During the late 1980s and 90s, I spent a great deal of time writing case studies on behalf of manufacturing technology specialists, the companies that innovated new controls, automation and processes used to make durable goods. The work took me to plants throughout North America and parts of Europe.
There were numerous obstacles. General Motors had a policy against endorsing “suppliers” in articles, and would not allow their engineers to be quoted or GM’s name to be used. This is back before they needed supplier’s good will and cooperation as much as they need it today.
Sometimes, we found ways to bend the rules. Once or twice, we just plain broke them.
I always remember being in a Maytag manufacturing plant in the early 90s. The appliance industry is notoriously stingy in terms of investing in new automation technology, due to cost and risk in light of razor-thin margins. The “let Mikey try it” attitude pervaded, “Mikey” being the automotive industry, historically with deeper pockets. And, since manufacturing-efficiency advantages were critical to an advantageous price, Maytag and Whirlpool and others typically forbid case studies sponsored by their equipment suppliers.
So, here I am, looking at innovative die change automation on Maytag’s production floor, figuring that I will only walk away with some caption-less photos and a little information attributed to an unnamed appliance maker. But the manufacturing engineer, a company veteran about to retire within a few months, said “to hell with it.” In essence, he said: “I don’t care about the company policy. I worked hard to champion these changes for many years, and stuck my neck out for them. I want to tell the story. And yes, use my name. Turn on your tape recorder, and quote me.”
I guess the “easier to ask forgiveness than for permission” axiom prevailed. He happily retired, on schedule…i.e. not early. The profession of manufacturing engineering is virtually invisible to the general public, and under-valued by corporate management, so recognition and appreciation is scarce. Those engineers dedicated to it want to tell their stories, and not just to a few coworkers at the bar. They want it to be their legacy. The balance between helping the manufacturing community with case study information and protecting a company’s competitive edge can be achieved. I made sure that happened.