Across the industry, we're seeing some positive trends, from revenue and job growth — albeit slow and steady — to stories of insourcing or reshoring of domestic production.
However, to this point, many of these positive developments have been more anecdotal than data-proven. The most recent Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation outlook survey, for example, shows North American manufacturers predicting a continued slow, steady climb.
As the only U.S.-based provider of plastics machinery (with the largest installed base in the country), Milacron is always talking with plastics companies about the challenges they face. Based on our reading of the market, here's a look at some of the keys to success for 2013.
As economic globalization continues, many firms operating in multiple international markets are looking for greater global consistency.
It's increasingly important for all companies — suppliers and processors — involved in global business to streamline their operations across all locations. The goal must be to deliver a consistent experience to customers by providing the same high levels of efficiency and product platforms, whether in California or Kolkata.
At the same time, manufacturers must maintain customization for the specific needs of different geographic markets. Knowledge of, and adaptability to, regional standards and protocols in machining, controls, applications and other areas will provide the greatest value to customers.
As productivity gains are
playing an important role in domestic manufacturing's continued rebirth, keeping machines up and running is essential. That's why we're seeing increasing interest in predictive maintenance and other proactive approaches to ensuring reliability and maximizing uptime. For new and rebuilt machinery purchases, a track record of reliability is perhaps more important than ever.
So is the ability to service equipment as soon as possible when things do go wrong. To keep downtime to a minimum, manufacturers must be sure that critical replacement parts are either stocked on premises or ready nearby for immediate shipping. It also pays to have a service team nearby that truly understands the technologies and can help solve problems quickly.
Continuous improvement must continue to be a top priority for every plastics manufacturer.
Fortunately, there are countless opportunities to keep taking costs out, adding value in and improving environmental sustainability:
c Next-generation controls empower operators with real-time data for process enhancements and faster troubleshooting.
c Monitoring technologies support more repeatable molding processes and optimal energy and material use.
c Advanced drive systems incorporate servomotors or all-electric configurations for clean, high-efficiency operation.
Meanwhile, various aftermarket technology innovations and services offer affordable options for upgrading existing equipment to reduce energy use, increase precision and prolong equipment life.
Next, and you've probably heard plenty about this issue, but the need for skilled workers is only intensifying. In addition to reaching out to educational and civic institutions to help recruit and train the next generation of leaders in the long term, plastics companies can look to new technology to help more immediately.
Smart, computer- and data-based technologies have significant potential to increase operational excellence and reduce labor requirements in a time when the right help is harder to find. Advancements in touch-screen controls, coupled with the proliferation of automated processes and process enhancements, are making it easier than ever to operate efficiently and effectively, with far fewer people. Keep in mind, however, that our industry will still need a lot of smart people. It's just that the emphasis may shift somewhat to quality over quantity.
To succeed globally, every plastics company needs to be smarter — more globally integrated, more operationally efficient and more talent-driven — than ever.
Lawrence is president of plastics injection and extrusion machinery for Cincinnati-based Milacron LLC.