Operations Article

Susan Whitehead’s picture

By: Susan Whitehead

It’s a Catch-22 for a manufacturing supervisor: You need to train new hires properly to master the skills for the job, but your own daily job duties can’t wait. Putting time aside to train workers is especially challenging if you’re a small- to medium-sized manufacturer (SMM) with tight, daily deadlines.

“I want to make time for training new employees, but how am I supposed to do that and do my job? How am I supposed to deal with line problems and train someone new at the same time?”

As a process improvement coach with the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, I hear concerns like these all the time from SMM supervisors, who have been forced to train new employees while trying to do their own jobs.

But putting off training is like postponing the oil change on your car even though the sticker in the corner says your odometer is at 55,000 miles, and your oil change was due at 50,000 miles. You can probably put off the oil change and drive a couple hundred more miles, and the car will run just fine. Then it’s another 200 miles, and you think, “OK, I can keep doing this for a while.”

DP Technology’s picture

By: DP Technology

Founded in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2001, Green Tools is a leading manufacturer of cutting tools, providing circular saws and other woodcutting machines for the sawmill, furniture, and woodworking industries throughout Russia.

Green Tools began as a small reseller of woodworking tools produced by German tool-maker AKE. Over time though, the company progressed to manufacturing cutting tools of its own, moving from tool merchant to tool maker. As Kirill Smolin, technical consultant at Green Tools relates, At first we were a distributor of woodworking mills and saws produced at AKE factories in Germany while also providing tool sharpening services. Then we started to make tools ourselves on specialized machines that do not require a CAM [computer-aided manufacturing] system.


An array of cutting tools made by Green Tools

Stephen McCarthy’s picture

By: Stephen McCarthy

In our constantly evolving, data-rich universe, collecting, interpreting, and understanding process data can be tricky. But it is increasingly important if we want to maintain sustainable quality across product development and manufacturing processes. This challenge is particularly evident in the life sciences arena, where pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device manufacturers constantly strive to build quality processes that deliver “fit for purpose” output.

Process data typically come from a collection of diverse sources in varying formats. These data are dynamic, which often means they have a short shelf life. The longer a piece of data sits, the greater chance that it loses relevancy. Data often are also coming from an extremely complex supply chain that may include development or manufacturing partners’ systems and processes.

Jesse Lyn Stoner’s picture

By: Jesse Lyn Stoner

While I was facilitating a retreat for a group of 15 men, all in their late 30s and 40s, all high-level executives and all high achievers, an interesting topic arose. One of the men asked for help dealing with his wife, who was complaining he worked too much. He wanted help in getting her to understand that she was being unreasonable since the reason he was always working was to provide for his family.

He got sympathy from several, but fortunately for him there were a couple of mentally balanced leaders in the group who challenged him. They pointed out that his family needed more from him than to take care of them—that this family needed him to be with them. They told him quite frankly that his marriage was in trouble... and it wasn’t up to his wife to change.

That was 20 years ago. Technology has made this an even bigger challenge today. With the advances in technology, you can always be connected to work, anytime, anywhere—and because you can be available, you are expected to be. Many people are uncomfortable turning off their mobile device even at a social gathering. And how many of us take a vacation without checking email?

Jack Dunigan’s picture

By: Jack Dunigan

It happens easily enough and usually innocently enough. You start a business or organization then endure what is often a long and expensive learning curve. Along the way you learn. You learn a lot. You discover the competencies and incompetencies of those working with you. You learn how to manage cash flow challenges. You learn the ins and outs, the ups and downs of business in the real world.

In a few years, the business or organization begins to prosper. By then your role should change from working in your business to having more time to work on your business.

But too often it doesn’t. The business begins to prosper and could expand to another level, but something seems to be holding it back. (I use the term “business” in a very broad sense. Even nonprofits are enterprises with a mission to accomplish and must function in just about every sense as a business. The only differences are that the excess revenues received are not distributable to anyone except in the form of salaries paid for work performed.)

ZEISS Industrial Quality Solutions’s picture

By: ZEISS Industrial Quality Solutions

Decanter centrifuges from Hiller GmbH, headquartered in Vilsbiburg, Germany, are in demand globally. These centrifuges separate solid and fluid materials, such as in the production of olive oil or wine, or for wastewater treatment. The multiton machines achieve high yields unmatched by competitors, thanks to Hiller’s unwavering commitment to precision. Recently, the company acquired a ZEISS ACCURA to help it deliver on this promise.

Dietmar Heller, Hiller’s plant manager, holds up a small bottle to the light and gently shakes the liquid inside back and forth. It has a golden yellow color with just a hint of green. Any gourmand would identify the substance immediately: olive oil, the best kind, even. A brief taste confirms this: the premium oil has a pronounced olive flavor, but there is no stinging aftertaste. “Extra virgin, extra natural” is written on the bottle, and Heller would swear this is true. He knows the producer of this outstanding olive oil from the south of Spain personally. Moreover, Heller knows a lot about the decanter centrifuge, in which the oil is separated from the solids and water found in the olive paste following the harvest.

Jody Muelaner’s picture

By: Jody Muelaner

In a general sense, capability is the ability to do something. Within manufacturing, capability is given a much more specific definition. It is an expression of the accuracy of a process or equipment, in proportion to the required accuracy.

This can be applied to production processes, in which case any random variation and bias in the process must be significantly smaller than the product tolerance. It can also be applied to measurements, where any uncertainties in the measurement must be significantly smaller than the product tolerance or process variation that is being measured.

Gabriel Hawawini’s picture

By: Gabriel Hawawini

Given the recent, renewed intensification of the shareholder vs. stakeholder debate, the concept of value creation has become more ambiguous. On whose behalf should organizations generate value? For owners, employees, upstream and downstream partners, or local communities immediately affected by organizational activities?

Both shareholders and stakeholders have solid claims. Financial managers are understandably fixated on share price as an index of market value. A stubbornly slumping share price means the loss of real wealth for the firm’s owners, and less ability to attract capital to fund the firm’s activities. Without some form of equity capital, a company cannot survive.

At the same time, the increasingly urgent global war for talent raises the stakes for companies that pursue narrow financial objectives at the expense of employees. Further, customers and civil society groups have a louder voice than in the past, thanks to social media and other online tools enabling the far-flung masses to mobilize quickly and effectively.

Nick Castellina’s picture

By: Nick Castellina

Manufacturers often have a love-hate relationship with technology, particularly artificial intelligence (AI) and other solutions that have the potential to affect jobs. On one side, companies need every tool available to help bolster efficiency and cost-effectiveness. On the other, the workforce fears loss of jobs. Predictions for lights-out factories, run by robots, may even make jobs in manufacturing seem destined for obsolescence, scaring away new recruits.

A more logical view, though, sees advanced technologies as a workforce power tool equipping the enterprise with enhanced insights and speed. Freed from manual, tedious tasks, humans can focus on their unique abilities: innovating, problem-solving, and relating to customers.

Zara Brunner’s picture

By: Zara Brunner

Recently, I got the chance to travel to Youngstown, Ohio. As I came into town, it struck me that Youngstown was like many other cities across America, including my hometown of Buffalo, New York. In its heyday, Youngstown was a center of manufacturing and steel production—industries that employed thousands of people and formed the backbone of the community. However, this area took it particularly hard when the economy changed and traditional factories closed, and it is still fighting to transform. 

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