Friday, December 28, 2012

Translating for the manufacturing sector

Interview by Karen Tkaczyk
Scientific and Technical Translator

I was intrigued by a comment I read in Nataly Kelly’s recent Forbes piece: “Likewise, the majority of the world’s translators (who deal with written words) do not translate books. The largest amount of work in this field comes from the manufacturing sector.”[1]

The largest amount? I wanted to know more! I bet other scientific and technical translators would, too! I contacted Nataly, who works for market research firm Common Sense Advisory, with a view to writing something relevant for my colleagues. The firm has a new research report, “How Manufacturing Companies Buy Translation,” that had led to Ms. Kelly’s statement. Common Sense Advisory was generous enough to allow me the opportunity to interview Rebecca Ray, the lead analyst on this report.

KMT: Why did you research translation in the manufacturing sector?

RR: Depending on the vertical, translation buyers may have somewhat different requirements, so we decided to research the top ones that provide the most opportunity for revenue for freelancers and language service providers (LSPs). We chose the verticals based on our in-depth market sizing report that we publish every year, “The Language Services Market: 2012.”

Manufacturing represents the largest single vertical by far: more than US$11 billion for 2012, which corresponds to one-third of the total market language services market! What’s great is that there are hundreds of sub-sectors to serve. As a result, there are many opportunities for translators with an established offering for manufacturers, as well as those new to the vertical. We uncovered at least 16 specific opportunities while doing our research, including expanded language coverage, expansion into related patent- and IP-related services, and transcreation.

One of the big opportunities we uncovered was source content optimization, or editing original source text before it is translated. We confirmed that engineers – especially ones required to write in a non-native language – are one of the main causes of quality problems originating in source content in various manufacturing sub-sectors. They typically cut and paste from corrupt Word templates and recycle legacy PDF files that raise costs and lengthen delivery times for downstream translation teams. Therefore, opportunities for freelancers and LSPs abound in this area, including writing and editing services, education in how to write for global audiences, and automation for re-use.

KMT: You must have classified the market segments you were surveying. Do your results cover a wide range of technical areas? Do any stand out?

RR: Yes, we reviewed several sub-sectors within manufacturing. The largest ones for the language service industries are machine and equipment; pharmaceutical; computer, electronic, optical products; and motor vehicles and other transport equipment. In fact, these manufacturing sub-subsectors occupy four of the top 10 categories and 13 of the top 36 categories for the language services industry.

KMT: What differentiates the manufacturing sector from other market segments?

RR: A language provider must be able to supply the additional subject matter expertise in whatever sectors they focus on in this vertical – this is a given from the buyer’s perspective. Freelancers can do this through their own educational or work experience, or they can collaborate with colleagues who already have it. In fact, due to the pervasive requirement for deep subject matter expertise, freelancers and single-language vendors (SLVs) should be able to compete quite well against larger LSPs in this sector.

Suppliers should also be prepared for the fact that manufacturing clients often prefer to select their partners on the basis of word of mouth. Supplemented by their own experience, networking with peers, and translator portals, buyers in this vertical generally bypass the request for proposals (RFP) process. Vendors may also be surprised to find that price is not a top issue in vendor selection for this section. It actually ranks below subject matter expertise, linguistic quality, flexibility, and quality of the business relationship. This is probably because the actual users of language services – not purchasing specialists – often have the biggest say in this vertical when it comes to vendor selection.

KMT: My impression is that finding subject matter experts is a perennial problem for translation buyers. Would your results support that theory?

RR: Manufacturing buyers told us that the resources are often available, but it is a question of locating and vetting them. If you’re a freelancer who is fairly fluent in one or two other languages in addition to the ones in which you’re currently working, you should consider teaming up with a colleague who is stronger in one or more of those languages, but who may not have your technical expertise. Or, vice-versa. Presenting your service this way will show your clients that they can count on you for more than just one or two languages in one or more sub-sectors.

If you’re a language service supplier, you should confirm the languages that will be required by your targeted manufacturing sub-sectors over the next few years. If you don’t have the right talent under contract yet, start recruiting now.

KMT: A common problem for technical translators is not being able to find out what something means in context: the client does not send drawings, or when working via another LSP or in large firms the translation project manager has no access to the author. Do you have any impressions on this being a problem?

RR: This is definitely still a challenge for many verticals – not just manufacturing. Interestingly enough, more than one manufacturer we interviewed mentioned that they had offered training for translators and editors more than once that no one took advantage of. That may have something to do with the time commitment required, and perhaps no compensation being offered for the time involved. This is one reason some buyers in specialized verticals like to work directly with freelancers. By taking out the middleman, it can be easier for them to ensure that the knowledge transfer takes place.

KMT: In considering translating for manufacturing, we often imagine user manuals or standard operating procedures. What about marketing copy for manufacturing as being a translation challenge? Did you consider the varied types of documents that manufacturers need to have translated?

RR: Yes, we did. As in many other industries, content volumes, the number of required languages, and the variety of publishing channels continue to expand. Those responsible for translation and localization at manufacturing companies described to us a world in which their companies are being required to deliver more tailored products for more local language markets to stay competitive into the foreseeable future. They explained that this translated into smaller amounts of content per project, but rising volumes overall.

In several sub-sectors, manufacturers continue to move closer and closer to the final consumer as more of their products and services go mobile. For those companies, translation managers are experiencing an increased focus on marketing content, especially audio and video for online consumption. We think that freelancers and agencies should look for those opportunities, rather than waiting for their customers to approach them.

Sample Content Types in the Manufacturing Sector
Assembly instructions
Compliance documentation
Data sheets
Diagrams and CAD files
Employee handbooks
Engineering specifications
HR manuals
Installation, operator, and maintenance manuals
Labeling and packaging
Legal documents
Marketing content
Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
Safety manuals
Sales tools
Service agreements
Service bulletins
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
Training manuals
Troubleshooting guides
User manuals
Warranty agreements

Manufacturers Produce Many Types of Content
Source: “How Manufacturing Companies Buy Translation,” October 2012, Common Sense Advisory, Inc

KMT: Did anything about the results surprise you? 

RR: Yes, and it concerned suppliers, rather than buyers. We reviewed several websites for our research and discovered that the majority of language suppliers still aren’t differentiating or marketing themselves very well to this vertical. Therefore, we address that in the report by including several specific ways that agencies can improve their websites and marketing programs to attract manufacturing companies. We also include a list of more than 200 possible keywords in English for people to make sure to include in their web content.

KMT: Is there anything else you would like to share?

RR: Yes! There is a lot of change going on in the manufacturing sector right now which may offer even more opportunities for language suppliers. As one geographic area slumps, another one usually appears on the horizon. The same applies to individual countries and clusters of cities where manufacturing sub-sectors tend to congregate. We expect this scenario to play out for at least the next few years as tens of millions of people continue to join the ranks of the middle class. By 2025, annual consumption in emerging markets is estimated to reach $30 trillion.

Currently, the largest 100 companies in developed markets generate only 17% of their revenue from emerging markets, even though these markets represent 36% of global gross domestic product (GDP). Small- and medium-sized companies, including many manufacturers, are busy taking up the slack. The language services industry is fortunate in that its members can play both sides of the fence: supporting veteran exporters that must replace waning domestic revenue with sales from new markets, at the same time enabling companies in growing economies to move beyond their borders for the first time.

KMT: Based on your results, what should technical translators be thinking about
· to promote themselves to LSPs?
· to promote themselves to the translation buyers? 

RR: Buyers in this vertical told us that they rely principally on three methods to identify potential suppliers: their own experience, recommendations from peers, and translator portals. Technical translators should trumpet their subject matter expertise and any additional languages they may be able to handle – either on a first-pass basis or through collaboration with colleagues. If they are comfortable with post-editing machine translation output, or they have expertise in editing technical content in its original source language, they should market those skills strongly.

All of this information should be easily accessible through a website, even if it’s fairly simple, and the content doesn’t change much – except for updates with customer testimonials. With current customers – whether direct buyers or LSPs – they should let them know exactly what services they can offer, in addition to the ones they are providing. And last, but certainly not least, they should be very visible on translator portals.

Your research shows that there is opportunity “for suppliers to differentiate themselves through targeted web content, smart use of SEO, and the purchase of URLs related to manufacturing and translation.”[2] On a personal note, I’d like to thank you for inspiring me to rework my website!


[2] “How Manufacturing Companies Buy Translation,” Common Sense Advisory, October 2012

1 comment:

  1. There is a lot to be said for community translations, especially in areas where companies do not deem it necessary to localize for other markets (such as fansubs of Japanese anime etc.) or there simply isn't a company behind a product (open source software anyone?). But if you are running a business and trying to make the most out of the opportunities presnted by globalization, using professional translation services is the only way to go.
    Luckily, I can't see machines taking over the jobs of human translators in the near future, as they have done with so many other professions (remember telephone operators?)


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