Ceramic Industry

INSIDE CI: An Outsourcing Alternative

November 1, 2004
Remaining competitive is possible--if you have the right equipment.

To many companies, it looks simple: If you can't compete with low-cost imports, the only solution is to close down or move manufacturing operations offshore. But what if there were a third option, one that would allow a manufacturer to remain in the U.S. and become competitive with any plant located anywhere in the world? It's possible-if you have the right equipment.

Many plants in the ceramic industry have operated with the same old systems and processes for decades, believing that any equipment that worked was "good enough." Maintenance workers have been challenged to keep equipment running as long as possible, adding bandage after bandage to fix problems. As bottom lines were squeezed with increasingly higher energy and labor costs, investing precious capital in new equipment was considered out of the question.

This strategy worked-for a while. But when China embarked on its mission to become the manufacturing center of the world, hundreds of companies were caught off guard, unable to compete on price or change their product lines to pursue alternative markets. Dozens of plants have closed their doors, and dozens more have shifted their manufacturing operations overseas to take advantage of cheap energy and labor. But outsourcing (or "offshoring") doesn't always solve manufacturing problems.

"Sometimes, what seems like the easy solution is not necessarily the best choice," notes Chris Pilko in our online exclusive article, "Automate or Outsource?" (http://www.ceramicindustry.com/CDA/ArticleInformation/features/BNP__Features__Item/0,2710,137031,00.html). "If you are selling a commodity, there is always another company who will find a way to sell it for less. If you are outsourcing key parts of your production, your customer might change its specifications and render your work in process obsolete-or worse, your supplier might turn into your competitor," he says.

While there is no "one size fits all" solution for any company, an increasing number of plants are finding that installing new equipment can help them increase manufacturing efficiencies, operational control, flexibility and quality-effectively allowing them to compete on a global scale. In many cases, such equipment incorporates automation and/or robotics to minimize labor, often paying for itself within a relatively short timeframe. But even simple upgrades-such as the new quality control instruments highlighted in this issue's feature articles-can make a big impact on a manufacturer's ability to produce competitive products.

To help you choose the best type of equipment for your application, we've added more than 60 new equipment definitions to our fifth annual edition of the Equipment Digest. We've also completely updated all supplier listings* to provide you with the most current contact information for each company. All of this information will be available in a searchable format on our website within a few weeks.

Outsourcing isn't the only way to become competitive. We owe it to ourselves to evaluate all of the options.

*Supplier listings in the Equipment Digest indicate paid advertising.