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A Spring-Cleaning Checklist for U.S. Manufacturers

Spring has always been my favorite time of year. The flowers are out again in full bloom, it’s time to plant the garden, and baseball season is here again – Go Nationals!

My absolute favorite is spring-cleaning. Spring-cleaning provides me with the perfect opportunity to address all of the chores punted throughout the winter, go through and organize all the piles, and give my house a makeover. Spring-cleaning 2015 is proving to be a great success; the household is refreshed and renewed!

Something occurred to me this year when I noticed there were a lot of parallels between my spring-cleaning projects and important initiatives for U.S. manufacturers…no, really! Various steps of the spring-cleaning process led me to think about critical topics that could help a U.S. manufacturer prosper and grow. Here are some examples:

Rounding up My Family: Workforce Development - Spring-cleaning isn’t a one-person job – it takes a team effort. So at the beginning of the process, I gathered my family around to delegate tasks, strategize, and boost morale from the get-go to minimize complaining. I realized that spring-cleaning would be better if we worked together efficiently and effectively. (Ice cream rewards can help with buy-in as well!)

I also knew that I would have to “train” certain family members in specific tasks. If my son just folded all of the towels like me, it would take him half the time and he could help me elsewhere. (At least it seemed compelling to me!)

This reminded me of the importance of worker engagement and workforce development in manufacturing. Businesses excel when they improve the skills of their workforce, engage workers in important, meaningful work, and support effective teamwork. Manufacturers with skilled and engaged workforces recognize tangible benefits such as more creativity, shorter cycle times, reduced turnover, and improved customer service.

Cleaning the Living Room: Exporting - My next step was the living room. I started to look at my family’s vacation pictures on the wall. I love our hometown, but some of our greatest memories were made on vacation. It’s always exciting to experience different places, people, and cultures. If you never leave your own bubble, then you’re missing out on new opportunities.

These experiences made me think about exporting. Did you know that 95 percent of the world’s customers live outside the U.S.? If manufacturers aren’t exporting, then they’re missing out on increasing sales! Exporting also helps manufacturers diversify their customer base and develop new processes, technologies, and product applications.

Reorganizing the Kitchen: Lean - The kitchen was next on the to-do list. We decided to reorganize the kitchen cabinets to better coincide with our cooking habits. For example, we cook pasta more frequently than anything else. However, our pasta boxes, sauces and pans were all on opposite ends of the kitchen. By reorganizing the layout to keep everything close, it will create a more efficient cooking process moving forward.

The same thinking applies for U.S. manufacturers. Lean principles are all about creating a more efficient flow throughout a company so that manufacturers can eliminate waste and streamline operations. This ultimately enables organizations to reduce cycle times and improve customer satisfaction.

Planting the Garden: Sustainability - As the rest of my family tackled the bedrooms, bathrooms, and garage, I headed outside to the garden. I weeded, planted, and watered. At first, I was pleased with the fact that my garden was visually appealing, Then, I focused on the additional benefits of my garden like the ability to grow our own tomatoes and hot peppers.

Gardening reminded me of the benefits of sustainability. Manufacturers tend to associate sustainability with its label – green manufacturing simply looks good to the public, right? While sustainability does in fact help from a marketing standpoint, there are additional cost benefits of embracing sustainability. These practices help manufacturers boost production efficiencies, reduce energy use, minimize waste, and reduce environmental impacts. It’s a good harvest.

Brainstorming about the Basement: Innovation - I came inside to find that the house was finished with one exception – the dreaded basement. Our family has historically used the basement for storage. Instead of simply cleaning things up, we sat down to brainstorm possible ideas for the basement. All ideas were welcome and we discussed what we’d enjoy about the changes (i.e., benefits), barriers or constraints we had to consider (e.g., costs, space limits, etc.) and timelines associated with each idea. We all built on one another’s ideas and came up with a pretty good plan!

This brainstorming and collaboration got me thinking about the importance of innovation for manufacturers. Keeping the “status quo” is no longer enough in today’s global economy – manufacturers must be constantly thinking of new ways to improve their businesses through innovation. From new products and parts, to adapting and deploying new technologies, to selling to new customers in new markets, innovation is critical to a successful company.

Spring-cleaning involves hard work and yes, some arm-twisting, but it leads to many improvements. The same thinking can be applied for U.S. manufacturers. By improving in critical areas, your company can become more competitive and profitable. If you’re interested in starting your own spring-cleaning for your business, NIST MEP has resources to help you grow:

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