I was up late the other night and flipped to the classic movie channel as the movie "Field of Dreams" was playing. I hadn't seen it in a few years and decided to watch it again. In the movie, a voice keeps hounding Kevin Costner to take the ultimate risk of plowing his crop of fully mature corn under to build a baseball field. The voice keeps repeating, "If you build it, they will come." Everyone around him thinks he has lost his mind to risk everything just to gamble on what his inner soul tells him is the right thing to do. As the movie wound down, we saw that, indeed, the people did come searching for the missing part of their lives — and we realize Costner wasn't so crazy after all.
This whole scenario hit home as our company exhibited at the recent APEX show. I was standing in our booth holding a cardboard sign depicting a life-size image of our new machine. The reason for filling our booth with a cardboard sign was that although we do have a revolutionary new digital dispensing machine, I could not bring it to the show because it sold as soon as we completed it. With a market glutted with used machines and manufacturers racing to buy back their old machines from the used equipment marketplace to preserve the integrity of their equipment, I asked myself how we sold a machine built and priced like a Rolls-Royce right off our factory room floor.
The answer is the same as Costner's voice, "Build it and they will come." The market cannot make strides with yesterday's machines being refurbished, remarked up and sent out the door again. This market needs companies willing to make the investment and produce exceptionally engineered machines that will take on new technologies such as optoelectronics and MEMS, and guide us into the future. Our machine was not built in China, Vietnam or any other new emerging cost centers, but right here in Sun Valley, Calif. In everyone's haste to run over there and make a quick buck, we have ignored the fundamental principal of sales. Build a machine that is the finest quality and construction and give it the engineering performance that is unparalleled in today's market and people will line up at your door to buy it.
American companies need to face this challenge and invest in research and development (R&D) costs that will bring forth a new level of engineering performance. Otherwise, we will be destined to a future of pushing used machines to a market overseas, which ultimately will leave us a country that no longer manufactures anything. To get out of this industry slump, companies need to spend money, preferably within the U.S. Reinvest in R&D — it will be a wise move in the long term.
Now is the time to re-evaluate machine performance and to take a look around at what is still selling. Talk to your customers, listen to what they want and need, and go to work on providing it. Produce for them a top of the line, highest quality machine that can take them into the future, as far as they need it to go. Use this time to perfect your systems and remind the industry that the old adage "You get what you pay for" has never held more truth than it does in today's economy.
While the industry downturn certainly has been difficult, consider it from another viewpoint: this lack of "busyness" affords the best time to be introspective. Become a detail-oriented company and add those internal and external touches that often get passed up on deadline-driven schedules. Invest in quality and customers will invest in your company and its products.
Gary helmers, vice president, may be contacted at Creative Automation Company, 11641 Pendleton St., Sun Valley, CA 91352; (818) 767-6220; Fax: (818) 767-1243;
Article originally published in Advanced Packaging Magazine, July, 2003.