One of the best parts of our business is that we get to spend a lot of time on the road visiting precast concrete manufacturers. (Okay, to be more precise, it's like Dan Fogelberg's assessment of being a musician: "The audience is heavenly but the traveling is hell".) Nevertheless, the ends justify the means because we learn a lot about what is happening in the industry. From time to time we will post our observations here and ask for your perspective. We'll start with our notes from the road in Q1 2017.
1) Industry seems optimistic
Virtually everyone is busier than they've been since 2007. More important, there seems to more confidence in the future. Even while business continued to strenghen in 2015 - 16, it seemed that most people were not prepared to trust that it would continue. Now we hear about ambitious plans for growth.
2) Biggest problems result from strong business
More specifically, the industry's biggest challenge is operating productively at a scale of business that it has not seen in 10 years. We see this when we are on-site at plants. Meetings are sometimes interrupted with questions about procedure, missing pieces or shipments. Based on our conversations and observations, the biggest productivity logjam resides in inventory control. Seems like this affects everyone to one degree or another. (Often it is the GPS mapping feature of the Idencia RFID tracking system that gets us the meeting in the first place.)
3) Productivity is now important than risk aversion
This is a good sign... a direct result of stronger business creating productivity problems. Concerns about survival from 2008 - 2011 evolved into risk aversion from 2012 - 2015. In that period most were unwilling to consider an investment that would produce future savings because the crash was fresh in their minds and any risk was intolerable. Now there is more interest in improving productivity than there is concern about marginal risk. In the same vein, we have seen a number of precast and prestressed producers embracing lean manufacturing in response to a new productivity imperative.
4) The industry is starting to think out of the box
This is the most exciting observation because it means that the possibilities for precast are now unlimited. As the industry moves away from a long period of survival mode and excessive caution, we hear more creative ideas for future growth and we've see more receptivity to technology solutions to support the ideas. This also explains why more producers are hiring Continuous Improvement Officers, a position that did not exist until the industry started embracing lean manufacturing principles.
Fortunately, we've not yet seen an abandonment of caution, more like a view of the future that is more self-assured. What is your view? We'd love to have you share your thoughts too.
Our purpose at Idencia is to offer asset tracking solutions that improve productivity throughout the construction value chain. Our subscription offering applies RFID and bar code tracking to products from the time of manufacture through end-of-life. As a cloud-hosted product tracking system that is seamless between manufacturers, contractors and asset managers, Idencia adds information value to all, eliminates redundancy and saves time. If you would like to learn more, click below.