What kind of advanced manufacturing ecosystem should we aspire to have in Ontario? Don’t ask us – ask our customers. Paul reminds us not to lose track of this.

The Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing and our partners spend a great deal of time wrestling with questions about how technology, labour markets, trade agreements, and public policy affect manufacturers. One critically important aspect of manufacturing, however, is too often overlooked or taken for granted: customers.

In this episode of ‘Making it in Ontario’, former Canadian and international 3M executive (and current Trillium Network board member) Paul Madden reminds us that to remain competitive, Ontario manufacturers – and the organizations that support them – must know exactly who their customers are and what it takes to keep them satisfied.

Who customers are and what customers value differs across and within industries. Ontario’s automotive assemblers rely on complex international supply chains and ship the majority of their product to the United States. They rely on mass production techniques (i.e. scale) and international trade agreements in order to satisfy their customers, most of which are car dealerships south of the border. These companies must also invest heavily in advanced manufacturing technologies, which provide a foundation for competitiveness but require large investments and carry certain risks.

Ontario’s commercial bakeries (which employ upwards of 23,000 people) are similar to automotive assemblers in that they rely on advanced manufacturing technologies to achieve economies of scale. However, they have the ability to source inputs (e.g. flour, grain) domestically and ship the majority of their products to customers within the province. Suppose you are in Ontario and ate bread today. It’s highly likely that it was made locally with Canadian-grown grain and that those in charge at the company that made it are not nearly as preoccupied with the finer points of trade agreements as those at, say, Toyota or Ford. And you, the customer, are probably a bit happier knowing that your bread was made close to home.

Other customers demand more customized or even ‘bespoke’ products. This could be anything from craft beer or wine to robots or electronics. And if that’s what our customers want, it will be hard to do this at scale and with the same technologies that automotive assemblers or commercial bakeries (or international breweries, for that matter) use.

So what kind of advanced manufacturing ecosystem should we aspire to have in Ontario? Don’t ask us – ask our customers. Paul reminds us not to lose track of this.

Paul and Nick also discuss the lessons learned over a career at 3M, how Ontario’s manufacturing is perceived internationally, and the competitive advantages held by manufacturers that consistently and eagerly invest in new production technologies. Take a listen to all of this and more on this week’s episode of ‘Making it in Ontario’.

00:00-04:31 – Nick’s intro
04:31-08:41 – Nick welcomes Paul and they discuss 3M
08:42-11:14 – What’s the view of Ontario from the 3M boardroom?
11:15-16:36 – How Paul defines advanced manufacturing – the 3M Poland story
16:37-19:56 – The 3M Brockville story
19:57-38:58 – Paul’s vision for Trillium
23:34-26:26 – SME’s need help adopting new tech
26:27-51:40 – 3M’s global/regional strategy – “We never left!”
29:46-31:11 – Can the 3M model be adopted by other manufacturers?
31:12-34:10 – Should Ontario be chasing scale? Depends on who our customers are
34:11-40:40 – Who? Are? Our? Customers??? Lessons from Ontario craft brewing
40:41-42:44 – Lot’s to think about for Trillium moving forward