Dennis Slater, President of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, explains how equipment manufacturers can take advantage of growing trends in technology and advocate for themselves as a vital industry that builds and feeds the world.
Earlier this month I had the privilege of speaking with Dennis Slater, President of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM). With over 900 corporations involved, AEM represents and serves equipment manufacturers worldwide, mainly in the construction and agriculture industries.
Dennis described his role as president as strategy focused. He works with the board of directors to say how AEM can best serve its members. During our conversation, Dennis’s passion about AEM and the industries it serves became immediately apparent.
AEM is truly focused on serving its existing members, which Dennis feels is even more important than expanding the association. At its most basic level, AEM helps its members sell their products, provides market intelligence, and advocates for them when it comes to industry regulations.
“Helping our members sell their products is a huge part of what we do,” said Dennis. “It’s to help them get out there and market the product and sell it to the customer. The market data we release is what a lot of our bigger members look to us for.”
How AEM Advocates for its Members
Prior to our conversation, Dennis and the AEM team visited the Iowa State Fair to advocate for manufacturer needs to fair-goers as well as the politicians and presidential candidates in attendance.
“The challenge in this industry is that we do good things – we build roads that make commerce possible; we feed the world because today’s ag equipment can produce the products we need – but, I don’t think politicians pay attention to that.”
By attending the Iowa State Fair, Dennis wanted to get AEM in front of the candidates to emphasize and advocate for the importance of manufacturing, the importance of construction and agriculture.
Attending public and political events is just one way AEM speaks on behalf of manufacturers and the challenges they face. Dennis encourages manufacturers to write to their representatives about questions and problems they have with regulations or lack of support. The AEM platform, “I Make America” is the stage they use to get their voice out to politicians and the public.
“The public who visited our booth started to realize manufacturing is important in Iowa. Our advocacy has grown from convincing our members to convincing the public. It’s the crumbling road or regulations out there that make it harder for everyone to do business. Those are the issues that the average person on the street needs to know about.”
Equipment Manufacturers are Differentiating Themselves through Dealer Service
In addition to advocacy, manufacturing professionals turn to AEM for reliable market intelligence, trends, and direction. Many equipment manufacturers find it difficult to stand out from the competition based on their machines alone. Dennis mentioned that, today, manufacturers aren’t setting themselves apart through the quality of their equipment; all the machines are good. The differentiator comes from the dealer’s ability to service the product.
“Service isn’t necessarily a new trend. It’s always been key for equipment manufacturers. But it’s even more important today because there’s pressure on the farmer and the construction contractor to handle things quickly and get things done on a schedule.”
“Contractors really need same-day service. If they shut down for the day, the whole project stops. They need immediate service and preventive maintenance. Knowing when something is going to happen, I think, is critical. That really affects today’s market place. The successful companies are the best at service.”
Field Service is More Important than Ever, but Also More Difficult
At the same time that customers are demanding strong product support programs from their equipment dealers, the machines are getting more complex, which presents a new set of challenges for service organizations.
“Now you’re out there with machines that are dealing with analytics, or telematics. You have a Tier 4 engine, which is very new. Because of the complexity added, the service relationship has to be better. Dealers have to be really ready for that. The manufacturer usually isn’t the one to fill this void. It’s the service arm of the dealer that’s going to be out there making sure the machine’s ready to go again.”
We live in an on-demand world. Companies with multi-million dollar projects need the necessary equipment to be working, and they expect any repair or service work to be done proactively and right away. That’s why many service organizations are turning to telematics data to help them predict when a machine needs looked at. With telematics, service providers know when a machine or part is about to experience a problem, so they can proactively service it and prevent any equipment downtime.
Equipment Manufacturers Face New Regulatory Challenges
Regulations often present big challenges for equipment manufacturers when it comes to staying profitable and investing in productivity and innovation. While it’s important to find a the most profitable balance between new product sales and reliable service contracts, manufacturers also have to juggle a myriad of regulations that force them to make expensive changes to their machines.
“Because of the Tier 4 engine, the machine is 10% more expensive, but the product is the same. That has become a sore point for manufacturers. A lot of their R&D has gone into meeting new engine regulations instead of productivity.”
In order to stay profitable in the face of new machine regulations, many dealers are consolidating in order to support stronger service initiatives. Today, there are fewer, stronger dealers out there than there used to be. Now you’ll see a network of dealerships that are all under one roof, which makes them more capable because they have a stronger service team and can get out there and deal with problems right away.
“Manufacturers see dealers as a partner in that way. They have to rely on each other to meet customers’ growing service demands. The best manufacturers have the strongest dealer networks. I think that’s very important.”
The Rise of Mobile Lessens Productivity Gaps
AEM statistics and market analytics highlight the top technology trends for its members. And mobile technology remains one of the most stand-out trends to hit the equipment industry in the last decade.
The rise of mobile is making a big impact on how manufacturers, service organizations, and end-users interact. Machine users expect their service providers to show up on-site with the right information and resolve any problems on the first visit.
Service technicians with mobile apps in the field not only have access to the right information to resolve a problem on the first visit, but are able to collect information and sync to the back office rather than reentering the data.
“In the ‘just in time’ world we live today, workers have access to preventive maintenance information through their mobile device before they go onto the jobsite. This results in fewer crises and saves valuable time.”
Customers want their own mobile access to machine performance and instructions for what’s going on in their equipment too. “They [customers] are not going into the glove compartment to get something out any longer,” said Dennis. “They’re going to go to their phones and saying, this is the problem I have. Diagnostically, what’s wrong with this machine? This is not a new thing. I think mobile is everything.”
The Most Forwarding Thinking Manufacturers Learn from the Innovation of Other Industries
While businesses within the equipment manufacturing industry are innovating in exciting ways, the most innovative companies are looking outside their own tent for disruptive technologies to improve their businesses, said Dennis. “We saw that at our Conexpo last year. The education almost always focuses outside of the industry as businesses try to find new ideas out there that are really making a change.”
One example Dennis explained was a construction businesses that used gaming technology to bring high quality visuals to the construction job site.
“Do you know how efficient you could be if you do the job virtually first and say, ‘here are the mistakes, here’s where our challenges will be, here’s the soil condition issues.’ It’s just huge. But you wouldn’t normally think of talking to a gamer about that. That gaming company, though, is spinning off part of their business to serve the construction industry because they’re realizing the huge opportunity in construction visualization.”
Competition right now isn’t just the companies in your industry. It’s also the Amazon’s and the Google’s and anyone who can offer a unique service better than you can. The challenge, then, is figuring out how to be the best and the fastest when you’re competing against everyone.
“That’s part of what AEM does for its members. We expose them to opportunities so they can improve themselves and their businesses. We expose them to new markets and new ideas that challenge them to become the best in their space.”
Conclusion: Forward Thinking for AEM
In closing our conversation, I asked Dennis if he had any final thoughts. He added in a heartfelt statement of admiration for the equipment manufacturing industry and AEM:
“I’ve been here for 30 years doing this because I feel it’s an industry that’s dynamic and it does good things for the US and the world. And, with that, I think AEM is just getting started.”
As new members of AEM ourselves, I’m excited to see how the association continues to serve its members and provide valuable statistics and insights for those in the equipment manufacturing industry around the globe.