A global economy changes everything, and that includes domestic manufacturing. Since the early twentieth century, manufacturing has been able to function with a basic supply and demand model. Yet what happens when new technologies change the pattern of ordering? What happens when most orders are being run through internet giants rather than small or medium-sized stores? These are the sorts of headaches that only a plant manager can understand.
The basic ideas of supply and demand are simple. Manufacture enough product to satisfy the market. Do that for many years and you learn the ebb and flow of annual demand. Suddenly, your product starts to trend online, and orders begin to surge. Just when you make the adjustment in production, the demand returns to normal or takes a dip. There are too many variables in play to make demand forecasting a simple calculation anymore.
Chargebacks and Deductions
Sometimes it feels like you are just producing for the big online retailers. Their policies control your workplace, putting up new barriers to selling products in an efficient way. Retailers’ chargeback and deduction policies are often incomprehensible and seem to be implemented arbitrarily just to spite you. Sometimes you absorb the cost as a fee that is just part of the new business world. Yet the company board gets tired of losing money to what seem like small shipping or packaging mistakes. When it comes down to it, this issue is not even about the money but about making you jump through hoops just to do business.
Convoluted Bonus Structures
Speaking of jumping through hoops, when management creates bonus structures to incentivize your production team but then makes those structures complicated, they are more of an added frustration than a bonus. A calculation that combines timing, quality and quantity can make for confusion. Your production team does not know whether it is best to slow down and focus on quality or speed up and focus on quantity. When bonuses are also based on several different product lines, it makes things even more confusing. Some lines will have no problem increasing quantity and quality while other products are more complicated to produce. If only they would keep it simple.
Unrealistic Expectations from Upper Management
It seems like the upper management has no idea what it takes to get a product from one end of an assembly line to another. They sit in a room somewhere, take a vote, and decide what your plant is capable of producing. It would great if increasing quantity was a matter of pushing a few buttons; if the speed of production was really controlled by a lever like in some old cartoon. As the plant manager, you feel that when you bring up these issues you are coming across as an ineffective leader or a complainer. The truth is, just because someone in upper management imagines it does not make it possible. Every change that comes from on high affects a whole lot of people in the plant and will take time to implement.
There was a time when manufacturing jobs were sought after. Now all the millennials are out finding their bliss and living their best lives. Jobs in production are seen as either too low-paying or too strenuous. When there is an opening, it is hard to find someone who has any experience or the work ethic to make things happen. This is bad enough when someone is out on a sick day, but it is even worse when a position stays empty for long periods of time. Production is a team effort, and every missing person makes things more difficult for both production and morale.
Being a plant manager has never been an easy task. Each generation of technology changes the procedures of the workplace. Each new graduate from a business school changes the workplace culture and philosophy. Yet even with the frustration, there will always be something powerful about a job in manufacturing, knowing that something concrete was made because you went to work.
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