Job Descriptions, Definitions Roles, Responsibility: Industrial Production Managers

Industrial production managers coordinate the resources and activities required to produce millions of goods every year in the United States. Although their duties vary from plant to plant, industrial production managers share many of the same major responsibilities. These responsibilities include production scheduling, staffing, procurement and maintenance of equipment, quality control, inventory control, and the coordination of production activities with those of other departments.

The primary mission of industrial production managers is planning the production schedule within budgetary limitations and time constraints. They do this by analyzing the plant’s personnel and capital resources to select the best way of meeting the production quota. Industrial production managers determine, often using mathematical formulas, which machines will be used, whether new machines need to be purchased, whether overtime or extra shifts are necessary, and what the sequence of production will be. They monitor the production run to make sure that it stays on schedule and correct any problems that may arise.

As production techniques have evolved beyond traditional mass assembly lines, industrial production managers have adapted to “lean” production techniques. Many manufacturers have adopted lean production techniques, while some others use a combination of lean and mass production techniques. In a traditional assembly line, each worker is responsible for only a small portion of the assembly, repeating that task on every product. Lean production employs teams to build and assemble products in stations or cells. When companies use stations, one worker may work alone with handtools and various parts to complete a large portion of the assembly process. Rather than specializing in a specific task, workers are capable of performing all jobs within a team. Without the constraints of the traditional assembly line, companies can be more flexible in their production process, more easily changing production levels on different product lines.

The increased flexibility of lean manufacturing enables industrial production managers to experiment with ways of improving the assembly and manufacturing process. As companies strive to minimize inventory, they want to maintain only a limited stock of finished products. Employing manufacturing cells and stations, companies can more quickly react to changes in customer demand so that limited inventories will not get too low.

Industrial production managers also must monitor product standards. Inspecting samples of finished goods and recording defects enables managers to statistically analyze quality control problems. While traditional quality control programs reacted only to problems that reached a certain significant level, newer management techniques and programs, such as ISO 9000, Total Quality Management (TQM), or Six Sigma, emphasize continuous quality improvement. If the problem relates to the quality of work performed in the plant, the manager may implement better training programs or reorganize the manufacturing process, often based upon the suggestions of employee teams. If the cause is substandard materials or parts from outside suppliers, companies may work with their suppliers to improve their quality.

Because the work of many departments is related, managers work closely with heads of other departments such as sales, procurement, and logistics to plan and implement company goals, policies, and procedures. For example, the production manager works with the procurement department to ensure that plant inventories are maintained at their optimal level. This is vital to a firm’s operation because maintaining the inventory of materials necessary for production ties up the firm’s financial resources, yet insufficient quantities cause delays in production. A breakdown in communications between the production manager and the purchasing department can cause slowdowns and a failure to meet production schedules. Just-in-time production techniques have reduced inventory levels, making constant communication among the manager, suppliers, and purchasing departments even more important. Computers play an integral part in this coordination. They also are used to provide up-to-date information on inventory, the status of work in progress, and quality standards.

Production managers usually report to the plant manager or the vice president for manufacturing, and may act as liaison between executives and first-line supervisors. (Information about top executives may be found elsewhere in the Handbook.) In many plants, one production manager is responsible for all aspects of production. In large plants with several operations—aircraft assembly, for example—there are managers in charge of each operation, such as machining, assembly, or finishing.