Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson’s default image

By: Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson

The New Yorker magazine featured a cartoon showing a discussion between a salesman and his sales manager. The despondent salesman asked, “I know you’re always telling us to sell the sizzle and not the steak, Mr. Bollinger, but just what is the sizzle of a 90º elbow, flexible-copper fitting?”

Starbucks, Ritz-Carlton,, Lexus, and DisneyWorld have infatuated the marketplace as exemplars of great customer service. Clearly there are principles such organizations have mastered relevant for all enterprises. But, just like our plumbing supply salesman, not every industry is as glamorous as a gourmet coffeehouse, luxury hotel, expensive car, or theme park.

Consider this, you are in charge of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). How would you make the DMV more like a Starbucks and still stay within the state mandated cost controls? How would you make your bank more like a Ritz-Carlton and stay within the razor thin profit margins that characterize today’s financial services industry? As one senior executive said, “No matter how customer-friendly our employees are, our processes are customer-hostile and most are decreed by regulators.”

Larry Carlberg’s picture

By: Larry Carlberg

You have a carefully crafted clay prototype made by a top design artist. Each detail is exquisite and you want to make sure every last one is molded into the finished article. Contact measurement isn't an option, because the piece is too complex and too malleable for touch probes. You need computer-aided design (CAD) data of the entire part so it can be reproduced as soon as possible. How can you quickly and accurately digitize your intricate free-form shape and then fabricate it on a condensed timeline?

One problem all product designers and engineers face is how to manifest their design vision in physical form, and how to do it as time efficiently as possible. While designing products in the many CAD programs available may work for some types of parts, others require a good old-fashioned prototype that can be held, tested, and “tweaked” in the real world before taking on its digital version for today’s computer-driven manufacturing processes.

Steve Arbogast’s picture

By: Steve Arbogast

It can be extremely difficult if not impossible to have an antiquated, document or paper-based quality management system (QMS) work for a company. To possess, build, and support this type of management system burdens the organization.

On the other hand, a QMS that is electronic, linked, or related so that the piece parts can be analyzed when change is required, maintains history from a corrective action management perspective, and is published electronically to the total organization is a management system that adds value on a long-term basis. A QMS must be dynamic, and capable of being analyzed and changed quickly. A real-time managed system stored and managed electronically provides speed and agility to any organization. It permits management to communicate continually so that the quality message is heard regularly, but also delivers procedures, processes, and instructive material to everyone in the organization. Many organizations achieve this by simply converting the paper-based QMS into a set of material typically delivered via the intranet or internet, thus permitting easy access to the information essential to people doing their jobs.

UB Center for Industrial Effectiveness’s default image

By: UB Center for Industrial Effectiveness

Niagara Transformer is a supplier of transformers that meet the most demanding applications. It has a tradition of supplying transformers for unique applications with unusual specifications and requirements. As an industry leader, Niagara Transformer has successfully completed several quality audits for university research laboratories and various government agencies, and can easily comply with MIL specification requirements. Its in-house quality control program consistently meets or exceeds customer requirements.


Niagara Transformer’s engineering group custom designs most of the massive transformers they build. Its 30,000-square-foot facility houses engineering and production functions, as well as corporate headquarters.

Increasingly, the company’s core business has become large transformers (liquid-filled or dry). The company also reconditions transformers that are sent to its facility. In short, space is very tight and, because the site cannot accommodate expansion, more efficient use of space is essential.

William A. Kappele’s default image

By: William A. Kappele

US Synthetic manufactures high quality polycrystalline diamond compacts (PDCs) used in drilling for oil and natural gas. PDCs are manufactured with a sintering process that fuses premium saw-grade industrial diamond crystals under a heat of approximately 3,000 degrees Farenheit and a pressure of about 1 million psi without actually melting them. During the process, the fused diamonds are bonded to a tungsten carbide substrate. These PDC's have been around since the mid-1970s, yet manufacturers continue to experience some common problems, one being table breakage or delamination, the separation of the diamond table from the substrate.

US Synthetic's failure rates have been small and customer satisfaction is high, but some customers have reported failures on small numbers of cutters on drill bits while all of the other cutters remain intact. While this doesn't make the bit useless, it slows down the penetration and leads to an eventual loss of drilling time for costly tool withdrawal and replacement.

Geomagic’s picture

By: Geomagic

Besides the fact that it flies, an airship—better known as a blimp—has about as much in common with other aircraft as a whale has with fellow sea creatures.

Among a blimp’s unique design elements are custom fan blades used to cool its engine. The fan blades were especially problematic for American Blimp Corp., maker of the world’s most popular airship, after its initial suppliers went out of business.

The solution came from Advanced Design Concepts Inc. (ADC), which used Geomagic software to create injection molds based on scans of the original fans. The new process improves quality, cuts manufacturing time, and reduces cost by nearly 10 fold.

Strange beasts in the air

The mechanics of an airship make it nearly as intriguing as its peculiar form. Once inflated, the airship becomes “alive.” An air bladder inside the envelope—called a ballonet—is pressurized by the blast from the engine propellers or by electric fans incorporated into the airbox. The pressure inside the ballonet acts on the helium inside the envelope to maintain the shape. The airbox has various valves that control and regulate the pressure semi-automatically, and manual controls allow the pilot to override the airbox if necessary. 

Bob Bridges Ph.D.’s default image

By: Bob Bridges Ph.D.

Many industries, including the automotive and aerospace industries, must precisely measure the three-dimensional features of large objects. An increasingly popular way to do this is with the laser tracker, a device first introduced in the late 1980s. As its name suggests, the laser tracker measures 3-D coordinates by tracking a laser beam to a retro-reflective target held in contact with the object of interest. 

Some laser trackers can measure object features up close and as far away as 60 meters. Some have typical single point accuracy of about 0.001" (0.025 mm) at distances to several meters. Trackers collect coordinate data at a high speed and require just one operator. They offer improved methods of coordinate measurement and make entirely new manufacturing methods possible. 

Competing coordinate measuring instruments

Today, many instruments can measure coordinates. Each is best suited for certain applications. Traditional fixed coordinate measuring machines (CMM) carry out repeated measurements rapidly and accurately but are immobile, limited in measurement range, and expensive for large applications. They are most popular for inspecting small to medium-sized (under one meter) production components where speed and accuracy are important. 

Ben Marguglio’s picture

By: Ben Marguglio

Human error is behavior that is wholly expected to achieve a desired result (in accordance with some standard) but that does not. A causal factor is anything that yields an occurrence resulting in an undesired effect or anything that exacerbates the level of severity of the undesired effect.

Why is it important to understand human error causal factors? The answer is twofold.

First, a good design (either the design of a process or hardware item) is created, in large part, with an understanding of:

  1. Any potential undesired effects in operating or maintaining the process or in manufacturing, transporting, storing or using the hardware item
  2. The human errors and their causal factors that can activate these undesired effects.

With this understanding, the intent is to design such as to eliminate the potential for the undesired effects, or when that can’t be done, to establish appropriate barriers for the:

  1. Prevention of any error that could activate the undesired effect
  2. Timely detection of the error
  3. Mitigation of the undesired effect.

Of course, the resources applied to any such barriers are appropriate to the level of significance of the undesired effect.

Minitab LLC’s picture

By: Minitab LLC

A $1 billion annual budget may sound ample, but a few years ago, the costs of services ranging from law enforcement to cleaning county buildings had squeezed the government of Erie County, New York, to its limit. Residents faced a painful choice: raise taxes or slash services. But Chris Collins, who has extensive experience using lean Six Sigma to analyze and solve business problems, believed the same methods could save county dollars and enhance local services.

Voters gave him the chance to prove it by electing him to the county’s top position, County Executive,  in 2007. Collins made lean Six Sigma the cornerstone of his administration. Today, Erie County is saving money and delivering services more effectively, thanks to county employees who have dedicated themselves to quality improvement.

Erie County’s first class of Six Sigma trainees used their
knowledge of quality improvement and Minitab Statistical
Software to save taxpayers more than $2 million in 2008.


Joseph A. De Feo and Matthew Pachniuk’s default image

By: Joseph A. De Feo and Matthew Pachniuk

The emergence of green technology and increased environmental awareness has prompted a paradigm shift in the way companies think about the design of their products. Because robust designs mean creating products to meet customer and societal needs, it is important that all enterprises rethink these needs in a broader sense. Efforts to alter conventional design and manufacturing processes to construct more eco-friendly products are already viable and will continue to drive results, not only for the environment but also for an enterprise’s bottom line.

In a majority of cases, the implementation of a "green design" for cleaner, greener production has led to an overall reduction in total costs, improvement in efficiency, and a decrease in costly waste.

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