Research, Innovation and Technology

Practical Insights

Manufacturers Adapt to Lead in an Increasingly Digital Age

"You can’t make this transition to the digital era by yourself. You need to be with other companies, to learn from them."

David Brousell speaks at the 2019 Manufacturing Leadership Summit 2

In September 2018, the National Association of Manufacturers acquired the Manufacturing Leadership Council, an association for manufacturing executives that is dedicated to helping the industry transition to the digital era. Nearly one year later, the MLC wraps up its 15th Anniversary Manufacturing Leadership Summit and continues to provide its members with programs and services around digitization.

MLC’s Co-Founder, Vice President and Executive Director David R. Brousell shares the groundbreaking work of the organization and why it matters to manufacturers today.

What is the Manufacturing Leadership Council?

The MLC is designed to help senior manufacturing executives and emerging leaders define and shape a better future for themselves, their organizations and the industry at large by focusing on the intersection of critical business and technology issues that will drive growth today and in the future. We do live events like conferences; we do plant tours that enable members to see firsthand how different companies are implementing the latest digital technologies; and we publish in-depth articles that focus on best practices and cutting-edge ideas on the use of technologies and the leadership requirements of the digital age.

How is leadership changing in the digital age?

It’s changing in some very important ways. There’s a whole new layer of competency that has to be added to the traditional functions of leadership. We call this “digital acumen,” which has to do with understanding the potential of advanced technologies like analytics, artificial intelligence, collaborative robotics, 3D printing and other technologies. It’s not just improving efficiencies, but also offering new business models, ways of doing things and services.

This new era in manufacturing requires leaders to manage organizations that are flatter and more collaborative, with more and more employees having the benefit of information at their fingertips. Managing in prior years was around a top-down structure. That doesn’t cut it in the digital age.

What benefit do companies get from being a part of this group?

The MLC presents the opportunity to be part of a community that is collectively sharing ideas, insights and best practices to as the industry continues its radical transition. The truth is, you can’t do this alone as a company. You can’t make this transition to the digital era by yourself. You need to be with other companies, to learn from them, to learn what’s possible, to see what works and what may not work well in your company and to form that bond. It’s a tremendous learning experience.

What does the future look like for manufacturing—and how does the Manufacturing Leadership Council fit in?

The future looks very, very bright for manufacturing. We’re going to increase efficiency and produce products that satisfy personalized needs—everything from cars to medicine. We’re going to be able to have better quality and create jobs that are fulfilling, exciting and intellectually stimulating. The extent of innovation happening right now in manufacturing is mind-blowing.

But this is not an easy transition. The future offers tremendous opportunities, but only if we make the transition industry-wide. If we’re able to do that, not only will individual companies be more successful globally, but the U.S. manufacturing industry as a whole will continue to lead the world. There’s a lot at stake for manufacturers. That’s why the partnership between the Manufacturing Leadership Council and the NAM is so important.

Policy and Legal

Manufacturers Take Action on Climate

With a recent three-year United Nations environmental report spearheaded by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) highlighting dire warnings about human impact on the planet, leaders in the United States are under renewed pressure to find solutions that work. In communities across the country, manufacturers are taking a stand for sustainability – and demanding action against climate change.

While manufacturers have created their own policies to reduce pollution and increase sustainability, manufacturing leaders are increasingly pushing for action. Although policymakers in Washington have yet to settle on a unified approach, the manufacturing industry is making clear that the existing state of affairs is unsustainable.

“Manufacturers hope we can all agree that the current policy – a disjointed system of federal and state regulations that take decades to install and often fail – is not the answer,” said Ross Eisenberg, Vice President of Energy and Resources Policy at the National Association of Manufacturers. “A piecemeal regulatory approach just isn’t going to cut it.”

While proposals like the Green New Deal have garnered significant press coverage without gaining a single vote in Congress, manufacturing leaders are seeking opportunities for consensus on climate legislation by focusing on actionable solutions. These proposals include scaling up the adoption of energy- and water-efficient products and technologies, prioritizing innovation and creating pathways for the deployment of new technologies like carbon capture, utilization and storage. It also involves working collaboratively by creating public-private partnerships between government and manufacturers to help them further decarbonize. Finally, manufacturers are encouraging the United States to reengage with the international community in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions together, rather than in isolation.

Manufacturers have unique qualifications to speak about this issue, as most have implemented meaningful programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, pioneer new strategies and technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and set aggressive emissions reduction targets.

These actions have had a significant effect. Over the past decade, the manufacturing industry has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent while the sector’s value to the economy has increased 19 percent. It’s outpacing competitors and demonstrating that it is possible to reduce emissions without falling behind in a global market.

“Our barometer is that manufacturers in America must stay competitive in the global economy, and that requires realistic, practical policies that we can implement while we continue to do the things that make the manufacturing sector strong,” said Eisenberg. “Speaking for the 12.8 million men and women who make things in America, we’re ready.”