We are all so lucky to be part of the worldwide manufacturing community. This is a time when so much is changing that the manufacturing industry will look quite different in a few years. In the meantime, here are a few things to be grateful for today.

1. The Focus on Manufacturing Quality

Before the industrial revolution, when everything was made by hand, quality was taken for granted. Craftspeople cared about the quality of the things they made, because their reputations and livelihoods depended on it. In the early days of mass production, quality began to take a bit of a backseat to delivery. That has certainly changed in the last few years.

Today, many companies use six sigma, invented by Motorola in 1986, or another quality improvement methodology to be certain that quality is built in to products right from the start. That makes life easier for everybody along the supply chain, and consumers have grown accustomed to higher quality products.

2. The Lean Revolution

Lean manufacturing had a major effect on manufacturing, with its emphasis on satisfying customer needs and eliminating waste. As a result of lean, not only is quality high, but we now enjoy better on time delivery rates than in the past. We can order customized or personalized products and expect fast delivery and reasonable prices. Customers are happy, which is the goal.

Lean has reduced the number of industrial accidents by eliminating clutter and focusing on keeping work stations clean and neat, reducing slips, trips and falls. Lean has even crept into the front office, streamlining our business processes and eliminating stacks of paper forms that used to require endless filing and sorting.

3. The Reshoring Efforts

For some reason in the late 1990s and the early part of the 21st century, the universe decided that it was cheaper to make things in other countries. Offshoring makes sense in some industries sometimes, but it certainly didn’t turn out to be the panacea it was predicted to be. Manufacturing companies used lean techniques and the focus on quality to improve efficiency and costs. Productivity improved. Cost comparisons became more sophisticated, and took things such as extra inventory and loss of flexibility into account when deciding where to manufacture. As a result, the decision to offshore became less of a given and more of a debate. Now, every day manufacturing gets closer to being the global industry that’s necessary to ensure healthy economies around the world.

4. ERP

Not so many years ago, there was no such thing as ERP. Then a smart IBM researcher, Joseph Orlicky, came up with a way to automate calculations of exactly how much material was needed, even for thousands of component parts. His idea spawned an industry, and made the lives of inventory planners and operations managers everywhere much easier.

5. Mobile Devices

Today, there are more mobile devices in the world than there are people. Before mobile devices existed, people were chained to their desks. When you had to travel on business or you took a vacation, a mountain of work waited for you on your return. Now, people take care of high priority tasks even when they’re on the road, and simple video calls make it easy to attend meetings from anywhere making travel — not to mention daily life — easier for many people.

Before, production reporting relied on filling out paper forms that got lost easily or that couldn’t be read. It was hard to keep inventory accurate. Now, handheld RF devices on the shop floor make reporting transactions faster, easier and more accurate than before.

At one time, equipment breakdowns used to require long walks from the machine to the desk and back to assess the spares needed and get them on order. It was common to see broken equipment sitting idle for long periods. Now, with mobile devices in use everywhere, the repair technician calls up the specs and orders the parts right on a mobile device while standing at the equipment. In some cases, sensors on the equipment order the parts themselves. The result is faster repairs and less downtime.

Technical advances have made a major difference in manufacturing, and the pace of changes will only increase. Things that once seemed amazing now feel commonplace, and that too will continue to happen. The one thing that won’t change is that manufacturing is an exciting, dynamic and wonderful industry.

Well, one other thing that won’t change is that QAD loves its customers. Thank you.