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.

Iterative or Innovative?

Most everyone is declaring the importance of innovation and an innovative culture to future success. And many claim to offer both now.

Not true in most cases. Yes, there have been significant innovations in technology and materials. But can your business honestly claim that its market now receives new and innovative value from doing business with you that it didn’t get last year? Most, emphasizing the word ‘honestly,’ cannot.

Most all can claim iterative changes. Sadly many of our engineers graduate without the basics that were ingrained a few decades ago. Design for Manufacturing is often overlooked, as is design for service. Too much design now relies on software “optimization” programs.

Optimization mathematics and software has been around for a long time; I personally used and wrote some of it in the late 1970s. But we’re skipping important aspects of design and frequently overlooking innovation entirely.

Reduce weight by x, cost by y, number of parts by z. Those parameters are not unimportant, but rarely reflect innovation.

The PC, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPod were all innovative. The thousands of versions of each since, while more powerful and capable, are iterative. Love the camera, and it took some amazing engineering to figure out how to get it so high quality in the phone, but …..

Don’t let yourself off easy. Being truly innovative today will set you apart from the rest. Coming out with Rev 15 won’t.

Your Energy Crisis

Energy around the world is now expensive and in many places unavailable. The transition from carbon-based to renewables is coming, and brings with it complexities that many of cannot even imagine. Storage and transmission, the current state of our grid, changes to the grid that are required, and more stand between us and smoothly available power that we need. We’ll get there but it will be ugly in the interim.

Every manufacturer requires energy; every one of us must gain an understanding of the coming challenges and the alternatives we have to minimize disruptions to our businesses. Disruptions will happen during the transition. We must develop plans and capabilities to ensure that our equipment, data access and sharing, and communication are not damaged by the challenges.

Start thinking about these issues now.

Implications of Transparency

Full transparency is coming to your manufacturing business. People are demanding it. Technology is enabling it. The 2021 supply chain disruptions demonstrated the need for it.

So what does that mean for your manufacturing business?

If you’ve always been open and trustworthy, it becomes a competitive advantage. If not, either change your behaviors or pay the price.

You have 5 constituencies that are gaining better insights into the actual core values and mission of your company. Will employees be attracted if, like Amazon, you are known to provide poor working conditions and fire for little to no reason? Will suppliers want to work with you, if like GE, you are known for unilaterally extending payment terms and refusing to buy inventories that the contract specifies? Will communities want you to move there, if like Foxconn, you are known for false promises? If customers know how you source materials, will they be attracted, or know that your core values do not extend beyond your property lines? Can investors trust the information you provide, or will they be reminded of Pollyanna?

Transparency is a competitive advantage for some, and can be for anyone who is trustworthy and lives attractive core values. It will kill other manufacturing businesses. Which are you?

Manufacturing Metamorphosis Imperative

To endure a manufacturing business must continually metamorphose into an organization delivering increasing value to all of its constituents. Why? Because the competition is not only not sitting still; new forms of competition are sprouting up where it is difficult to envision them. Your value must evolve as the wants and needs of your constituents evolve.

While manufacturing will not die, individual manufacturing companies will if they do not learn to thrive in our evolving world.

If your organization is intimidated by the requirements of accelerating improvement, your personal, demonstrable openness to learning and calm guidance through ambiguity will make an all-important difference.

Not all change is good, but smart strategic change is required. And you can’t take too much time to do that.

Becoming Essential

Snow storms and federal government shutdowns introduced the concept of “essential workers” decades ago. COVID-19 not only brought it front and center; the pandemic completely redefined the term.

Consumers have choices on what, when, and how to buy. In 2020 and 2021 they have demonstrated considerable flexibility in those choices that surprised many. Those changing decisions have impacted virtually all manufacturers, either directly or indirectly.

Have you given thought not just to traditional competitive advantage, but what it means for your business to be truly essential?

In consulting, the primary competition is the potential client deciding to do nothing. The best of us have had to know how to become essential for years. Now it’s your turn.

What alternatives do your customers have? Likely many more than you’ve considered previously. To become essential will require an unwavering focus on the needs — the true needs — of your market.

Overcoming Your Labor Shortage

“May you live in interesting times.” We certainly do. Supply chain shortages like we’ve never seen, an international pandemic that continues to mutate, and strong consumer demand. Oh, and a labor shortage faced by most every manufacturer.

Resist the temptation to hire warm bodies. They are never what you need. What you do need is reliable people who want to learn and grow and who share your mission. As you continue to look externally for them, don’t overlook those currently in your employ.

It is again, tempting, to work those you have longer hours and harder and stop all employee development and improvement activities. Bad decisions.

It is more important than ever to understand the potential of those you have and which processes waste them the most. Acknowledge that process waste and ask your team if they could develop and implement a meaningful improvement if you gave them a few hours to think and work together on it. If they say “no” then either move on to the next wasteful process — you have many — and do the same, or identify other resources that can do something about it soon. If they say “yes,” then make the time for the team to address that nagging messy process.

You’ll have happier employees and more productive ones later this week.

Do that again, and then again.

While they work on reducing the size of that challenge, you can identify two or three employees who are capable of more and are quick learners; identify a limited number of higher value tasks that they could learn and master sufficiently with the right exposure and training. Then execute that. Provide follow on support for them as they struggle occasionally.

Output may suffer this week, but it will improve next week and the next.

Keep doing this a bit each week so you fully leverage the valuable employees you already have.

No farmer would let food rot on the vine while he was in search for new land; you shouldn’t either.

Organizational Structure is A Choice

Organizational structure is a strategic choice and should not simply default to “what we’ve always done.”

Companies are often organized by skill set or primary tasks, not by authority or decision-making responsibilities. Structures rarely are designed to instill core values or magnify human potential. Does your current structure develop personnel, align decision-making authority with expertise, and facilitate the culture important to business success?

Understanding why you have your current organizational structure—and why a different structure might better facilitate endurance—is a great place to start.

Cheap Labor is NOT the Goal!

It wasn’t difficult to see this coming. This podcast from 2013 explained how chasing cheap labor was very short sighted and doomed to fail. The addendum, just added, explains how companies that recognize the value of talent and their responsibility in investing in it can endure, while others cannot.

Don’t let a line item on your P&L fool you into silly decisions. Don’t let the IRS determine when you will invest in people, equipment, or the future. It’s your business. If you think it matters, act accordingly.

Is Additive Disruptive?

I want to discuss with you disruptive technologies and specifically additive manufacturing. I have been a volunteer with the association for manufacturing excellence for about 15 years. AME puts on an annual international conference and we have done that for 25 or 30 years. Attendance is typically between 1000 and 1500 people, representing about 20 nations, although certainly this year and last year were virtual.

I’m on the committee for the fall of 2022 AME International conference which will be held in Dallas Texas. My track Is disruptive technologies. My accountability is to develop 11 practitioner based presentations on technologies that I see as disruptive to manufacturing.

The definition that we’re using is that these technologies can’t be pie in the sky. They must be things that are currently functioning and adding significant value in manufacturing environments and I must believe that they are going to be disruptive and that they will used widely within five years. So nothing that I’ll be presenting is something that is theoretical and nothing that I’ll be presenting will be pie in the sky, flash in the pan. It will all be things that we believe we the committee believes are disruptive and that all manufacturers should pay attention to.

One of these is additive manufacturing or 3D printing. It’s easy to say, Hey, wait a minute. How can that be a disruptive technology? It’s been around for over 30 years. But here’s what I want everyone to understand: Additive manufacturing may have been around for 30 years, but the advances in materials, capabilities and understanding how to design for additive manufacturing have advanced remarkably within the last two years and will much further in the next two years, those same kinds of drastic changes are already underway.

So it’s not just resin, it’s not just metal. We now have the ability to 3D print all kinds of materials, biological and other. And we can also make 3D printed mixed material items. We can only do these things when we understand how to design for additive manufacturing to take advantage of everything it offers.

I’ve already lined up a presenter, a contract manufacturer in resin based 3D printing, who has the top technical capabilities of anyone in the United States. We’ll be talking about the kinds of products that they’re being asked to make, some of which will be under development in early 2022. Conference attendees will receive up to the minute advanced information that will affect the vast majority of manufacturing businesses.

Now let me ask you: I have 11 tracks, one of them will be additive manufacturing. I have ideas for the others, but I’d really like to hear from you. What do you see as the technology that will most disrupt your company and your industry in the next 2-5 years? Please email me to let me know your thoughts. My address is [email protected]fulcrumcwi.com. And please put in the subject line “disruptive technology.” That will help me find it when it ends up in the junk folder, which most emails do at this point. Perhaps effective email sorting could be one of those disruptive technologies, but the problem with that is that it’s still theory at this time.

 

Managing the Delta Effects

Fear can paralyze; risk can be managed. The Delta variant of Covid-19 is spreading primarily among the unvaccinated. We are currently facing supply and demand uncertainties that have crippled many manufacturers, but it’s time to turn our eyes to managing specific risks.

You know how to deal with many of the uncertainties — like how to produce safely in your facilities and how to schedule workers as schools change schedules. In most cases we know what we don’t know, which should remove fear and enable risk management to take over.

In the USA Covid-19 is increasing in unvaccinated areas, which are easily identified. If your supply or demand emanates from one of those areas, you face more risk than if they were not. Working to mitigate those risks now is a priority.

Most first world countries, other than Australia, are vaccinated. That’s not the case for second and third world countries, although progress is being made. Again, information on vaccination rates is available and can help you foresee additional challenges.

The chip industry is facing structural challenges; those shortages will likely still be with us through the end of 2022. Many other material shortages can be significantly reduced by logistical adjustments that are underway. I anticipate most to be resolved by early 2022.

You may have other projections that drive your risk management. The key is that you not be overwhelmed by today’s expediting needs and keep your eyes on the future. Knowing what you don’t know is a significant advantage over what you faced in 2020.

BUT, the newest variant — Lambda — is already in over 20 countries, with one case identified in the US. Sadly, it does not appear to respond to current vaccines. But at least we know that, and you can prepare better this time around.