Bill Briese's blog

In geometry, a plane is defined by three points, not one or two. We have one chair at our kitchen table that can’t decide which three of its legs to use, and it wobbles. The game is to move that chair so that someone else has to sit in it for dinner. Tough crowd at home.

How stable is your organization? I’ve noticed successful and stable companies focus on three categories, not one or two. So, what are they?

  1. Existing Product Line Maintenance. How well do you service your existing customer base? We look at competitors, and some are successful, some not so successful. Some have a great reputation, some not so. What makes us think highly of one company over another? I don’t think anyone would argue great customer service is mandatory. Without mastering this, you’ll never get a repeat order.
  2. Pull. Customers are asking you for certain products that will pull your attention and short term direction. Will your customers pull you too far out of your niche? Sometimes it’s best to say “no” to a potential order.
  3. Push. Do you consider and investigate things that your customer base isn’t asking for or don’t even know they want yet? Ten years ago no one had use for a smart phone app. This is the trickiest and easiest category to drop from your radar. Do you have a good idea of where emerging technologies and products fit into your plans? If you are a start-up company then this item might initially overshadow the other two mentioned above, but before long you will have to adjust and bring all three of these categories into balance.

If your organization increases priority of one or two over the other category, your “chair” will tilt to one direction or the other and become less stable. Get too far out of balance and you might even fall off your chair. Don’t misunderstand; we are all working on more than three things. Just make sure however many activities consume your time that their categories balance, and you have stability.

The author is R&D / Engineering Manager at GED Integrated Solutions.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

Most manufacturers are familiar with or are using lean principles to streamline manufacturing and related processes. While this effort pays dividends reducing direct manufacturing costs, look upstream. Often the new product concept and design processes are not in the lean-loop and by then it is too late to be truly lean. Most new products initially go through a design, prototype, refine, release cycle. Guess what? Most people involved with those new product launch processes are not practicing lean. It is not in their nature to think lean design and attack where there is most to be gained, which is product simplification.

Any component that can be designed out of a product is the ultimate in lean, since that part does not even exist to quantify waste, including supply chain logistics, inventory costs, etc. Believe me, as an engineer I find it easy to fall into this trap. We look at the functional requirement and build up the product around that requirement, not giving much (or at least enough) thought to simplicity. We draw on our past experiences to produce a functional and acceptable product. While that works, we’re not thinking lean.

Today’s technologies offer so much opportunity for part count reduction. The automotive and mobile phone industries demonstrate countless examples of lean product simplification. Fasteners are being replaced by adhesives and integrated snaps. Robotics take the place of clipity-clop mechanical contraptions. Ethernet and fiber-optic networking has reduced giant bundles of cable into a single wire. Have you checked the price of some of these so called high-tech products lately? You might be surprised to find that simple (i.e. lean) has become cost-effective. Is your first thought when looking at a machine “Wow. That looks complicated.”? If something looks complicated, it likely is.

We start thinking about lean principles when the new product hits the manufacturing floor. But every product you make can be designed leaner and simplified. And it’s time for you to simplify it. Then when you’re done simplifying it, repeat the cycle. Master this process and you win.

The author is R&D / Engineering Manager at GED Integrated Solutions.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

A few months ago while watching the Winter Olympics, it occurred to me how incredibly specialized these athletes are. I mean, have you ever tried the ski jump or gone down an icy mountain at 70mph? I wouldn’t dare, but these athletes spend a good portion of their lives developing and refining their specific skill, allowing them to perform at this high level. Just as these athletes train for years, why should we expect success with our workforce without training?

We are seeing a positive trend in building and manufacturing activity from those dark times of a few years ago, and are under pressure to respond. We need to re-tool for higher performing products; to automate; to increase staff; increase productivity; and we might need to remember how to do tasks that we’ve not done for the past several years.

Your manufacturing facility, your installation processes and your offices are filled with technology. Your machinery is an orchestra of movement; that tube of sealant contains some amazing chemistry; that software has tremendous power; and that tool works great…all if used properly. Without doubt, advancing technology is our natural tendency; it’s in our DNA to do things faster and better. However, new technology brings with it complexity and this can be crippling if taken for granted.

That’s right, the key is TRAINING. How do you commission a new piece of equipment? How are new employees trained? Many times existing operators train new ones who are often temporary.  Repeat that cycle a few times and your process is quickly out of control. 

While visiting a manufacturing facility recently I noticed a sign in front of each machine saying, “This Machine Requires a Certified Operator”.  Bravo to that manufacturer!

Does your workforce know how to safely perform their job function? Is there a documented training program that validates and certifies competence, and have funds and time been allocated for this most important process? Your success depends on it.

The author is R&D / Engineering Manager at GED Integrated Solutions.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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