Flexible friends

Assembly Automation

ISSN: 0144-5154

Article publication date: 31 July 2009



Loughlin, C. (2009), "Flexible friends", Assembly Automation, Vol. 29 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/aa.2009.03329caa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Flexible friends

Article Type: Editorial From: Assembly Automation, Volume 29, Issue 3

As I write this, official statistics released yesterday announced the worst downturn in manufacturing output in the UK since the 1970s. The only quantum of solace, if you can call it that, is that the whole world seems to be in the same position.

Given this unfortunate predicament, you may consider this issue’s theme of “Rapid prototyping and rapid manufacturing” to be badly timed. However, in my view, the underlying theme of “manufacturing flexibility” could never be more relevant.

In times of fluctuating demand and with a very strong downwards pressure on prices, it is even more important than normal to be able to modify your manufacturing operations to suit the demand on a day-by-day basis or even every hour or minute.

If you can set up your manufacturing operations so that “flexibility” is ingrained then you may well find that the present difficulties actually work in your favour by enabling you to win customers from your less-flexible competitors and therefore be in a very strong position when the recovery comes.

In the same way that nature has evolved some animals so that they are fit to survive as climates change and killed off those that are more specialised and therefore less flexible; so, our manufacturing companies also need to be willing and able to adapt.

It is unfortunate that in times of hardship many companies look at their overheads and decide that they have no option but to lay people off. Many of our readers might expect me to be promoting the use of advanced manufacturing technology so that manual labour is kept to a minimum – but I am not.

If manufacturing “flexibility” is your mantra then you will be hard pressed to find any machine that comes remotely close to the flexibility offered by any but the most belligerent of employees. When times are hard, you really do need all the flexibility that a well-trained workforce can provide, and when times are good you again need their flexibility to help you satisfy increased demand.

Of course, I am not advocating that firms throw away their computer numerical controlled machine tools and instead recruit Trusty Ted and his imperial lathe. But I am advocating that companies consider their employees to be the major assets that they are, and also that they (and their staff) fully embrace the skills training and attitude that will enable them to maximize their potential.

Advanced machine tools are nothing but mounds of highly polished and expensive metal without the software and programming that equips them for the tasks ahead. In just the same way, it is no good complaining that your workforce is useless at this or that, if you have not taken the time and trouble to invest in their programming.

By the same token, it is no use training your staff and then giving them outdated equipment to work with. To succeed and thrive when times are hard, you need the best workforce and the best equipment and the best knowledge you can get hold of.

Clive Loughlin

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