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New equipment and technologies are inevitable as manufacturing jobs in America go begging for people. Shortages of skilled employees have reduced production and led to plant closings. At the same time, reshoring of manufacturing businesses and foreign direct investment (FDI) have been at all-time highs since 2019. And they’re projected to be even higher in 2021.

As part of this rapid business growth, high- and medium-high technology jobs have outpaced low- and medium-low technology equipment in reshored manufacturing and FDI jobs. These higher levels of technologies and the sheer numbers of new and reshoring businesses challenge local and regional labor markets and manufacturing ecosystems.

Over 1,800 companies employing 224,000 people are being projected for the U.S. reshoring and FDI in 2021. The top five industries include transportation equipment, chemicals, computer equipment & supplies, medical equipment & supplies, and electrical equipment, appliances & components. The top five states are Ohio, Arizona, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and California. My state of North Carolina is number 7. So far in 2021, the top five countries from where reshoring and FDI businesses emanate are Korea, Germany, Canada, Netherlands, and Japan. More information on the Top 20 states and countries can be found in a recent report highlighted on the Reshoring Initiative blog (see link).

Click Here For The Referenced “Reshoring Initiative IH2021 Data Report”

Job growth in the U.S. is trending toward higher technologies on the manufacturing floor including those imported as part of reshoring. The challenge may not be the availability of modern manufacturing technologies, but rather shortages of the right people with the right skills to not just manage the transformation, but also the continued operations and maintenance of these new assets. This is where early equipment management comes into play.

Let’s flashback to about 30 years ago, when many of us were introduced to “early equipment management and maintenance prevention design” principles, as one of the five pillars of Total Productive Maintenance (TPM).

The five interdependent (and synergistic) conditions for early equipment management introduced by Fumio Gotoh in his 1991 book, Equipment Planning for TPM: Maintenance Prevention Design, include:

♦  Development: Aligning product development/production with equipment development.

♦  Reliability: Anticipating & preventing new equipment problems.

♦  Economics: Life cycle costs and ROI (95% of LCC is determined before the equipment
is designed and installed (Blanchard 1976).

♦  Availability: Addressing breakdown causes, maintenance downtime, and changeovers.

Maintainability: Strengthening preventive maintenance, maintenance prevention design,
and improving ease of maintenance and operation.

The “Maintainability” condition includes the broad spectrum of ease of maintenance, maintenance prevention, ergonomics, safety, and equipment/technology operability. One of the key underlying principles of the “Maintainability” condition is to engage equipment operators, maintainers with the equipment design engineers. After all, operators and maintainers are the employees with the most impact on the initial and long-term return on the investment in new technologies. Their input in the transition from traditional machines and technologies to new ones is essential to equipment reliability, economics, and availability. These employees also need to know how their jobs will be impacted and changed and what is planned for changes in their job roles, training, and qualifications to work with the new equipment.

In a recent online Industry Week article, the concepts of engaging employees for the transitions to new equipment were discussed as part of significantly automating manufacturing processes in 35 countries. As Francois Barbier, President of Global Operations and Components at Flex pointed out, his company has fully automated 60% to 70% of its processes, but the trend has had little impact on its employment numbers.

Although the people-side of automation is often overlooked or undervalued, Barbier stressed the importance of engaging people in the transition to “remove the fear that they are going to see a job replaced by equipment.” As he explained, “It’s so very important to involve people. The mindset we have implemented at Flex helps people understand we cannot stay static, because we can always do it in a better way tomorrow, which includes automation.”

“This [approach],” Barbier noted, “includes getting their [people’s] input and allowing them to help with the design, so they feel they’re part of the journey. They actually have a stake and are actively involved in it. Every day we need to have new ideas on how to do the things in a better way. Always striving for better quality and economical results. When people come together in a kaizen event, reviewing and streamlining processes without compromising quality, it quickly becomes a mindset that evolves into a culture.”

As we look toward the rapidly changing manufacturing technology landscape, the abilities to anticipate and adapt will be the hallmarks of a new and sustainable work culture driven by market demands and business success. These lasting and effective culture changes occur in both a top-down and bottom-up flow of communications and engagement. It’s not as much about signs, posters, and town-hall meetings as it is about engaging people as stakeholders in planning and achieving the desired improvements.

Employee involvement (true engagement) was an essential ingredient in the many successful TPM activities developed and deployed in Japan in the 1970s through the 1990s, and around the world after that. Unfortunately, TPM morphed into merely involving operators in the routine maintenance of their equipment and just another program of the month.

Most of the benefits of TPM were sacrificed by the separation of the five “Pillars” of TPM and ignorance of the demanding challenges of changing a work culture. Truth be known, TPM is NOT, and was never intended to be, a maintenance-improvement program. The nature of TPM stems from its interdependent (mutually satisfying) Pillars and results in improving overall equipment effectiveness. (Yes, that’s the root of OEE.)

Keep in mind that RAM professionals play a key role in early equipment management. Ensuring that employees, current, as well as new, embrace new equipment and technologies requires true teamwork focused on common goals. Managing the people-side of equipment/technology transitions is a fundamental requirement of reliability improvement.TRR


“Reshoring Initiative IH2021 Data Report,” https://reshorenow.org/blog/reshoring-initiative-ih2021-data-report/

Fumio Gotoh, Equipment Planning for TPM: Maintenance Prevention Design (Total Productive Maintenance Series), Productivity Press; July 1, 1991.

Seiichi Nakajima (Editor), TPM Development Program: Implementing Total Productive Maintenance Hardcover, Productivity Press; January 1, 1989. [See Chapter 6, “Maintenance Prevention”]

“Do Robotics and Automation Equal Lights Out? Not at Flex,” Industry Week (Online); June 15, 2021.

B.S. Blanchard, Design and Manage to Life Cycle Cost, Dilithium Press; February 1, 1978.

Bob Williamson is a long-time contributor to the “people-side” of the world-class-maintenance and manufacturing body of knowledge across dozens of industry types. His vast background in maintenance, machine and tool design, and teaching has positioned his work with over 500 companies and plants, facilities, and equipment-oriented organizations. Contact him directly at 512-800-6031 or bwilliamson@theramreview.com.

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, asset management, supply chains, skills crisis, workforce issues