Do you feel the need for external support to improve your China operations? If so, the first thing you should do is ask yourself what type of manufacturing/trainer you need. This article looks at six kinds of manufacturing consultants found in China. The most common types are listed first, and those more seldom found come last.
The 6 Types of Manufacturing Consultants and Trainers
1. The Training Company
Trainers are the most common type of external support Chinese-owned manufacturers resort to, which is why they are #1 on the list. Do you need your quality staff to be able to implement ISO 9001? Or your management team to understand how to increase profits? Perhaps your supply chain staff needs to know how to use Kanban signals? For all this, you can get a trainer.
One crucial issue we face in our work is that managers and supervisors have a very narrow-minded view of how to do their job. Improvement projects go 2-3 times faster in those companies that have been training their employees for years, and they grasp and apply new concepts much quicker.
Having said that, what are the limits of training in the context of operational improvement?
Training usually comes in a package that may not address the organization’s needs. The trainer seldom talks to people at different levels before starting his work.
In China, what is said in a conference room stays in that conference room. Knowing is one thing; doing is another. Training loses its impact without immediate application (1-hour talking, and then 1-4 hours doing).
A manager has to take the concepts and see them through by himself. This can be quite a challenge if managers keep getting distracted by fire-fighting all day long.
If technical assistance is needed, the organization needs to find it elsewhere. Improvement projects often require extensive engineering work.
2. The Equipment Salesperson
You will probably come across the below if you look for ways to automate your production processes or if you want to make a new type of product. Equipment salespeople play an essential role in your optimization processes, and they create a relationship between the company and the equipment manufacturer.How to recognize an equipment salesperson?
They send a technical salesperson, who might brand himself as a manufacturing consultant, to describe his offer and handle objections. They also might introduce themselves as general consultants, but that’s not how they really make a living.
They will typically only work on plastic injection, PCBA, or metal CNC machining. Please don’t confuse them for category No. 6 (see below).
The problem is that they are incentivized to make the sale even if what they offer does not correspond to your needs. For example, you might work on small parts, but they will sell ABB robots rather than Epson robots, simply because that’s how they get excellent pay... and you will be stuck with a suboptimal solution.
A more general group of manufacturing consultants will first listen to the company’s goals, then evaluate several approaches (which would include lower-tech, more straightforward automation, and other ways of gaining productivity), and finally suggest the most suitable option.
3. The Hands-Off Advisors
If a large company tells their supplier they’ll need to hire consultants to get to the next level in 6 months, the supplier’s response is usually that they know someone who has managed an excellent enterprise that sells to large Japanese companies. They’ll be able to assist down the line. However, this is simply a way of diverting the blow and buying time.
In some cases, a factory owner wants to improve his organization and will look for a mentor among their circles. The problem is that they will seldom find such competency among their old-boy networks. But sometimes, they do. Can this be effective if you find the right advisor? Yes, definitely. The hard part is for the manager inside the organization to work on making those changes without any hands-on assistance.
That’s how improvements get done in the novel “The Goal”. The plant manager follows the advice from his old professor, he has to rack his brain and find a path that makes sense in his context, and in the end, the results are above his expectations. In the end, what this means is there are no consultants involved. Pointing to a direction is good, but that’s only 5% of the work. Good planning, good handling of objections from other key team members (and getting their buy-in), and good execution are critical.
4. The Hands-on Stabilizers
We have run into a few of these manufacturing consulting firms. Typically, Chinese-owned experts at stabilizing operations tend to apply the same tools from one organization to the next. Such as implementing 5S programs (with an emphasis on organizing, not on breaking and re-doing), simplifying the material flow, strengthening the quality system (but generally not on process controls), writing work instructions, and defining standard hours, and so on.
The result is a better-looking facility and better grades in customers’ quality audits. This is a significant selling point to Chinese factory owners: it helps them acquire more customers – that’s generally their No. 1 priority. And, if done well, it typically cuts costs and improves quality. However, these manufacturing consultants fall short when a customer has unique requirements. They have a hammer, and everything looks like a nail.
Suppose a client wants to start manufacturing much smaller batches economically or drive changes in office and admin functions. In that case, they might be unable to even suggest the first step. Another limit is their inability to drive significant improvements. Much of what they do is incremental and at the surface. For example, they won’t attempt to cut 40% of the variable costs.
5. The Hands-on Improvement ConsultantsThis is how CMC positions itself without running into significant competition in China.
From the beginning, a typical project shakes up the organization – which often brings up resistance from some members – and then, toward the end, more stabilizing efforts are applied.
Both are necessary:
- Without deep changes, no deep improvement in performance and culture.
- Without stabilizing force toward the end, no sustained progress.
- Re-organizing specific processes (changing the layout, re-engineering how tasks are organized among different workstations, etc.)
- Setting up a management system that cascades down the organization
- Evaluating what extra controls and user views the current ERP needs to have
That friction needs to be kept manageable. Some topics (e.g. changing the way purchasing is done, switching from a piece-rate system to an hourly rate) are explosive, and they change the way people get paid, especially how they have been exploiting the current system to earn more money.
You can only attempt these changes after some other ‘wins’ have been demonstrated, and more ‘allies’ are on board. In other words, change management is critical. It’s not only about technical expertise but also about working well with the different constituents within the company.
6. The Purely Technical Service Providers
These are typically toolmakers that can help improve the performance of your operation (be it die casting, rubber molding, etc.). Another example would be developing an inexpensive way to link your engineering documents and production plans into a paperless system. We wish there were more of these! They are pretty hard to find in China.
They often morph into a more profitable business model as automation experts start making their equipment and selling it to a specific niche. Or electronic engineers work on new product development and then start to handle the manufacturing. Selling something tangible is more accessible than selling pure service.
Are You Looking for Help With Your Chinese Factory?
A good start is to examine the process improvement that our manufacturing consultants use themselves. You can use this proven approach to start making in-house improvements or to have far more effective cooperation with trainers or consultants should you wish to bring some in. Hit the button below to watch the video walkthrough and get your free copy.