In the digital age, innovation is almost synonymous with technology. Companies earn the reputation as innovative for implementing the latest machine, systems, or software. In manufacturing specifically, 3D printing, the Internet of Things, and cloud-based applications have exploded in popularity.

With all these flashy new developments, it’s more important than ever to remember that, at its core, manufacturing is driven by human capital and relationships. In fact, manufacturing takes place at the center of customers, the workforce, and supply chain partners. To usher the industry into the modern era, we have to go back to its roots.

Customers

When customers submit purchases orders or request information about your company, do you reach out to them personally? If a problem arises with a client’s order, does she receive an automated message from the company’s tracking system or a phone call from an associate informing her of the delay?

Every business is built on a pervasive customer need. While manufacturing may conjure images of industrial machines and robots, those alone don’t drive business. The more interactions you have with customers and steps you take to develop close-knit relationships, the more you can tap into their needs and effectively fulfill them.

If your company’s client-facing communications are largely automated, ask yourself: Are people really a luxury?

Workforce

Do a quick online search about “manufacturing workforce,” and nearly half the links you find will mention the aging workforce demographic. In the U.S. alone, there are 600,000 unfilled manufacturing job openings in an industry that represents roughly 12% of the country’s total economic output. For every dollar of value created, manufacturing generates $1.40 in other sectors and has historically paid higher wages than other domestic sectors as well.

Unfortunately, the trade as a whole has a PR issue; younger, skilled workers are drawn to other industries where they perceive growth, potential, and glamour. Ads on websites and in industry publications aren’t enough to drum up interest among the next generation; Millennials require engagement and interaction. Internships, courses, partnerships with educational institutions, and more in-person conversations about career possibilities in manufacturing are all great places to start building relationships with your future employees.

How does your company interact with Millennials? What are your plans to attract and cultivate new, young talent?

Supply Chain Partners

In a survey conducted by KPMG International, nearly 40% of several hundred senior-level executives polled acknowledged that their focus on cost has hurt relationships with suppliers. This startling statistic reflects the changing nature of supply chain partnerships. Automation and technology have allowed individuals along the supply chain to gain visibility and access data, but price pressures come at the high cost of loyal partnerships.

Partners – suppliers, distributors, third-party contractors, etc. – are all crucial contributors to a resilient, sustainable supply chain. Collaboration and innovation will only take place if all parties communicate the improvements and changes they are implementing. Cultivating these relationships can help boost transparency, quality, and overall synergy.

How well do you know your supply chain partners? How often do you communicate with people at these firms? How would they support you in the case of a supply chain disruption?

Although new technology as made its way onto the manufacturing floor, the industry is facing an innovation crisis. And only by remembering the “man” in manufacturing can the industry reclaim its reputation for innovation.