15 May Manufacturing Matters starts with innovation
Milwaukee, Wis. – Innovating locally to compete globally is the focus of Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s 9th annual Manufacturing Matters Conference in Milwaukee.
Manufacturing Matters, which kicked off on Monday at the Midwest Airlines Center, is the only statewide conference geared specifically to the needs of small and mid-sized manufacturers. In this era, where U.S. industries face unprecedented competitive pressure from China and India, those needs include constant innovation, something American companies devoted an estimated $384 billion to last year.
Spending on innovation has grown 11 percent annually since 2002, according to the strategic and technology-consulting firm Booz-Allen Hamilton, which is one of the reasons American manufacturers have prospered despite those competitive pressures. Those investments have helped them remain lean and mean, but it’s an ongoing challenge, according to Mike Klonsinski, executive director of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
Klonsinski said the economic landscape for U.S. manufacturers has been positive for several years, but challenges remain. Despite continuing challenges with uncontrollable costs in healthcare and energy, and with shortages of raw materials, Klonsinski said factory orders have been up for most of the past three years. State exports are up thanks largely to machinery manufacturing, and wealth creation driven by manufacturing has reached $47 billion and is projected to grow to $54 billion by 2008.
“Wisconsin is still in the top three in the nation in the percentage of our economy and employment dependent on manufacturing,” Klonsinski said. “Overall, our manufacturing sector is pretty healthy, and we’re lucky for it.”
Klonsinski, however, said the state still has “shakeouts” with firms that don’t modernize, that try to sell a commodity product, or are not adapting quickly enough to new markets. Perhaps their scariest challenge of all, he said, is finding the talent necessary to operate a 21st century manufacturing firm.
To accommodate their need for cutting-edge programming, the Manufacturing Matters conference featured keynote speakers recognized for their innovative approaches, and lean manufacturing workshops on topics like strategic repositioning, workforce development and supply chain management.
The focus on innovation was evident in the morning and afternoon keynotes. The morning keynoter was Tom Kelley, general manager of the product design firm IDEO, which developed the Apple mouse, Polaroid’s I-Zone instant camera, Palm V, and other innovations. IDEO recently was named by BusinessWeek magazine as one of the most innovative companies in the world.
Kelley, author of The Art of Innovation, delivered a presentation titled “Ten Faces of Innovation.”
John Brandt, CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute Group and former editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek and Chief Executive magazines, delivered the afternoon keynote. Brandt, who conducted the first comparison study of Chinese and U.S. manufacturers, will outline several global manufacturing best practices.
MPI Group is a research-based consulting firm and author of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Study, which identified ways to strengthen important driver industries in the state.
Just prior to the afternoon keynote, governor Jim Doyle spoke to the gathering of manufacturing executives.
In addition to the annual conference, WMEP provides technical and business assistance to smaller manufacturers, particularly lean manufacturing techniques and strategic innovation. The organization claims that the manufacturers it assisted in 2005 reported a $215 million economic benefit, with 2,381 jobs either created or retained.
However, it’s the Manufacturing Matters Conference that enables WMEP to reach a large concentration of small manufacturers; an estimated 250 are at the 2006 conference. “It’s a great gathering of Wisconsin’s finest,” Klonsinski said, “and a tangible sign that Wisconsin manufacturing is doing what it takes to win in this highly competitive global game.”