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As the overall recovery of our economy gains more traction, the future of manufacturing in the U.S. will continue to be influenced by forces, such as technology and globalization, that have been reshaping manufacturing over the last several decades The key question to ask right now is: “what should you be doing to capitalize on the recovery?” Here are 3 things that all manufacturers should focus on now:

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Product innovation is the master key to success. Entrepreneurs with the ability to develop and commercialize new products that speak to customer needs will be the next leaders in our economy. Investments in new product development should be made now so those products are coming online as the economy recovers.

Now is the time to increase the speed to market of new products or risk being left behind by other innovators. Rather than pulling back investment in new products due to the economic situation, companies need to reverse their thinking and embrace innovation as an investment that can lift them out of their current situation.

The key to success is creating products for your customers now that they don’t yet know they need. How? One simple approach is to ask your customers “What do you need to help your business that you can’t get from anyone or anywhere else?”

Keep in mind that innovation is not limited to new products and includes new technologies and processes that historically have driven incredible increases in manufacturing productivity. It’s time to harness and direct science and engineering toward future breakthroughs that will help you achieve the next level of advanced manufacturing capability.

Finally, partner with others to transform your company to meet and greet the new world reality. Your suppliers are critical resources not to be overlooked that can help you discover, advance, and achieve the next evolution of your products.

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The supply chain has lengthened considerably due to the global environment we operate in today, producing challenges that make it difficult to control all the activities related to the supply chain. But working with participants in your supply chain as partners to eliminate waste, solve problems, and create efficiencies reduces costs for all parties.

By definition, these partnerships must be collaborative, with all parties, internal and external, fully engaged. This open collaboration will lead to the establishment of best practices that serve to set expectations, avoid disruptions in the flow of supplies, maintain cost controls, and facilitate innovation. Including your suppliers in your product development process is a proven way to reduce product costs.

Efficiencies can also be created by extending the principles of lean and continuous improvement into these collaborations. By reviewing processes, procedures, and by leveraging information technologies, some of which may already be in place, companies can implement improvements that eliminate waste throughout the supply chain system.

A supply chain strategy to gain higher efficiency for your business might include transparency and open sharing of information and knowledge, joint development of metrics, and, most importantly, joint problem solving. Going forward, having an effective and efficient supply chain to drive down costs, react to market forces, and opportunities quickly to minimize risk and improve responsiveness will be critical to remaining competitive.

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Improving supplier relationships remains one of the top supply chain management priorities for manufacturers and distributors today. In the traditional supply chain, steps in the development, production, and delivery of the product to the end user were completed in silos with little or no communication or cooperation between or among the parties involved. That model has changed for the better to what we now, referred to as “the value chain.”

Communications is critical to maintaining smooth operations that avoid disruptions of product delivery to the end user. When we get immersed in trying to keep our business in business, we often overlook communication with suppliers regarding anything beyond price, quantity, and delivery date.

It’s better for you and for your company to provide key suppliers with regular updates on your business situation than it is to leave them out in the cold, wondering when the next order will be signed. By keeping them informed of where the company stands in terms of sales, backlog, and the ongoing need for their supplies, you empower your suppliers to become true partners in your value chain.

The key to overcoming communication challenges and their inherent risk to the business relationship is gaining an understanding of business conditions, obstacles, and objectives from both sides of the table. If your supplier feels like a partner, they’ll spend less time worrying about the next order and more time concentrating on helping you be successful. In fact, they may work harder knowing their efforts will help you, their valued customer, thrive.