Welcome to “Ask Deb from QA,” an advice column from MxD.
Deb from QA — with decades of experience on the factory floor — will answer your questions to demystify and explain the digital manufacturing industry.
Please submit your questions to email@example.com
Most of you turn to “Ask Deb” to get questions answered about the latest trends in digital manufacturing. For this column, though, I’m taking a different tack and checking in with former MxD CEO Chandra Brown, who retired last year. During her more than 25 years in manufacturing, Chandra blazed a trail for all women in this industry. I, like so many of you, am a big fan.
Recently, I had the honor of asking Chandra a few questions about what she’s up to — and what’s next for our industry as we continue to roar into 2023. Chandra spoke to me by phone from her seaside nest in Costa Rica.
Q. Costa Rica! I can hear the waves crashing in the background. That’s quite a change from MxD’s HQ in chilly Chicago. Will we find you there permanently?
A. I love Costa Rica, the healthy air, water, eco-friendly lifestyle, and of course the people and the unique wildlife. But right now the plan is to split my time between Costa Rica and the United States. I’ll stay in Portland, Oregon, where I have a home, and with my parents in Michigan. I’m super close to my parents and family. Now that I’m no longer “in the trenches,” I can give back to my parents who’ve given me so much.
Q. You may no longer be in the trenches, but there are few in the industry with the perspective you have. Any intel about the road ahead?
- Supply chain disruption is not going away. As you step back, you get to hear from “regular people,” and people continue to talk about the supply chain. People can’t get a sofa. Or if they can, they can’t get the color or customization they want. That lack of instant gratification is a problem, especially in the United States, and there are no magic bullets to fix this. But there’s been great progress here too. Disruption has caused companies to recognize the problem and to fully identify their supply chain, being able to answer questions like “Where are all my suppliers?”or “What’s made in China?”and “What needs a chip?” We know now that we need to increase capacity in the United States. But that will take years and continued investment.
- There are not enough skilled workers going into manufacturing, and the industry needs to figure this out. The workforce has been a problem we’ve been trying to fix for decades. The pandemic has made it worse. At the same time, we know that the country with the best digitally trained workforce is the one that’s going to ultimately win the economic war, if you will. It’s just so critical to find a coordinated way to support education for manufacturing jobs of the future and that’s from grade school through college. How do we get the best and brightest motivated to go into the manufacturing space?
- Cybersecurity’s going to be the No. 1 issue for 2023 and 2024 and 2025. … I don’t see an end in sight. It is going to be an ongoing issue because it’s a Catch- 22: As everyone in manufacturing gets more digitally smart and trained, the bad actors do too. My hope is that people, especially the small manufacturers, get their cyber assessments done this year, to figure out where they’re at. Manufacturers are constantly going to need to be fixing and updating as they face new cyberthreats, but if they understand their vulnerabilities now it will be really helpful in the long run.
- Recent federal investment in manufacturing, such as through the Inflation Reduction Act, will take time to ripple through the economy. Real investment, like building manufacturing facilities and new supply chains, doesn’t happen quickly. We will be seeing the results of those investments over the next couple of years, hopefully starting this year.
Q. Now, I’m not quite ready to surrender my safety vest and ID badge, but I’ve got retirement — and sipping prickly pear margaritas on the beach — on my radar. Any advice?
A. Plan but don’t over book. I have a plan of course but I don’t want it to be too scripted. The main things I want to do? Connect more deeply with the people I value in my life. And I want to travel. That’s always been a passion of mine and I’ll now get to see — and spend time with — my good friends all over the world.
Q. Any other insights you’d like to share?
A. The hardest part of retirement has been how much I miss everyone — people who were on my team and those in my larger circle. So, Deb, you might sometimes be sad and miss your past life. But on the flip side, the best part of retirement has been the gift of time. I have time to think about things, time to read and write, time to look at things holistically, time to listen. Being able to hear the waves and sit here and think about what the future will hold for the manufacturing community is a great blessing. I wake up every day feeling very grateful.
Thank you, Chandra.
Check out the last Ask Deb here:
What kinds of new and interesting things are manufacturers doing with 3D printing?
Deb from QA wants to hear your questions. Send ’em to firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll answer as soon as the lights go back on.