Operations Article

Robert Sanders’s picture

By: Robert Sanders

The U.S. Department of Defense and more than 80 companies, universities, states, and research institutes will invest at least $275 million during the next seven years to scale up the microbial production of biomolecules. The effort will enable a growing biomanufacturing industry to supply a broad range of businesses with large quantities of chemicals at the low prices necessary to make them competitive with petroleum-based alternatives.

Biomolecules on the market today are mostly drugs or fragrances made by small-batch fermentation in yeast or bacteria, a process much like that of a craft brewery. The goal of the public-private partnership, the Bioindustrial Manufacturing and Design Ecosystem (BioMADE), is to employ the same principles of genetic engineering and engineering biology used in the pharmaceutical industry to produce chemicals other than drugs on a scale similar to that used to ferment corn into ethanol for transportation. The new bioindustrial manufacturing innovation institute was announced on Oct. 20, 2020, by the Department of Defense (DoD).

Amitava Chattopadhyay’s picture

By: Amitava Chattopadhyay

For conventional, profit-seeking companies, moving into social impact carries huge contradictions. An ad hoc, small-scale initiative is an inexpensive way to do a bit of good and receive a nice warm glow in the process. But any attempt to achieve more serious impact through scaling the initiative will likely trigger awkward discussions about how much that warm glow is worth to the firm.

Thus, the ceiling remains low on social impact unless it can be justified in “win-win” terms. Needless to say, this is no easy feat.

Eric Whitley’s picture

By: Eric Whitley

Any company that decides to enter the mattress business is no doubt entranced by one undeniable fact: Everybody needs one.

Those companies that start producing and selling mattresses also quickly run into a harsh fact: Everybody already has one.

Purple saw opportunity. It looked at the positives and the negatives of the mattress business, and decided the only way to succeed was to be better than everyone else. Better innovators, better manufacturers, better fulfillment specialists. Simply put, Purple had to change the game.

So, it did. Purple is a comfort technology company that designs and manufactures products to help people feel and live better through innovative comfort solutions. Purple designs and manufactures a range of comfort technology products, including mattresses, pillows, and seat cushions. Brothers Tony and Terry Pearce, both engineers, founded Purple.

Their quest to design and build the world's best mattress resulted in an incredibly responsive, pliable, strong material called hyper-elastic polymer. They had a game-changing innovation; now, they just had to build it.

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

By: Gleb Tsipursky

Does the phrase “garbage in—garbage out” (GIGO) ring a bell? That’s the idea that if you use flawed, low-quality information to inform your decisions and actions, you’ll end up with a rubbish outcome. Yet despite the popularity of the phrase, we see such bad outcomes informed by poor data all the time.

In one of the worst recent business disasters, two crashes of Boeing’s 737 Max airplane killed 346 people and led to Boeing losing more than $25 billion in market capitalization as well as more than $5 billion in direct revenue. We know from internal Boeing emails that many Boeing employees in production and testing knew about the quality problems with the design of the 737 Max; a number communicated these problems to the senior leadership.

However, as evidenced by the terrible outcome, the data collection and dissemination process at Boeing failed to take in such information effectively. The leadership instead relied on falsely optimistic evidence of the safety of the 737 Max in their rush to compete with the Airbus A320 model, which was increasingly outcompeting Boeing’s offerings.

Steve McCarthy’s picture

By: Steve McCarthy

The ideal of proactive quality has been the holy grail of chief quality officers in the life sciences industry for at least five years, but few, if any, have realized the vision. Industry has since set out a clear definition of the milestones a medical product manufacturer would need to meet in order to achieve proactive quality as a differentiator. Many of those are cultural, but the majority require quality technology and innovation to reach the disruptive levels they have today.

Quality 4.0 is defined as the application of Industry 4.0’s advanced digital technologies to enhance traditional best practices in quality management. With the advent of such innovations as AI and IoT in the quality management ecosystem, the promise of proactive quality is finally a reality. Today the industry faces unprecedented challenges but also opportunities to serve patients like never before; both require innovation in business and product as well as in how companies approach quality.

This article highlights just one of these key challenges and opportunities: the increasing complexity and diversity of the supply chain itself. It emphasizes the reasons why recognizing and embracing bimodality is so vitally important, and how quality technology is a critical enabler for life sciences companies under these unique pressures.

Craig Tomita’s picture

By: Craig Tomita

One of the most significant developments of potential interest to small and medium-sized manufacturers in the area of industrial robots is the introduction about 10 years or so ago of a subset of industrial robots called collaborative robots or “cobots.”

What makes them different from standard industrial robots is that cobots are specifically designed to be safely used around people. Why is this significant? Well, industrial robots, as high-tech as they might appear, are actually dumb. They will move to the place and at the speed that they have been programmed to achieve, but if a person happens to get in the way on the way to their destination, look out! Because standard industrial robots are designed for high speed, and they run off of high voltage (typically 220V AC) , they can be dangerous. Think of the last time that you saw the image of an industrial robot in an actual manufacturing setting. Why do you think they are normally situated in cages or behind guarding?

Victor Piedrafita’s picture

By: Victor Piedrafita

During the last decade, we’ve witnessed the emergence of sustainability issues among the most important business concerns in a firm’s supply chain. An increasing number of firms have reexamined their relations with suppliers and moved forward to build a more sustainable supply network, by not only monitoring their suppliers’ compliance, but also fostering their capabilities to properly address various environmental and social challenges.

FIBS, a Finnish organization that fosters sustainability, states as one of the key results of its Corporate Responsibility Survey 2017 Summary that sustainable and responsible supply chains have become strategic goals for Finnish companies. However, implementing this remains a challenging issue, as does the need for resources, systematic training, and learning from the best practices developed by others.

What is ‘sustainability?’

The most extended and accepted definition of sustainability was put forward in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development. According to the commission, sustainability is ‘‘a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’’

Sue Via’s picture

By: Sue Via

Research has shown that during economic uncertainty, companies that find a balance between reducing resources to survive and investing in key areas for growth will fare better through the recession and beyond. It’s a nuanced approach to playing offense and defense at the same time.

But many small and medium-sized manufacturers that have been significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic find themselves with what seem to be few options. They have reduced resources to the point that they have no time for anything beyond operations. When they do have time, it’s from a decrease in business, which means they do not have money to invest.

As a result, they may have become risk-averse, hesitant to upgrade machinery, or hire before business returns. But opportunity involves risk. Hunkering down to wait out economic uncertainty is typically not a path for future stability, growth, or even change.

A key for getting out of risk-aversion mode is creating a culture that encourages ideas and is willing to question if there might be a better way to do something. Continuous improvement starts with a mindset. But it also depends on a methodology or systems so that activities become part of routines and are measured and reviewed.

Multiple Authors
By: Erik Fogelman, Jeff Orszak

With the increasing power of digital technology, the idea of a connected manufacturing system that can sense, analyze, and respond will soon be a reality. This idea—called “intelligent edge”—combines computing power, data analytics, and advanced connectivity to allow responses to be made much closer to where the data are captured. It takes emerging internet of things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 capabilities to the next level.

Cybersecurity plays a complex role in this vision. On one hand, technological advances can lead to improved cybersecurity capabilities. On the other hand, when built without a consideration for privacy, data integrity, or network resilience, such technological advances can instead increase cyber risks dramatically.

The capabilities that enable the intelligent edge include artificial intelligence (AI), computing hardware, networking capabilities, and standard protocols. Advances in these capabilities have converged to help tie together components that accelerate the realization of Industry 4.0. Here are the key components that enable new ways of working, new products and services, and new value creation.

John Keogh’s picture

By: John Keogh

Almost all businesses involved in the food supply chain have experienced effects ranging from a mild shock to severe disruptions during the Covid-19 pandemic, and further disruptions may be ahead this winter.

Yet not all organizations have learned critical lessons, and history shows us some companies are destined to remain unprepared for the next wave.

Many companies have taken decisive action to survive the pandemic and enhance their supply chain resilience. In doing so, they are protecting their interests and those of their business customers or consumers. We believe that successful firms are taking what’s known as a systems thinking approach to enhance food supply-chain resilience.

In the systems engineering world, systems represent the interconnected complexity of ecosystems that are connected both internally and externally.

For example, a food production business is connected to numerous ecosystems internally and to those of its suppliers, business partners, and customers.

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