Many people began 2013 waiting for their fall from the Fiscal Cliff. Yet here we are, well into January and still standing. Now what? Rather than wait for that shove to come, why not anticipate rising rather than falling? If you're responsible for some aspect of supply chain management, your skills are more likely to put your company on that trajectory. And according to Steve Forbes, you'll be joined by many more colleagues who are in the process of attaining or sharpening those skills. ProMat is a good place to supplement that process, and if you happen to be heading to Chicago for that purpose, you'll be able to hear that message from the CEO of Forbes Media himself during his keynote speech Tuesday morning, January 22nd. 

While preparing our ProMat preview, MH&L had the opportunity to get a preview of Forbes' message and include it in our coverage. As you'll see, he thinks supply chain managers are well positioned to help their companies as well as their own careers by addressing the tough challenges of our roller-coaster economy. He cites the success of Apple and its iPhones as an example. The supply chains supporting this product are global and complex.

They come into this country with $171 worth of parts, he said, but out of that $171 worth of parts, only $6.50 of them are actually manufactured in China.  The rest are sourced from other countries, traveling through a dynamic and complex network of enterprises, interconnected by software and powered by the kind of people and technology you'll see at the show.

"So even though the New Year will be difficult economically and politically, the trend is toward greater sophistication in making things happen, and that will grow," he says.
Economic numbers tend to back him up. According to the most recent outlook from the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI), the market for high-tech industrial production (computers and electronic products) is projected to expand by 3.0 percent in 2013 and then spike 8.3 percent in 2014.

It's encouraging to see growth in markets that make things, and if Forbes is right, young career-minded talent will be drawn toward supply chain and away from the world of finance. He believes as U.S. monetary policy normalizes, Wall Street will continue laying off its brain trust and many of them will look for opportunities elsewhere and "the field of supply chain management will be competitive for talent again."

That talent will be well exercised, too, judging from the results of a new survey conducted by ASQ, a global organization dedicated to quality initiatives. Of the more than 1,250 international manufacturing professionals responding to ASQ's 2013 Manufacturing Outlook Survey, one-third said they anticipate a problem with a supplier, resulting in a shortage of parts or services this year. Many of the respondents (80 percent) indicated that's been a recurring issue.

This problem requires not only the ability to use technology for situational analysis but the skill to deal with people. While a quarter of the respondents who've been burned by suppliers decided to shift their business to a competitor, more than 30 percent decided to work with their suppliers on process improvement to deal with capacity constraints. Other strategies included using up available inventory, manufacturing the needed parts in-house, shutting down production, or refocusing efforts on other production areas.

All of these options require an educated analysis of the situation and an ability to work with supply chain partners on some sort of alternative strategy.

I'm glad you're starting your new year by spending some time with MH&L's ProMat issue. Between the Forbes interview, the exhibit showcase and the other features dealing with the strategic application of technology and people, you should get a good view of possibilities so you can avoid being shoved off any future cliff-like precipice.

Follow me on Twitter @TomAndel.

Read our complete ProMat 2013 Preview coverage