Today, Supply Chain Matters joined over three hundred attendees for the The Future of U.S. Manufacturing Conference, jointly sponsored by the MIT Leaders for Global Operations, MIT Industrial Liaison Program, and MIT Forum for Supply Chain Innovation.  The day one agenda was rather jam packed and featured some interesting perspectives.

Some common themes were brought forward in many presentations while some other questions remained unaddressed.  As an example, Jeffrey Turner, President and CEO of Spirit AeroSystems, a major supplier for Boeing and other aerospace manufacturers brought forward the critical importance of having an experienced and well trained workforce supporting manufacturing. Mr. Turner described this as “tapping the reservoir of incredible human power” and offered the audience ample evidence in describing how Spirit’s workforce rallied to overcome the after effects of a recent devastating tornado that damaged much of its Wichita manufacturing facilities, with the potential to have significant business impact. He further described how Spirit was able to negotiate a partnership and performance based variable compensation plan with its predominate union based workforce.

Many subsequent presenters concurred with the need for a more skilled manufacturing workforce. Diana Tremblay, Global Chief Manufacturing Officer at General Motors also pointed to the need for both highly and broadly skilled employees, and praised United Auto Worker union members for demonstrating more awareness and flexibility in labor agreements during GM’s post-bankruptcy recovery. Ms. Tremblay also identified the need for vocational training to include more leadership skills training, including the ability to work in self-improvement and innovation teams.

The afternoon speakers and panel discussions brought forward the influence that governmental incentives in investment, research and tax policy aide in developing a vibrant manufacturing presence for the U.S..  Many speakers stated that manufacturing absolutely matters in corporate capabilities, but were more inclined to favor a geographic based strategy that can support multiple global and/or regional markets.

Our highlight for today one was a closing panel discussion on the theme of Innovation in Manufacturing, was moderated by Tana Utley, Vice President, Product Development and Global Technology Division for Caterpillar, Inc.  Ms. Utley led a pointed and informative discussion of important topics related to manufacturing, some of which required some candor from panelists.  This panel featured:

  • Tim Copes, Vice President, Manufacturing and Quality, Boeing Commercial Airplanes
  • John Hayden, Executive Vice President and Global Head, Phillips Group Operations
  • Martin Mrugal, Head of Manufacturing Industries and Sectors, SAP America
  • Professor Martin Schmidt, Associate Provost, Director, MEMS@MIT Center

Discussions involved the experiences of Boeing in introducing its innovative, carbon fiber based 787 jetliner that included both engineering, materials and supply chain sourcing challenges. Another discussion involved efforts to drive common product platforms and process-centric initiatives at Phillips. Martin Mrugal stressed how SAP has learned from its own product development and market strategies, and how this technology provider is working with companies such as Boeing to support needs for mobility based computing on the factory floor or assembly line. Most of the panelists concurred that manufacturing has an “image” problem, that young graduates do not view manufacturing as a challenging or rewarding career.  Interesting enough, we have noted in this blog, on many occasions that supply chain career paths also suffer from this same image problem. Tim Copes noted how governmental agencies in South Carolina greatly assisted in developing educational partnerships among industry and academia to address vocational and technical training needs. Other panelists pointed to programs in Singapore and Ireland as world class benchmarks in this area.

Day two of the conference also has a packed agenda of speakers and in our later commentaries, we will provide some summation of overall themes and messages brought forward.

Bob Ferrari