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LEANZ on manufacturing


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LEANZ on manufacturing

Yesterday I went to a seminar by Simon Wakeman, entitled: "The challenges of New Zealand companies in capturing value from innovation internationally."

Wakeman interviewed people at seventeen New Zealand manufacturing companies "that were founded in order to commercialise an innovation internationally." So, like the Castalia Report, it's not necessarily representative. That said, Wakeman spoke to CEOs, founders, or major investors, so at least he can say his white paper tells us what some manufacturers are thinking.

I picked up lots of useful ideas spending an hour with these high-priced lawyers (and drinking a couple of their beers, for which I am very grateful).

Probably the strongest light-bulb lit up when Wakeman told us some NZ companies don't distinguish between sales and marketing. He's right. Some don't. But the best bit was that Wakeman's comment made me think about people misusing the word "manufacturing."

For example, its not unusual to hear academics and bureaucrats telling Kiwi manufacturers they should "outsource their manufacturing." Of course they really mean we can sometimes benefit by strategically outsourcing certain fabrication and assembly processes. Only, they don't have the right words in their vocabulary. So they say "manufacturing" when they really mean something that happens to be a small part of what a manufacturer actually does.

The English language has words for all the various activities that make up a complete manufacturing operation. Technology Valley needs to help people understand this. They don't need to understand all the words. Better if they don't. Try explaining the difference between brazing, welding, and soldering, to a career bureaucrat. What we can do is to explain that manufacturing is the end to end process, which includes activities like R&D, innovation, marketing, assembly, fabrication (that's like when you cut out bits of fabric for a new jacket), and sew on.

It's a bit like "sales" and "marketing". Selling's important, but it's only part of the process. Equally, fabrication, assembly, and testing are only small parts of the very complex business we call "manufacturing".

If we keep saying this to people in government and academia, then perhaps they might eventually catch on. It might take generations. But if we don't, they'll never get it. And if they don't get it, they'll keep putting up barriers that make it hard for Kiwi manufacturers to commercialise innovation. And then they'll keep sitting around, wondering why productivity in New Zealand is not growing as fast as it should.

Simon Wakeman's white paper has lots of other interesting information. It's well worth reading.

The seminar was hosted by LEANZ, which bills itself as an organisation dedicated to: "the advancement and understanding of law and economics in New Zealand." I'd never heard of LEANZ before last night. I think they can do a lot to help help politicians and bureaucrats remove barriers to high performance among Kiwi manufacturers, so I was rapt to meet up with them. They put on a very interesting seminar, and I thank them for that.


Kevin Cudby is a Wellington-based Freelance Writer and Parametric Modelling Consultant who loves writing about cool new technology. Email him to discuss your requirements: hello {a}

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