Lighting the way: Bold leadership is a must-have for Cleveland manufacturers

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Cleveland’s manufacturing industry continues to need bold leadership on both the company and community side, says Ethan Karp, president and CEO of the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET).

In practice, this means investing in robotics, connected computing, enhanced automation, and other applications surrounding Industry 4.0, while community-wide partnerships between producers and employees solve the region’s most pressing workforce challenges.

Although some of this work is taking place now, Cleveland’s producers and their existing support networks must double their efforts in preparing for a high-tech future, says Karp.

Bold leadership means investing in robotics, connected computing and enhanced automationBold leadership means investing in robotics, connected computing and enhanced automation“We are seeing an increase in Industry 4.0 adoption, but with just a quarter of companies,” he says. “If we have 30% of companies doing it, that’s great, but what about the other 70%?”

Leadership is a key pillar of this ongoing work, says Karp, and it’s also a linchpin of  “Make It Better: A Blueprint for Manufacturing in Northeast Ohio,” which champions an industry responsible for almost 50% of the local economy.

The MAGNET-led blueprint, backed by Team NEO, Greater Cleveland Partnership and Case Western Reserve University, among others, recognizes a changing marketplace where invention is vital to growth.

Yet, the region will never be a true hub for innovation without forward-thinking minds spearheading the charge. Karp explains that continuous improvement starts at the top, trickling down to technology adoption that gets current and would-be employees excited.

“Companies that have an innovative mindset are creating a better environment more efficiently,” he says. “There’s an inspiration to put your people first and create that (pioneering) culture. That mentality flows down—the better you treat people, you’re going to get better, more motivated talent.”

Adopting new tech is key

“Team” is the watchword at Wooster-based precision parts maker Midway Swiss Turn, notes CEO Jayme Rahz. The company’s 12 employees have input on technologies needed for the shop floor, including new CAD/CAM software used to design products and program manufacturing processes.

Rahz says strong leadership means trusting employees to help make high-priced decisions.

Midway Swiss Turn CEO, Jayme RahzMidway Swiss Turn CEO, Jayme Rahz“We’re all here to do a job, and we need to support each other while we’re doing that,” he explains. “Our employees aren’t numbers, and they’re not robots. My job is to make sure they have the resources they need. I’m not going out there to yell at people if they make a mistake. [Instead, I ask] ‘What resources do you need so it doesn’t happen again?’”

Along with CAD/CAM training, Midway Swiss teaches new workers how to use part-making Swiss machines.

Ultimately, Northeast Ohio entrepreneurs must build an understanding of what regional manufacturing looks like. Harnessing the latest machinery is also vital for a marketplace desperately seeking talent—a gap set to grow further due to a looming wave of retirements.

“Our industry comes down to the technology we’re employing,” says Rahz. “Our machinists were the ones who said, ‘Let’s get that CAD/CAM system.’ We can do higher-end programming with new and better machines. We’ll do anything that makes the job easier.”

An environment of creativity

Savvy CEOs understand that modern manufacturing workers are interested in more than a paycheck.

While owners can’t afford every new machine or piece of software, they can still develop an environment of creativity, says MAGNET’s Karp.

Part of that creative work is collaborative. For organizations that want to transition into Industry 4.0, the Smart Manufacturing Cluster, led by Team NEO, offers a readiness assessment that focuses on basic concepts and pilot project opportunities. Key indicators around digital maturity and workforce proficiency will help put manufacturers on the road to a full online transition.

While owners can’t afford every new machine or piece of software, they can still work toward developing an environment of creativityWhile owners can’t afford every new machine or piece of software, they can still work toward developing an environment of creativityWith technological transformation a critical facet of the economy, MAGNET is also providing Lighthouse Tours—where experienced Industry 4.0 manufacturers share mistakes, accomplishments, and experiences with manufacturing entrepreneurs considering an investment in new equipment so they can be ready to modernize their facilities with 4.0 for.

Karp says the idea is to create a tech-focused camaraderie among producers.

While larger companies have research-based partnerships with academic institutions, small and medium-sized businesses may not have the time or money to form those connections. However, Karp says industry association meetings remain a viable option for leaders seeking an edge.

“They can go to educational events to spark innovation,” he says. “Without the cash to do research, companies must find ready-made solutions they can modify, or adjust, or combine in a new way.”

Risk-taking of this stripe requires listening to a wide range of opinions. Karp again points to culture and leaders’ willingness to stray from a sense of psychological safety.

“If companies don’t go out of the way to make it comfortable to rock the boat, even with ‘bad’ ideas, they won’t benefit from a diversity of thought—no matter where it comes from,” says Karp. “There are leadership skills you can develop; then there’s actually working on yourself as a leader. There’s a difference between sounding like you’re listening and putting your ego aside to hear ideas that may be better than yours.”

This is part five in a five-part series on MAGNET’s “Make It Better: A Blueprint for Manufacturing in Northeast Ohio—a vision for the future of manufacturing in Northeast Ohio as a leader in high-tech smart manufacturing—and the four pillars to the blueprint: InnovationTransformation, Talent, and Leadership.

Douglas J. Guth
Douglas J. Guth

About the Author: Douglas J. Guth

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to being senior contributing editor at FreshWater, his work has been published by Crain’s Cleveland Business, Ideastream, and Middle Market Growth. At FreshWater, he contributes regularly to the news and features departments, as well as works on regular sponsored series features.