As we move forward into 2004, the signs are good that we will have a better year in manufacturing. The trend for the last several years has been increases in productivity. We all know that some of that has come from harder work by fewer people. Still, the focus remains on gains in productivity as unemployment remains high but output continues to increase dramatically. Where will we get the next percentage points of efficiency that we need to stay competitive in a world market?

Many companies have put off major capital purchases due to sluggish sales or uncertainty about the future. Can the need for new equipment or systems be put off for much longer? If business does surge in 2004, will we be ready? Additional capacity does not seem to be a driving issue just now. It is fairly obvious that we have too much capacity already in many manufacturing sectors. But there are many other goals that should be considered. Efficiency, environment, cost reduction, working less hours, and quality are critical goals to the future success of business.

If you are going to buy new equipment, how will you proceed? Have you ever been responsible for installing coating equipment for your company before? If you have been responsible for this type of project, how many times have you done it? Many individuals or teams within a company are charged with this difficult task having never done it before.

There are not many schools that teach people how to design and install coating equipment. It reminds me of a statement I have heard about getting the test before you have had the lesson. You learn as you go, and there are many potential mistakes that can cost time and money, or the wrong equipment is purchased and it never quite works the way everyone hoped it would. What could be more important than getting the right equipment and features needed to accurately and consistently achieve the company goals for coated parts? The product may have many fine qualities, but the consumer is strongly influenced by the appearance of the coating and how well it lasts.

If you are in the market for new equipment, be sure to construct a thorough and accurate plan of what you want the system to do for you. If you already have a system, review what you like and do not like about it. Get more of what you like and less of what you do not. Be accurate on sizes, production rates, quality goals and anything that will impact the fitness of the system.

Research vendors and other sources to learn about system features and benefits before you ask for quotes. Talk to people who use similar equipment to see what they have done and what has worked well for them. Do not rush the process. Get the lesson before you take the test.

What things are of real value to your company? Remember that the excitement of a low price goes away long before the misery of an inadequate system. What features add value and have a payback? Adequate space and time, durability, serviceability, measurement and control, accuracy, and efficiency are things that may be worth additional money because they have a return.

It may be tempting to go with price alone, but it is the technical know-how of the vendor that matters most. Bids should be evaluated with more weight on technical features. I have done projects to fix bad systems, but it is better to work with a company to get it right in the first place.

It is very likely that we will soon see an increased interest in capital expenditures for new systems or improvement and updating of existing coating systems. If you are involved in the acquisition of a system or modification of a system, be sure to get the input you need to make good decisions and avoid mistakes. Check references, visit job sites and be careful to work with experienced and reputable people. You will save money and be much happier with the outcome.