Manufacturing - Conversion to ‘Knowledge
by Debra M. Amidon
When Peter Drucker first talked about the 'knowledge worker,' (1993 - ???) he was referencing the high technology professionals. When Karl-Erik Sveiby wrote about the 'Know-How' company (1987), he was referencing the services sector. As the knowledge profession evolved, we have all realized that the knowledge communities reside within and across all functions, sectors and regions of the world.
Perhaps the least well known is the manufacturing sector.
The integration of technology-push and market-pull (i.e., supply/demand, needs/seeds) ultimately come together in the manufacturing function - or the conversion phase (i.e., between creation and commercialization) within the process of innovation. With intensified global competition and companies that were more expert at commercializing technology - even from other countries, focus on the production aspects of goods and services became paramount.
Previously relegated to third-class citizenry in the corporate ladder - and in the professional schema - manufacturing engineers were put to the test. Not only were they able to display their prowess with statistical analysis, being first to embrace the quality agenda enables them to provide corporate leadership in team-building as well as with customer interaction. Instead of being perceived at the end of the value-chain, customers were perceived as the heart of the Quality Function Deployment (QFD) process.
Across the nation - and indeed the world - there was an intensified focus on the manufacturing sector of the economy and its role in international competition. There was an appreciation for the conversion process within traditional industries, the services sector and the transformation of federal laboratories.
What emerged is an intensive movement to promote corporate agility, which that had its roots in the manufacturing sector. Today, the Agility Forum (they have dropped the word manufacturing from their title), which is based at Lehigh University, boasts a significant cross-industry membership, with research initiatives ranging from change management to “Next Generation Manufacturing: Plan for Action”. Its conference agenda, similar to other manufacturing forums (e.g., the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, the Center for International Manufacturing Systems) resembles one of an organization dedicated to the process of innovation. They even produced a 1997 NGM imperative paper on “Innovation Process,” which builds a bridge between technological innovation and the learning process.
“Only decades ago, the concept of producing defect-free products (i.e., zero defects) was at best a slogan - something to rally around, certainly not attainable or even necessary. Today, it is part of the price of admission for manufacturing companies approaching six sigmas (3 parts per million) quality levels…The ability to innovate - not only products and services, but also processes, strategies, organizational structures and enterprise designs and to rapidly change them, will become the next discriminator, and perhaps the (new) price of admission for U.S. manufacturers in the world market…Development (therefore) of any innovation strategy should be viewed from both the micro- and macro-economic levels.”
One way to begin to calibrate the innovation process is to view the system-as-a-whole by answering the tend questions outlined on the ENTOVATION Litmus Test - http://www.entovation.com/assessment/litmus.htm - that provide manufacturing professionals with a broader view of the innovation system within which manufacturing responsibilities lie. These ten steps enable a company to see where it is on the scale of innovation management capability and provide a foundation for strategy formulation. As with any corporate-wide initiative, companies must establish key players, agree upon a framework for dialogue, create an implementation plan (ideally after all stakeholders have been interviewed), manage the process, evaluate results, and be open to new ideas and unexpected business opportunities.
In short, position innovation strategy and management as a core competency. Make the process - and the management and measurement thereof - explicit. Illustrate how it can be seen as the migration from Business Planning - http://www.entovation.com/whatsnew/atlas1.htm - with more dynamic, robust models for ensuring future success than documenting past performance. Ensure that individuals - ideally representing the 3-G’s (Generations) - are motivated and rewarded for enhancing innovation. Take into consideration the relationships inherent in the ‘Extended Enterprise’ or the ‘Strategic Business Network’ (SBN) - suppliers, distributors, alliance partners, customers, customer’s customers and even competitors. Avoid punishing failure as you are building a common innovation language and culture of ‘constructive innovation.’ And by all means, celebrate progress…even the little victories.
Over the years, the focus on manufacturing has evolved to the concept of the ‘Factory.’ ENTOVATION Kevin Meyer was one of the first to integrate the knowledge concepts into the manufacturing frame with a Website - http://superfactory.com - and collaboration with http://www.Virtual-Workshops.com in which interested industrial participants are connected to instructors and other participants by using specially developed web conferencing software, an Internet connection and a phone line. Virtual-Workshops™ has conducted workshops for several thousand employees of DuPont, BP, Amoco, Exxon, Kodak, GM, Nordstrom, and 250 other companies. Programs are available in the following categories:
There are numerous other relevant publication is the field providing leadership for the manufacturing function and overall enterprise leadership such as: Manufacturing for Survival: The How-To Guide for Practitioners and Managers by Blair R. Williams (1995); Fast Track to Waste-Free Manufacturing: Straight Talk from a Plant Manager (Manufacturing and Production) by John W. Davis, Steven Ott (1999); America's Best: Industry Week's Guide to World-Class Manufacturing Plants by Theodore B. Kinni (1996); World Class Manufacturing: The Next Decade: Building Power, Strength, and Value by Richard J. Schonberger (1996); to mention a few.
And there are other factory concepts being realized by the Global Factory - http://www.globalfactory.net/ - which has received $13M in first round financing. Positioning themselves as “the next step for e-collaborative manufacturing,” the Global Factory Network is the first ‘collaborative manufacturing execution platform.’ For the first time, all parties in a manufacturing chain can operate as if communicating from within one enterprise. This breakthrough development means that outsourced manufacturing can now be globally managed as easily and consistently as in-house operations.
Benefits from Benefits of the Global Factory Network include:
These benefits could easily be attributed to an effective innovation system - not necessarily the improved manufacturing function. This is an illustration of how each functioning the ‘Community of Knowledge Practice’ - http://www.entovation.com/innovation/cokp.htm - is moving toward an understanding of the entire ‘system’ in order to understand the function in of the parts. It is also proof-of-concept that, indeed, there is a leadership role to be performed by those in the industrial sector (not only services) - and the manufacturing function at that - in the Knowledge Economy!
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