Revolving doors

Assembly Automation

ISSN: 0144-5154

Article publication date: 1 August 2008



Loughlin, C. (2008), "Revolving doors", Assembly Automation, Vol. 28 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Revolving doors

Article Type: Editorial From: Assembly Automation, Volume 28, Issue 3

Our viewpoint in this issue by Christoph Hanisch, Head of Future Technologies Research and Innovation, for Festo (the international automation company), makes interesting reading. Our theme for this issue is production planning and this can be viewed from many perspectives.

At the lowest level, production planning is concerned with getting through the next day or hour while producing what needs to be made and at the required quality level.

At the highest level, production planning is at a fundamentally corporate level and includes answering such questions as “what products shall we make?” and “who shall we sell them to?”. Actually this is not quite the highest level - each country’s politicians need to decide whether they want to promote and even allow, certain types of manufacturing.

One fundamental question that any manufacturer has to ask is “where shall we manufacture our products?”. Normally, this question means “where can we get our products manufactured for the lowest cost?”. These sort of questions remind me of two anecdotes, both originated about 30 years ago, but are still relevant today.

The first concerned the “threatened” introduction of robots in an American car plant and a pending vote for strike action by the workforce. Senior management smugly stated that, they wanted to replace the workforce with robots because they would not be able to vote, and the Union’s reply was that the robots would also not be able to buy the manufacturer’s cars.

The second arose while the Prime Minister of the UK was Margaret Thatcher from the emphasis that was being placed on “Service Industries” as opposed to “Manufacturing Industries”. One wise wag in the opposition was quoted as saying, “we cannot create wealth by just opening doors for one another”.

At the end of the day something has to be made and somebody has to be paid, otherwise nothing of any real substance has been created.

The massive rate of expansion and development in China and India has fuelled soaring demand, and with it soaring prices, for fundamental materials such as steel, oil, rice and other grain crops. This is in stark contrast to the ever decreasing costs of electronics and other consumer products that are now throw-away items. It is very hard to see where this consumer demand will lead or what should be done about it, but I am sure I am not alone in thinking that it will end in tears.

If manufacturers (of any country) sub-contract their manufacturing then they are really not manufacturers at all - at best they are researchers and developers, but if these tasks are also sub-contracted then they become largely marketing organisations. Marketing is very important indeed, and it does add value by providing a service that consumers demand - but it is a transient skill that is as mobile as the people who undertake it.

As I write this Editorial, the world is reeling from uncertainties created by the sub-prime housing market in the USA. Assets that were once much vaunted are now recognised for the liabilities that they truly always were. Some organisations will have swiftly banked their profits while the rest of the world pays the price.

Whatever we plan for our future manufacturing operations we must make sure that they are truly adding value.

Clive Loughlin

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