I have worked at manufacturing companies for most of my career. There were a few university jobs first, but when I got the IT job at 3M, I was hooked. The sheer number of products they made was mind-blowing. I worked in the IT department supporting the engineers that designed the equipment for the plants. 3M is a “make it by the mile, sell it by the inch” company and they had (and probably still have) some incredible manufacturing processes. After that, I was part of a spinoff from 3M that continued the manufacturing trend.
Since then, I have worked in IT at a medical device company, two food companies, an electrical components company, and a software company (you would be surprised at the overlap with manufacturing). Some of the things I have seen are:
- A 24×7 pasta plant that made a million pounds of pasta EVERY DAY. Flour and water in at one end of the plant, packaged pasta on pallets loaded on trucks out at the other end. Their company store was awesome!
- A machine designed to fill sweetener packets so fast that there was a waterfall of packets into the shipping boxes.
- A warehouse full of pallets, each with six-foot-high bags of delightful cereals. Alas, no company store.
- Various medical devices that used lasers to cure heart problems, pumps to keep a donor heart viable longer, and a light system to release chemo at specific locations inside the body.
Manufacturing does not have a good reputation these days. The news only covers pollution, large companies treating employees badly, and other headline-making bad news. Certainly there are real problems with manufacturing that need addressing. But I feel that those points have gotten too much press lately and we need to appreciate manufacturing more than we do.
At its simplest, manufacturing takes stuff and makes cooler stuff using human brains and muscle. The cooler stuff has greater value than the original stuff. A physical item is created that didn’t exist before. Many times, that item goes into a more complex item at another company.
Look around where you are sitting right now. Many items in your view came from a manufacturing plant somewhere. Each item contains components from other manufacturing plants. How many different types of materials or components are in it? Your computer keyboard? Dozens. A dishwasher? Hundreds. A car? Thousands.
In order to stay competitive, manufacturing companies must continually come up with product innovations. They must continually come up with better ways to make those products. There are some very clever people out there figuring out some very cool stuff.
The enlightened manufacturers (there are more than you think and they never get any press) know that people are at the heart of a manufacturing business. They provide good paying jobs, training, and work to be proud of.
I have had the good fortunate of walking the floor at a number of manufacturing plants in my life. Each time I get to see a new one, I am impressed by the hard work and hard thinking that go into it.
See you on the floor!