Finish Strong® Podcast Series The journey to excellence is not a simple one, nor does it follow a straight line. This podcast series addresses issues important to manufactures worldwide. Becky's insights include commentary on global, strategic, and tactical issues, as well as observations on current challenges and opportunities in manufacturing businesses. Feel free to suggest topics of interest to you; no doubt Becky will have something to say that will make you think.

AI for Manufacturing Leaders

Since IBM’s Watson, many have hoped that Artificial Intelligence, or AI, would be able to rummage through a pile of data, pick out what is relevant, and create some new learning that matters. That hope has been proven futile, at least with our current thinking and capabilities.

That doesn’t mean AI is useless; we have learned through trial and error that one has to have a clear understanding of the question he is asking AI to answer. The more narrowly we define the question, and the more relevant the data fed to AI, the better it will uncover an insight of value to you and your business.

Perhaps it makes sense for you to begin by working to understand key contributors to variation in scrap of a particular type of metal that you process, or on certain equipment, or level of product design complexity. AI needs accurate and relevant data inputs over a period of time with sufficient detail to provide valid output.

AI might discover that ambient temperature impacts scrap, but only if that is part of the data at a sufficient level of detail. The same is true for die temperature or pressure variations. AI will produce invalid or inadequate output if the input data doesn’t include potential contributors to the problem you want to solve.

Once you have gained experience with AI, you will learn how to better examine broader and more lasting questions.

AI is NOT a starting point of Industry 4.0, nor for most of you is it even early stage. Processes to provide clean data, some of which sensors can generate, but some of which will come from other systems or from people, must be mastered for the technology to help you solve big problems.

Killing Customer Service

I believe Operations should be responsible for customer retention and customer service. Marketing creates awareness, Sales brings in new customers, and it is operational performance — or lack thereof — that keeps them happy and wanting more.

But regardless of where you locate the responsibility, it must be somewhere in your organization! Too many manufacturers have decided to outsource customer service to customers, and have given us lousy tools to use in servicing ourselves.

Using automation as an internal cost cutting tool, companies gave us the tree-routing phone system. Call the number, figure out how to get to the person who can actually help you by punching different numbers, only to discover that that person can’t help you and you’re in the death loop of “no way forward.”

Having frustrated most of us by that sad process, businesses added to it online “chat bots” to make us even crazier.

I readily admit there are appropriate uses for bots. They can answer the most common and simple questions; things like store hours. For any conversation that has the least bit of nuance, they fail miserably.

Either prioritize customer retention and service by doing it well, giving customers high quality tools if you insist we take care of ourselves, or admit that customers are not part of your business model. Now, wouldn’t that be embarrassing? But for some, it would be true.

Are you one of those? Many of you are.

Design Your Manufacturing Business

If your manufacturing business is not designed to ensure robust processes within speed, cost, quality, and agility parameters; if your business is not designed to endure for decades; if your business is not designed to thrive through ambiguity, then by definition, it is not designed to be profitable.

That would seem to be a significant weakness, don’t you think? Design cannot be limited to products. Design your business for long term success, and then, as always, Finish Strong®️

How Contract Manufacturers Can Thrive

Manufacturers typically fall into three categories: those with proprietary products sold under their brand names, those who contract manufacture for others, and those who do both. Those who do both often provide private labeling for customers of products very similar to their current proprietary offerings.

If you only offer what you’ve always sold to the same people you’ve always offered it to, you’ve got a short, narrow runway. Sadly, current conditions provide a perfect example of why considering your business the same as your product or current production / market mix is dangerous.

The first rule is do NOT think of your business as what you currently do and for whom you currently do it. If you only advertise selling to the construction market and I’m not in it, I will never consider you a potential source for anything I need.

Determine what value you provide that your current market treasures, and then which other markets equally treasure that value.

Your challenge is to think much more broadly than the parts you currently sell. Think about the value you provide, to your customers, your suppliers, your employees, your investors and to your community. They all want you to succeed.

How are Global Supply Chain, Covid Vaccine Distribution, and China Changing Now?

An exception to our 6 minute limit, this 30 minute podcast addresses “what are current supply chain conditions internationally?” “What is the challenge with vaccine distribution?” and “what is China’s role in the supply chain now?”

Australian, Irish and North American experts discuss these topics from their “feet on the ground” perspective. The insights are timely and valuable.

This was recorded initially for the Dublin Ireland radio program Interlinks Tertulia on Supply Chain. Patrick Daly (Dublin, Ireland), Evan Bulmer (Adelaide AU), David Ogilvie (Brisbane, AU) and me, Becky Morgan (Cleveland OH USA), offer insights for your manufacturing business.

Vaccine Distribution Is Not That Difficult

Now that approved vaccines for Covid-19 exist, why is it so difficult to get them from the manufacturers into the hands of those who inject, and then into the arms of those who want to be vaccinated?

For those of us with years in the supply chain profession, it is maddening. Yes, there are complexities to this challenge, but so what? Nothing that we shouldn’t have been able to handle.

So why are we fumbling this so badly?

While it is frustrating to watch our government, and many others around the world, fumble this badly, many manufacturers make equally preventable mistakes for the very same reasons. Poor communication, inability to deal with uncertainty, and substituting simplistic for simple.

What about your manufacturing business seems complicated and gives you and your constituencies fits? I assure you, it can be simplified and made more robust and effective.

You may not be in the life-or-death business, but you can certainly do better than our current vaccine-in-arms processes. See distinctions, see commonalities, give a clear “remember our why” so people can make better decisions, and don’t complexify what can be simple.

Push or Pull, Revisited

Some insist that “electronic Kanban,” an alleged “pull” system, and increased ERP responsiveness replace the pull of a visual gemba-based kanban. Not true. Whether push or pull, or something else, the goal is to have the right stuff in the right quantity at the right place at the right time.

AND TO SEE AND ADDRESS PROBLEMS THAT KEEP THAT FROM HAPPENING EXACTLY THAT WAY.

You can’t sit at your desk staring at the computer screen and do that!

Problem Solve, or Innovate?

There are those who say problem solving looks backwards and innovation looks forward. I would argue that sometimes effective problem solving requires innovation and sometimes creating a different future can benefit from leveraging problem-solving methodologies.

To problem solve the future, begin to focus on the gap between “what is happening” and “what could be happening” instead of on the traditional problem-solving question of “what should be happening.”

Ask “why can’t we?”

Ask “why haven’t we?”

Ask “what’s slowing us down?”

Ask “what opportunity are we not fully leveraging?”

Look backwards to solve the most impactful problems, and forward to create the future. And of course, no matter which methodologies you use, always remember to Finish Strong®.

Trends You Cannot Ignore

When Sirius and XM satellite radio were first developed, the skeptics asked why anyone would ever pay for radio when they could already get it for free.

The answer is the value placed on location independence.

Network tv was surpassed by cable and then satellite, which has now been largely replaced by Netflix and other streaming services. What’s the attraction? Users want control over what they enjoy, as well as when and where. The days of traditional entertainment companies pushing their schedules on consumers are gone.

That same “user controlled pull” trend is reflected in services like iTunes and Spotify that have changed the economic model of music.

Consumers want to take their lives with them wherever they go without any effort. That same thought process is impacting business-to-business products and services.

The third one is in fact bifurcated: Bitcoin is an example of devotion to efficient and completely untraceable secrecy while Facebook is an example of the desire to publicize everything.

Thank You

The words “thank you,” said with honest energy mean a lot to the person receiving them.

This has been one heck of a year for most of us. Constant change outside our influence or control in many cases, along with the changes that happen in our personal lives, and of course the changes every manufacturer must be making regardless of external upheaval.

“Thank you.” “Thank you for being you.” “I personally appreciate your efforts to come to work, to stay safe, and to keep the health and safety of others front and center.”

If you mean it, say it.

Even the person who had to miss work to help kids with remote learning, or who had to be quarantined, or who contracted Covid, put in extra effort for the benefit of your manufacturing business. Any who volunteered to take unpaid time or use paid time off when your business needed them to also contributed to your organization.

As you prepare to move into 2021, the communication, shared sacrifice or gain, and working together under difficult circumstances of 2020 should not be forgotten. None will be less important then.

My personal mission is to help as many involved with manufacturing as I possibly can. You are part of that. Thank you for turning to me for insights into your manufacturing business. I would like to believe this is a win-win.

Stay safe, stay healthy and, as always, Finish Strong®