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Searching for the End of the Circle

By AICC Staff

September 13, 2018

Most of us have strong memories of our childhood education. You made your first friends outside your family and your neighborhood, you had your first authority figure beyond your extended family, and likely for the first time in your life, you had to adhere to some sort of discipline—getting to the bus stop on time, sitting still in class, and being held accountable for your performance. All those years ago, education was a linear path to adulthood—high school, college, and perhaps graduate or professional school was a very straight line to becoming a productive citizen.

But it was still a path, a direction with an end in sight. That is not the world we now inhabit. The growth and sustainability of your company are now controlled not so much by the machines and the strong backs of the workers, but by the brains and initiatives that make it all come together. Let’s take a look at the training and expectations of classic schooling as compared to your plant, focusing on the investment in assets.

In your primary years, the first and most critical step is to master the basic skills demanded of you and to keep up with the coursework, so you can advance to the next grade. On the converting side, in the many converters spend the morning selling and the afternoon making the orders for the next day. In primary school, you master reading, spelling, and arithmetic, which keeps your parents proud. In the young converting plant, you learn to sell, manufacture, and deliver products so you can do it again the next day, and you can keep your family fed.

At the secondary level, you are now among a more robust group of peers. The group is smarter and more industrious, and the work is more demanding and broader. For the first time in your scholastic life, you have to select which courses to take and which not to. You now have to master more complex problems, and the quality of your work has to improve greatly. You now stay up late working and, probably for the first time, you worry about the work you are delivering. Some of your peers could not keep up.

At the plant level, you are now faced with your first major decisions on capital investments and the direction of the company. You assuredly have sleepless nights worrying about the quality of your products and the payment patterns of your customers. Your competitors are smarter and more aggressive, and you have to build your staff to be smarter and become managers rather than supervisors. Some of your staff could not keep up.

When one goes off to college, the options and possibilities seem endless, but success is found through focus, direction, and commitment. For all the possibilities a major university offers, the decisions you make to study one career path over another has a major impact on the direction of your life. Choosing to be in pre-med takes you down a path of hard science and long nights studying. The challenges are greater, but so are the potential rewards. Some of your friends could not keep up.

Back at the plant, selecting the right machines to purchase has a critical impact on the direction of your company’s future. Every purchase expands your options to service your costumers. Every new hire has the potential to build or damage your company. Decision-making becomes more complex, and the risks and rewards increase in magnitude. Some of your competitors invested unwisely or did not have the fortitude to fight through the challenges.

As one begins graduate school, your peers are smart and ambitious—some bordering on ruthless. Your workload is backbreaking, time constraints are always an issue, and the delivery of your work is due at a specific time or it is rejected out of hand. The margin for error is minuscule, and the demands are relentless. Some crack under the pressure.

In today’s converting plants, the pace is unrelenting, the demands often unreasonable, and the number of excuses acceptable is a tiny fraction of zero. Those who cannot keep up will soon be gone.

Today, no matter your level of education or experience, school is still in session. The learning never stops. Smarter systems built by smarter people help plants run more efficiently, and analytic tools provide a richer and broader set of data points to keep the plant and company on track. The educational process goes on; it must for your company to be successful today and tomorrow.

Smart systems need smarter people. Find the staff, find the vendors, and find the suppliers that have the smarts to keep up with you. In a world of narrow margins and nonexistent margin of error, you have no choice.

PortraitJohn Clark is director of analytics at Amtech Software. He can be reached at