7 Keys to Becoming a World-Class Manufacturer

Being "world-class" has nothing to do with your size or resources. It entails excelling in your market and weathering economic downturns. Find out what it takes to make it to this category:

Manufacturers are the hardest hit during economic recessions yet some companies emerge from these slumps intact or even better off. They're called "world-class manufacturers," earning this moniker by consistently matching or topping the competition in product quality, lead time, flexibility, pricing, customer service and innovation. And regardless of your size and resources, you too can become a top manufacturer by following these seven tips:

    Position your products as solutions. World-class manufacturers don't just churn out products but emphasize how their products are part of solutions. "Manufacturers need to know about their product and how they can best provide a solution to their client that includes the product now that it may be commoditized," Jim Maurer, national managing partner for the consumer and industrial products industry group at Grant Thornton LLP of Chicago, tells Assembly Magazine. In short, companies have to focus on how their offerings are being used.

    Prioritize customer satisfaction. Top manufacturers consistently surpass customer expectations by effectively managing every aspect of the relationship—from prospect to post-sales—and staying attuned to customer needs throughout their daily operations. They also strive to please their internal customers—employees. In other words, instead of assuming that someone at some point down the assembly line will correct mistakes—a misconception that diminishes product quality—you have to make sure that what you are producing satisfies the workers down the line.

    Maintain quality through a disciplined approach. Successful manufacturers know that poorly executed processes lessen product quality. "To be a world-class manufacturer, you have to embrace Six Sigma," says Maurer. "You have to embrace lean concepts." While Six Sigma involves rooting out defects in processes with a data-centric approach, lean manufacturing entails boosting overall efficiency. By following lean principles, you can raise throughput, capacity and product quality while reducing costs and time to market.

    Welcome change. In order to remain on top, world-class manufacturers constantly modify their manufacturing processes. This allows them to continually meet their customers' needs. They set up flexible production systems, which enable them to react rapidly to changing customer demands and market trends. One effective system is pull-type production, in which goods are assembled according to demand.

    Stress employee training. Top manufacturers recognize the key role of well-trained workers in the success of manufacturing practices. They invest in training and expect to derive significant benefits from it in the long run. But keep in mind that training can be costly and counterproductive. In order to make sure that you get your money's worth, consider such approaches as audio or phone courses, community college courses, online classes or sending one employee to workshops and then having him or her share lessons learned with fellow employees.

    Pay attention to total cost of procurement. Leading manufacturers stay a step ahead by implementing supply chain management strategies that assess purchased materials and goods in terms of their total cost of procurement. With this supply chain approach, you can support just-in-time production systems, speed up product development and constantly lessen costs and errors.

    Get involved in product development. World-class plants actively participate in the design, planning and development of the products they are making. After all, their success hinges on rapidly coming out with cost-effective products that provide solutions to customers.


How the Winners Keep Winning
Patricia Carter-Roberts
Assembly Magazine, March 1, 2004

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