Next Generation Manufacturing will require forethought

Advanced firms focus on talent development and customer-driven innovation

Last updated on July 18th, 2019 at 02:05 pm

A recent Manufacturing Performance Institute study revealed that fewer than half of manufacturers are investing in the strategies now that will allow them to prosper in the future.

When it comes to customer-focused innovation, human capital management, process improvement and supply chain management, the majority of manufacturers surveyed described them as important areas for investment to achieve future success, but fewer than half said they were at or near world-class status in those categories as of 2013, according to the MPI’s Next Generation Manufacturing study.

The Next Generation Manufacturing Summit, to be co-hosted by BizTimes Media and the Milwaukee 7 on Thursday, Oct. 6, will evaluate the disconnect between the need for these investments and the number of companies actually making them.

In a panel discussion, Joel Quadracci, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Sussex-based Quad/Graphics Inc.; Alan Antoniewicz, president and chief operating officer at Waukesha-based Spancrete Group Inc.; and Michael Reader, president of Elkhorn-based Precision Plus Inc., will weigh in on how their companies have prepared for the future by investing in talent development, customer-driven innovation and other strategies for growth.


Joseph Weitzer, Ph.D., dean of the Center for Performance Solutions at Waukesha County Technical College, will moderate the panel discussion.

BizTimes Media spoke with the panelists ahead of the discussion to get a few of their insights about Next Generation Manufacturing.

“The incorporation of technology into manufacturing is requiring us to hire not somebody who has the skills of a welder, but the skills of a technician,” Weitzer said. “How do you program machines to do the work that labor once did? We still need people, but we need different types of skills within the folks that we’re employing in manufacturing.”

Those electrical and mechanical skills are harder and harder to find and many manufacturers are facing a talent shortage, Quadracci said.

Quad/Graphics is a commercial printer and integrated marketing firm with about 7,500 employees in Wisconsin.

“One of the challenges this whole country has is we’ve sort of de-emphasized the two-year technical colleges, we’ve de-emphasized the shop classes in high school,” he said. “People are retiring and we haven’t loaded the pipeline behind them.”

Precision Plus, which has about 70 employees, manufactures pins, screws and other metal parts. It specializes in meeting very close tolerances for parts such as watch components using Swiss CNC machinery. The company has worked to stay on the cutting edge through its machinery and with rapid prototyping technology, Reader said.

“We’ve invested in over $10 million worth of new capital equipment in the last seven years,” he said.

In addition to remaining on the leading edge and thinking ahead to bleeding edge technology, manufacturers must embrace continuous improvement programs to create lean enterprises and remain relevant in a competitive industry, Quadracci said.

One key factor in the future of manufacturing is personnel attraction and retention, and all of the panelists rank this as a priority in their corporate strategic plans.

“Next generation, to me, is going to be influenced most heavily by how do we attract the next generation of manufacturing professionals into the industry,” Reader said. “Manufacturing should be a destination career, rather than by default.”

Precision Plus has partnered with local high schools and technical colleges to get the word out about the career opportunities in manufacturing; dispel myths about manufacturing being dark, dirty and dangerous; and inform students about the industry’s competitive pay and benefits.

For existing employees, training and education are a must, Reader said. Four years ago, he hired a full-time director of training and education to manage the company’s student internships and apprenticeships, as well as internal employee training.

The investments the company has made were necessary to set Precision Plus up for future success, he said.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask me, what is the ROI on my investment, and the best answer I can give them off the cuff is, ‘What is the result of doing nothing? That risk was greater than this investment we have made and continue to make,’” Reader said.

While tuition reimbursement and employee training cost a company in the short term, they’re worth it in the long run, Antoniewicz said.

“I’ve had situations I’ve lost people where as much as I hated to see them go, I looked at it from the perspective of their career and said, that’s probably a good move for them,” he said. “My mindset is that people should have as many skills as they can possibly have and it’s going to make them more valuable.”

“First, you have to know what it costs to lose people,” Quadracci said. “Our general number is somewhere around $5,000 to hire and train someone, so if you lose someone, there’s a real cost there. That kind of changes your view of, what are you willing to do to get a good person and keep them?”

Some of the strategic organizational development initiatives Spancrete has implemented are the use of DISC assessments for recruiting and internal development; a requirement for each employee to have a development plan; and encouraging inter-generational communication by limiting emails to two replies—otherwise, it’s an in-person conversation.

“We’re constantly looking at how can we improve? How can we use technology in a different way? How can we open our minds to broader thinking?” Antoniewicz said.

Spancrete has 420 employees, about 120 of whom are in the Milwaukee area. It designs and manufactures precast concrete structures and precast machinery for the construction industry. One of the technologies impacting the company is building information modeling.

“In construction, people don’t necessarily think about technology, but I’m here to tell you there’s a lot of technology in the building trades,” and it’s advancing, Antoniewicz said.

Industrial firms are increasingly thinking of themselves not just as manufacturers, but as value-added partners that help customers run their businesses better, Quadracci said.

“We used to talk about the high-quality product we manufacture for customers,” he said. “Now, we talk about, ‘How do I help my customer be more successful in his business?’”

“Customers, in many cases, they want to work with less suppliers. They’re looking for suppliers that can handle a broader breadth of product and process,” Antoniewicz said. “How can we help customers reduce their risk? How can we help a customer streamline?”

CEOs shared their companies’ best operational strategies at the 2015 Manufacturing Summit presented by BizTimes Media.
CEOs shared their companies’ best operational strategies at the 2015 Manufacturing Summit presented by BizTimes Media.

Both Spancrete and Quad/Graphics have used customer feedback to drive innovation and new product development.

For example, Spancrete designed a thinner precast concrete slab, called Rib Slab, in partnership with a China-based customer that reduced the cost for high rises and directly fulfilled the customer’s need.

Quad/Graphics worked with one of its customers, Colorado-based grocer Lucky’s Market, to form a multichannel marketing campaign that utilized beacons to monitor cellphone traffic in and out of stores.

Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, also will give an address at the Next Generation Manufacturing Summit. Additionally, the program will include a roundtable forum, in which attendees will discuss Next Generation Manufacturing strategies.

The Next Generation Manufacturing Summit will be held at Quad/Graphics on Thursday, Oct. 6, from 7 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. For more information, visit

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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