As engineering manager at Caterpillar and co-chair of the AIAG Quality Steering Committee, Matt Kerr understands the importance of being flexible and open to collaborating with diverse partners. Below, Matt shares his thoughts on coming together at AIAG, staying current on – and preparing for – emerging industry trends, and more!
AIAG: Why do you think it’s important to come together at AIAG and participate in events or volunteer?
Kerr: In any company, it is very easy to become busy and focused in executing core job responsibilities. AIAG provides opportunities to learn from others in industry and to gain insight from different perspectives. When other OEMs or suppliers speak or drive initiatives, I always learn something about how we have common challenges. I also learn what is different in both challenges and solutions. There is enough diversity within AIAG membership that I can find an OEM in a different industry to share with and learn from. Similarly, talking to automotive suppliers helps me gain insight into dealing with Caterpillar’s off-highway suppliers. AIAG events provide the opportunity to meet with many software or service providers in a very short amount of time and in person. Attending a conference or Quality Summit allows me to meet representatives and demo software, providing a great basis for comparison.
AIAG: How do you keep up to date on what’s happening in the industry?
Kerr: Well, how can I say anything without starting with the internet! Whether through news stories, releases, online publications or social media, it is easy to stay up to date if you can avoid being overwhelmed. It is important to read news media, corporate releases and industry publications online or in print. But personal contacts are the best way to verify what is really happening after seeing what is in the press.
AIAG: Based on your years of experience, what current or emerging trends do you think are most urgent for the industry to prepare for?
Kerr: There are two major areas for industry to prepare for, and both benefit companies that are lean and nimble. Additive manufacturing gets a lot of press for a good reason: It is an innovative manufacturing technology that is closely tied to design philosophy and supply chain. So my first answer is innovative manufacturing or production techniques that unlock potential design space. It’s a trick to understand an early innovation that can drive fundamental change. Something like an energy or materials technology could drive a positive disruption just like additive manufacturing did. The second trend has to do with the rate of change in consumer or market conditions. Whether in politics or business, “the new normal” always has more rapid up or downswings than a decade ago. Companies that can manage these rapid changes will do better regardless of whether their demand is moving up or down, and regardless of the reasons for the change.
AIAG: What advice would you offer to those who are just starting out in the industry?
Kerr: If you are just starting out, don’t be afraid to try new things or work in what appears to be peripheral to your area of interest or specialization. As you move further in your career, it can be harder to get an experience-broadening, cross-functional assignment or opportunity. Sometimes, the adjacent space is the best way to get into the role you want while also building some unique skills or perspective. Show me a designer who isn’t better for having a deep manufacturing understanding, or a quality engineer who isn’t better for having supplier or manufacturing expertise! There is always more time to specialize. Besides, your future specialty might not exist yet.