Laurie Moncrieff is the owner of a 15-employee tool and die business in Burton, Michigan. It’s a small business, but she has a global vision, and it may well represent the future of small-scale manufacturing in America. It’s about collaboration. And like all big ideas, it seems obvious once you have heard it.
As she explains it, the central problem for most small manufacturers is that they are “inward-focused.” Part of the reason for this inward focus is the sheer difficulty of running a small business. “You have to keep your eye on accounting, on sales, on the floor,” she says. That means multi-tasking. But most owners do some tasks better than others. One is a genius at operations. Another excels at marketing. Another is great with the books. By collaborating, a group of owners can share their strengths while gaining help where they are weak. That’s the internal value of collaboration.
The external value is even more significant. As Moncrieff explains it, “the multinationals need all these little pieces and parts, but they also need fewer suppliers.” By joining forces or entering into cooperative agreements, a group of small companies could conceivably offer one-stop-shopping for a broad range of what Moncrieff terms “little pieces and parts.”
Moncrieff has taken this thinking to the next level. Next week, she will announce the formation of a new company, Adaptive Manufacturing Solutions, that will have 570 employees and $78.5 million in sales.
A company of this size is potentially big enough to deal directly with OEMs such as the Detroit 3. In other words, Adaptive Manufacturing Solutions may be more than a new company. It may be a new model for doing business in large, complex supply chains.
What’s particularly interesting about this model is that it’s a low-risk approach to change. As I see it, collaboration begins with informal meetings and the exchange of ideas on everything from market opportunities to best practices for the factory floor. The next step involves actual business activities, like joint marketing efforts. And so on. Every owner involved has the ability to withdraw at any time. Or move forward.
With all the negative talk about the decline of U.S. manufacturing, Montcrieff’s approach brings a breath of fresh air. In her view, there’s never been more opportunity for small manufacturers, “because of the gap that now exists between what customers want and what suppliers provide.” Collaboration, followed by consolidation, may be the only way to close this gap.