This article appeared in the April 2019 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
Developing an agile mindset doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s becoming an essential part of the successful manufacturer’s business strategy.
“The only constant is change and that saying is especially true for manufacturing,” said Jeff Simek, general manager of operations for RCO Engineering. “You can never stop working to improve your ability to adjust with the times and utilize whatever is new and exciting at your disposal. We’re doing that every day.”
RCO Engineering is a 45-year-old, family-owned, product development partner for the automotive and aerospace industries. The company, currently Roseville’s largest employer, began in seating but has grown to offer much more through the continuing effort to remain agile and responsive to technological changes, new market opportunities and more efficient processes.
“Today’s customer is demanding customization on a scale we’ve never seen before and the traditional high-volume manufacturer will struggle to adjust — at RCO, we’ve been working to perfect a high-mix, low-volume production model with this in mind,” explained Simek. “We’re now able to use super-agile business processes focused on cost, quality and delivery while meeting the needs of a modern manufacturing customer.”
The change in customer demand is also affecting how companies like RCO prepare for the future.
“In the short-term, we’re looking to optimize our processes and grow sales, but in the long-term, it’s clear that the future is in digitization and transforming to meet the potential of Industry 4.0,” said Simek. “Processes are becoming digitized and we’re seeing that over the next five to 10 years we’ll need to invest in areas like cobotic solutions, augmented reality, additive manufacturing and behind-the-scenes automation.”
That doesn’t mean RCO will be ignoring the people part of 21st century manufacturing.
“Talent is as vital as ever, but now it’s about locating the talent that is best qualified to work with and alongside the variety of technologies you’ll find in most every manufacturing facility in the state,” said Simek. “The rest of our lives will be spent introducing and developing new tech — we need to empower people for the fourth industrial revolution. Talent development relating to Industry 4.0 will be the primary global challenge everyone must pay attention to.”
RCO remains an active sponsor of local FIRST Robotics programs to engage students with the technology foundation required to pursue manufacturing careers. At the same time, manufacturers must be mindful of what they can and should do to stay on the forefront of emerging trends that can lead to new products and larger global footprints for their brand.
Simek advises small and mid-sized manufacturers looking to stay competitive to not slow down but also be smart, reminding them to “diversify your portfolio and become skilled across multiple processes. It’s also essential that you stay connected with the entrepreneurial community, including other manufacturers, regional partners and associations who can provide you access to resources and connections you might not locate on your own.”