Pittsburgh manufacturers sound off on the risks

Business can be tough, but manufacturing can be really tough. That was my immediate takeaway from talking to manufacturers of all sizes for this month’s special focus on Pittsburgh manufacturing’s emerging risks.

U.S. manufacturers must develop a flexible workforce in order to respond to external factors.

They also need to use technology to compete on a global level, but it’s hard to know where to invest with confidence. While additive manufacturing has caught the attention of many, it’s not widely used by those who need to do more than small or customized batches. (Don’t miss the advice on this from Albensi Laboratories, which is light-years ahead of most with its implementation of new technologies.)

Bill Starn, CEO of Starn Tool & Manufacturing Co. gave the best overview of the industry.

Historically, in manufacturing, every five years, there would be some sort of a recession, Starn says. Then, after an 18-month period of problems, a company could make it up.

“That’s just not been the case in the last 16, 17 years,” he says. “Starting with 2001, we’ve had two major recessions and a lot of instability in between.”

While Starn feels Pittsburgh has done a fantastic job of changing from the steel industry to the high-tech industry, it’s still not seeing the type of expansion that others, such as North and South Carolina, are.

But as exciting as digitalization, 3-D printing or the internet of things are, Starn emphasized that the biggest weaknesses come back to not understanding every nuance of your business.

“I’ve been a software provider to manufacturing for over 25 years, in another business, that is specifically designed to help them run their business,” he says. “And I see even today with the great technologies that we have available and the softwares we have available, people still don’t know diddly about their business.”

It’s often just that simple, whether you’re in manufacturing or another sector. Know your numbers. Know your risks. Plan accordingly.