Vigneshwaran Chandran’s picture

By: Vigneshwaran Chandran

Testing times for the automotive industry continues as uncertainty looms over an anticipated sales rebound in developed markets in 2010. While some forecasters expect demand contraction owed to scrappage incentives in 2009, most expect full year sales in Western Europe and North America to grow marginally in 2010. However the industry’s woes only seem to be compounding with the latest loss in consumer confidence arising from Toyota’s biggest recall in its 70-year history.

For a brand synonymous with quality and reliability, what started as an innocuous issue of improperly laid out mats causing a recall of 4 million vehicles last year, was followed up by more than 8 million vehicles recalled for sticking accelerator pedals, and further problems with loss of braking on its latest Prius, Lexus HS250 h, and the Sai models. Frost & Sullivan estimates that Toyota is expected to lose a total of 80,000–100,000 cars in lost sales to other vehicle brands in the first half of 2010, as sales of its eight recalled models and the Prius suffer a slowdown. The company might also have to field new complaints received by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about steering issues on 2009 and 2010 Corollas.

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By: redOrbit

With a silicone rubber “stick on” sheet containing dozens of miniature, powerful lenses, engineers at Harvard are one step closer to putting the capacity of a large laboratory into a microsized package.

The marriage of high-performance optics with microfluidics could prove the perfect match for making lab-on-a-chip technologies more practical.

Microfluidics, the ability to manipulate tiny volumes of liquid, is at the heart of many lab-on-a-chip devices. Such platforms can automatically mix and filter chemicals, making them ideal for disease detection and environmental sensing.

The performance of these devices, however, is typically inferior to larger scale laboratory equipment. While lab-on-a-chip systems can deliver and manipulate millions of liquid drops, there is not an equally scalable and efficient way to detect the activity, such as biological reactions, within the drops.

The Harvard team’s zone-plate array optical detection system, described in an article appearing in Lab on a Chip (Issue 5, 2010), may offer a solution. The array, which integrates directly into a parallel microfluidic device, can analyze nearly 200,000 droplets per second, is scalable and reusable, and can be readily customized.

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By: Macro Sensors

A spring-loaded guided core AC-LVDT is an air-extended, spring retracted LVDT offering consistent measurement for dimensional gauging, factory automation, and similar position measurement applications.

 

Linear variable differential transformers (LVDTs) are a common type of linear position sensor widely used in electromechanical systems today. An LVDT consists of two basic elements: a stationary coil assembly and a movable core or armature. Because it’s a transformer, an LVDT is fundamentally an AC-in/AC-out device. However, some LVDTs have electronics built in to make them DC-in/DC-out devices. This gives rise to the terms “AC-LVDTs” and “DC-LVDTs.”

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By: R. Eric Reidenbach Ph.D.

One of my clients, a wireless business-to-business (B2B) telecom company, was experiencing a significant problem in their call center. They were absolutely inundated with calls—most of them problems. They were spending a significant amount of money trying to manage the call center—adding new call center representatives, training new call center representatives, bringing in new call center supervisors, figuring out how to limit the duration of calls, developing escalation plans, etc.

The call center was deemed crucial because they were running about a 50-percent customer turnover annually, which they considered simply as a cost of doing business. Their unwritten strategy was to “outsell churn.” In addition, there was no real effort to retain customers—no provisions for doing so in the system. When customers were ready to leave the company, they simply told them how to do it, either by e-mail or fax… until someone in the organization got smart.

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By: Mark Graban

When I was in Sweden recently, we had a lot of good discussion about the lean concept of “standardized work.”

There was much agreement from different presenters at the lean laboratories conference, and from the hospital people we visited, concerning standardized work—that it isn’t a robotic form of cookbook medicine or cookbook processes. Standardized work isn’t “mindless conformity” as Bill Marriott writes about in regard to the hotel chain.

We found an interesting example of a situation where thinking is required.

Let’s say that according to a process for phlebotomy (drawing blood from a patient) it’s preferable to draw blood from the patient’s left arm. Having a standardized process doesn’t mean we always draw from the left arm.

Somebody asked about an extreme situation. “What if the patient is an amputee and they don’t have a left arm?” Clearly, the phlebotomist must be empowered to make a decision—draw from the right arm. Even if the patient just expresses a preference to using the right arm (because they are left-handed and don’t want that arm to hurt), the phlebotomist could be allowed to make a judgment call, even if the standardized work doesn’t spell out this choice.

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By: National Standards Authority of Ireland NSAI

(NSAI: Nashua, New Hampshire) — Even though no firm action was taken during the 2009 Climate Conference in Copenhagen, the U.S. administration has still pledged that the country will tighten carbon emission regulations. The most plausible possibility is what is referred to as a “cap and trade” system where the government sets a cap on how much pollution a company can produce and companies that need to exceed the cap can buy credits from those who pollute less.

While the concept of regulating carbon emissions may be new for U.S. businesses, many foreign governments and companies—as well as U.S. businesses that have a global presence—have been struggling with how to identify and regulate their greenhouse gases since the Kyoto Protocol was passed in 2005. If there is a silver lining in all of the discussion, it’s that it is much easier to implement a proven system to monitor your carbon emissions that it was just four years ago—and often reducing carbon output results in a company saving money on utilities and other products.

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By: Knowledge at Wharton

In 2008, the University of North Carolina (UNC) Health Care System faced a challenge: Length of stay per patient at this major nonprofit health system and academic medical center was longer than it needed to be. If administrators could figure out how to cut the length of stay by an average of just 10 percent—without compromising patient health—the system could add tens of millions of dollars to its operating budget and most important, provide care to more patients.

Reducing the length of stay for patients of UNC Health Care System without affecting quality required analyzing every aspect of patient care, identifying inconsistencies and redundancies, and finding ways to improve the service, according to Jon Scholl, a partner and managing director at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). One step involved setting goals for shorter stays and putting a whiteboard in every room. “The nurse writes daily goals on the board,” says Scholl, who helped guide the health system through its successful initiative. “This involves patients in their own care. Now they have a sense of what needs to happen before they’ll be discharged, and what progress they’ve made.” It gives them goals to shoot for—and most times they achieve them.

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By: Patrick Beauchemin

Optical comparators, also referred to as profile projectors and contour projectors, were first introduced in the 1940s and they are still widely used today in a broad range of industries to verify that manufactured parts are within tolerance. These versatile instruments are easy to use and the fact that they are very robust makes them well suited for use on the shop floor as well as in the metrology and quality control labs. They are well suited to complex geometries (i.e., shapes not easily described by simple elements like lines and circles) and, up until now, they have been the easiest way to quickly compare a part to its drawing to allow the operator to make an overall pass/fail determination.

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By: William J. McEwen

A new book from the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) bemoans, at least in part, marketers’ continued reliance on traditional consumer surveys (termed “asking”) in spite of the ready abundance of relatively inexpensive consumer buzz tracking (called “listening”). Written by Steve Rappaport, The ARF Listening Playbook (ARF Press, January 2010) is an outgrowth of an ARF workshop that focused on various methods of monitoring customer comments, chats, and tweets.

Consumers aren’t answering the phones, or at least some of them aren’t. They’re tweeting, blogging, and buzzing. But why?

The author points out that the explosive growth of online product and service reviews, Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of consumer-produced media has been taking place at the very same time that obstacles to conventional survey research have been increasing. As consumers rely more and more on cell phones and screening devices such as answering machines and voice mail, they become more difficult to reach by phone. It’s getting harder and harder to “ask.” In stark contrast, consumers willingly extend themselves, going out of their way to seek online vehicles that will let them give voice to their experiences and feelings.

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By: Knowledge at Wharton

Is the manufacturing sector getting more respect?

Although it represents a declining share of the U.S. economy, signs of a manufacturing rebound in the nation and around the world seem to be another indication that the global recession is coming to an end. At the same time, the near-collapse of the U.S. auto industry and last year’s arrival of a Democratic president and legislature in Washington have prompted new thinking about the importance of manufacturing in the current recovery.

According to Wharton management professor, John Paul MacDuffie, while some staunch free-market advocates were willing to let the U.S. auto industry die, the prevailing sentiment in the country favored salvaging this sector and others—in part because manufacturing companies have traditionally provided well-paying jobs directly and indirectly through their many suppliers. Manufacturing is also viewed as an important sponsor of research and development, leading to innovative technologies that can give birth to whole new industries. Some experts believe “that if there were no U.S. car company, we, as an economy and a country, would not be as strong as we need to be,” especially in the wake of the latest crisis, says MacDuffie.

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