All Better Now?

Feb. 4, 2009
Scaling Back and Cutting Costs in Tough Times Is Scary. Manufacturing Teams Face Cut Backs on Product Quality
By Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

Let’s see. By the time you read this, three or four weeks will have passed since the inauguration, so I’m confident that the financial crisis has been resolved, the Dow is at 15,000—no, no … let’s be realistic, make it 14,000—and the Middle East now is an idyllic, peaceful land that embodies the very essence of brotherhood and tolerance.

Given the level of expectation that invited itself into the White House with Obama’s new administration, it seemed we should expect the miraculous, right?

The new guys did try to temper this zeal by noting it’ll be a while yet before things even bottom out, and that initiatives planned for the early stages will have to be scaled back. Costs must be reduced.

Scaling back and cutting costs in tough times is a scary, murky path to follow in our manufacturing space. One of the pressures many manufacturing teams face, sometimes in indirect and implied ways, is to cut back on product quality. That often comes with wildly unrealistic expectations about the result. With few, few exceptions, it’s a big mistake.

In December, the American Society for Quality reported results of a member survey that illustrated some of this. ASQ reported that 28% of respondents say they’re “backing away” from quality initiatives, 26% are putting less emphasis on quality, 20% are canceling new quality activities, and 11% are canceling existing quality programs.

There is a counterculture, however, that said it was increasing emphasis on quality preventive action, in continuous improvement activities, and is using quality initiatives to reduce expenses.

The respondents who attributed changes in their organizations to factors other than economic woes were less likely to say they were emphasizing downsizing and cost cutting. They were more likely to be paying more attention to quality and innovation for competitive advantage.

Machine builders naturally are smack in the middle of this. This can be a time when your initiatives and smart use of automation and controls can help companies weather the storm. You’ve got to be similarly convinced that there are more important things to do than cut back and cut corners as your business has slowed.

So how do you find them amongst your customer base? Are they the ones calling you and asking to collaborate on finding ways to improve efficiencies and quality? Are you reaching out to find them and see what they need and how you can help? What about the ones you don’t know about? Is this an opportunity to find new customers that need a smart, healthy dose of new machine automation to help cure their economic ills?

If you and that customer have a healthy level of grand expectations that good things can happen, it might turn out that way.

You’ll probably be overwhelmingly re-elected as their machine supplier of choice.