CIRAS: Helping Iowa Manufacturers Thrive

CIRAS: Helping Iowa Manufacturers Thrive

Three-quarters of Iowa manufacturers right now are betting that being good will be good enough.

According to a recent survey, roughly 75 percent of manufacturers are playing an old-school game – one focused largely on making higher-quality products than their competitors and hoping that this advantage will woo more customers to their doors.

That’s risky. And there’s probably a better way.

The survey cited above was part of a periodic needs assessment performed by Iowa State University’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS). Sorting through survey responses from more than 250 industry leaders, CIRAS discovered that most Iowa manufacturers are getting by on small-but-steady margins. However, one-quarter of manufacturing companies are reporting profits of more than 15 percent.

CIRAS program director Mike O’Donnell calls this disparity “the gap between surviving and thriving.” Manufacturers focused only on making existing products better and less costly might be financially OK right now, but they’re living dangerously, because low-cost competitors are getting better all the time. In contrast, companies with a clear strategy and actions aligned to match it stand to increase their value to the world at large.

CIRAS’ survey pointed out other potential warning signs:

  • Forty percent of Iowa companies cited cost reduction as one of their top growth strategies, a leading indicator of long-term pressure on profits.

  • Despite complaints about a scarcity of workers, few Iowa companies have adopted proven techniques for managing that resource, such as embracing automation or lean manufacturing.

  • There’s a mismatch at many Iowa manufacturers between the stated strategy and what a company actually is doing. The survey found, for example, that only 62 percent of Iowa manufacturers with an innovation-first strategy have implemented 3D CAD and other similar tools that could help them prepare for the coming wave of manufacturing technology. Only 50 percent of self-described Innovative companies have a formal process for bringing new ideas to market.

The underlying message here for Iowa manufacturers? Aim higher. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Manufacturing is poised to change dramatically over the next few years. Digital technology will play a larger and larger role in factories, creating new ways of doing things that we currently can only imagine. Companies that are ready will continue to thrive, while those that aren’t may struggle.

CIRAS is here to help.  Since 1963, CIRAS has been using applied research, education and technical assistance to make Iowa businesses and their communities more prosperous.  Our experts help companies grow, become more productive, embrace new technology and expand their enterprise leadership. Over the last five years, more than 3,700 distinct Iowa businesses have been helped by CIRAS and its partners, resulting in an economic impact of more than $2 billion.

During the next year, CIRAS will begin rolling out a variety of services to get help Iowa get ready for the fourth industrial revolution. Join us. The future begins with a plan.

Jeff Eckhoff is communications manager for CIRAS. For more information, visit or email [email protected].

One of CIRAS’ key roles involves helping businesses adapt to new technology, such as metal 3D printing. Here, Chris Hill, director of CIRAS’ Technology Assistance Program, displays a printed part (left) that was produced using less material.

Jeffrey Eckhoff, Communications Manager, CIRAS

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