affects—or is only affected by the auto industry. Right now, however, the auto industry in America is at risk of bringing our manufacturing capabilities down to their knees. Our media-political machine is missing that point and, quite possibly, sending the wrong message to our best and brightest young minds: our future plant reliability technicians.

The socio-economic impact of auto manufacturing is HUGE! Historically, the auto industry has defined how we manufacture products in most other industries. Sure, in 1913 in his Highland Park, MI plant, Henry Ford—father of the moving assembly line—pioneered many manufacturing breakthroughs with his Model T Ford. But, he had to first create "interchangeable parts" using methods he had learned from handgun manufacturing. Without that critical "tweak," cars would continue to be craft built, each one a bit unique, hand-fitted.

Even today, the Toyota Production System provides a proven model for improving manufacturing performance efficiency and cost effectiveness across thousands of plants and businesses well outside of the auto industry. In fact, the foundations of "lean manufacturing" and the "lean enterprise" can be found in the 60-year history of this Toyota system.

The most successful businesses will continue to depend on the right people with the right skills and knowledge to assure competitive levels of performance and reliability. Of course, many of our readers already know that. What is critically important is helping our teachers, counselors, parents, politicians and students understand that there will be plenty of jobs and careers in technical maintenance and reliability roles in a huge variety of business and industrial settings. This is the job that only we as maintenance and reliability insiders can do.

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