Ontario Advanced Manufacturing’s Competitive Advantage: Moving Goalposts is Part of the Game
In this episode of ‘Making it in Ontario’, Nick and Brendan chat with NGen CEO Jayson Myers.
As CEO, Jayson’s task “…is to build world-leading advanced manufacturing capabilities in Canada for the benefit of Canadians. And I think, perhaps over the past year or so, we’ve seen how important it is to make things here in Canada – it helps to save lives.” With over 35 years of industry experience, Jayson has witnessed a lot of change in this sector – and we wanted to get his thoughts about how we got to where we are and where he thinks we are headed. Few people in Canada are as well-equipped to comment on Canada’s and Ontario’s competitive advantages in manufacturing as Jayson. However, as discussed in the episode, many of us in Canada have often struggled to put our finger on what exactly gives us this edge.
As an economist by trade (and heart), Jayson has been watching Canada’s and Ontario’s manufacturing ecosystem evolve for some time now. As he mentions, one of NGen’s primary goals is to help identify and articulate these competitive advantages. However, as we came to learn, today’s advantages are not what they used to be 20, 30, or 40 years ago. Back in the ’80s, Ontario was considered a low-cost manufacturing region that attracted foreign investment. When our wages began to rise, we needed a different angle. We were once considered a low-volume producer until we proved we could manufacture efficiently at scale. At one point, we were also regarded as low-tech extensions of US plants until places like Waterloo and Toronto started being called silicon valley north.
Our competitive advantage has evolved as the result of things like free trade, globalization, digitization, and continuous innovation. Without getting too academic, one of the best ways to make a name for yourself as a manufacturer is to either do something no one else can do, or produce more with less. The best way to achieve both is to employ the best and latest advanced manufacturing technology.
Unlike Digital Twins, Augmented Reality, and Artificial Intelligence, the idea of Advanced Manufacturing is not new. What has changed are the tools available to manufacturers. In a recent blog post, our Managing Director, Brendan Sweeney, pointed out that a consensus definition of advanced manufacturing doesn’t seem to exist. While depth and scope varied among the proposed definitions, most seemed to involve some measure of improving productivity as an ultimate goal. However, as Jayson points out in the episode, there are stark differences between how the US and Canada measure and define ‘productivity.’ (Jayson explains in some detail in the episode. See timestamp below.) Regardless of how you define Advanced Manufacturing or Productivity, one thing is clear: companies who don’t adopt the latest technology are often the first ones to fail.
Ontario manufacturing has proven its ability to adapt to disruption allowing for world-class specialization and customization of production. However, if we are too specialized, we can’t be efficient. We’ve also proven our ability to manufacture efficiently at scale. But if we chase scale in search of efficiency, we can’t pivot as well. All stakeholders in Ontario’s advanced manufacturing ecosystem collectively need to decide who/what we want to be as a manufacturing region.
What can we build here? Anything. Who can we sell it to? Anyone we want. If, as Jayson puts it, “Our mission is to build world-leading advanced manufacturing capabilities in Canada for the benefit of Canadians…” then we have some soul-searching to do. We cannot be all things to all customers and we can’t keep letting our talent be bought out. We’ve proven our capabilities and our ability to pivot. We can do and make anything. The question is: what’s next?
00:00-03:22 – Podcast Introduction
03:22-05:52 – Intro to Myers and NGen
05:53-08:53 – The importance of local manufacturing (direct and indirect impacts)
08:54-11:02 – How NGen ‘connects the dots’ in the ecosystem
11:03-14:28 – How Myers defines advanced manufacturing – Capabilities!
14:29-15:58 – Who’s seeing benefits from tech investment? Barely 50%.
15:59-18:16 – Advanced manufacturing is not a new term.
18:17-23:21 – Jay at CME – Telling resonant stories with data
23:22-29:04 – Running an industry association. How to create value for members
29:05-35:27 – What happened between 1980 and today?
35:28-40:29 – Why Canadian companies often lag behind some US companies – Scale
40:30-42:11 – How Canada and the US measure productivity
42:12-51:01 – Jayson discusses NGen’s Careers of the Future program
51:02-55:41 – Brendan and Jayson discuss how companies recruited employees in 1999
55:42-1:00:25 – What’s next for Ontario manufacturing? What’s the next pivot?