Friday, March 28, 2014

Five Things I’ve Learned from Michigan Manufacturers

As a training and consulting organization, our staff interacts with a lot of Michigan businesses of all types and sizes. Either we’ll send our people out to the plant floor to conduct some hands on training or manufacturers send their people to us, for simulations, working groups, and interactive learning in our Real Factory . . . but when we’re together, we’re often working toward a goal or implementing an improvement project so we don’t get the whole story.

Thankfully, there are times when we host a tour or invite guests in to hear the whole story. And gratefully, I’ve been able to participate in quite a few. As an avid reader, I love a good story. As a manufacturing specialist, I love manufacturing success stories, especially when they’re from our clients.

This week we opened our doors to some very special guests. Bill Henderson was here from Aircraft Precision Products, Patricia Yulkowski came down from Total Door, and Ed Terris popped in from Peckham. They came to share their stories, and what great stories they shared. Allow me to make a brief shout out to our February guests, Kurt Hochrein from Dexter Research, Erick Stewart of Stewart Industries, and Bryan Domschot from Tec-Option.

Now, on to lessons learned. 
  1. Just because something doesn’t work the way you expect it to, is not a guarantee that it doesn’t work at all. One of our panelists talked about a product modification for a client. In the process of trying to address the need, an idea was born that, while not addressing the need directly, has led to a new, direct to consumer, product launch, its first of many.
  2. Be certain you really are working toward the same goal, before you launch an initiative. Another panelist, was quick to reference MMTC as a partner on their improvement journey. As an objective observer, with a depth and breadth of knowledge about manufacturing processes, MMTC can definitely help. However, the lessons is this - each one of those partnerships worked because the company’s team was in agreement on what they wanted to accomplish. If you need to make a change in your facility but can’t get your people on the same page – it won’t matter how good your solution is, or how tried and true your improvement, or even how great your partner is, chances are it won’t be sustainable.
  3. Change, for the sake of change, is doomed to fail, but so is not doing anything at all. Improvement projects sometimes take on a ‘flavor of the month’ feel and can be met by skepticism. You can’t make a process change without spending a little something, whether it’s time or money, and there’s a limit to both. If you say yes to one thing, you have to say no to another. Common sense, right? So, if it makes good business sense to do something, then it makes good sense, period! Organizing your plant floor into work cells, tracking work in process (WIP) to visually see where process bottlenecks exist, these are things that can make sense if implemented, but you’ll never get that opportunity, if you don’t try.
  4. Finding the right partner can make all the difference. One of our panelists shared its market struggles and the need to completely recreate its business model, from upgrading equipment to revamping the plant layout and rewriting process steps. This company contracted with MMTC for the layout and process improvements, but they also worked with other great and knowledgeable partners about machine upgrades, new technologies, and construction expertise. All these partners, working together and sharing information, helped to make the move to the new facility a virtually pain free experience.
  5. Implementing a business solution does not guarantee you the same results as the company next door, but it does guarantee you results. Every company thinks its process, product, or industry niche makes them unique and special. And while this may be true, it’s also true that process improvements apply to every business, no matter how special. While we can't say that improvements will be the same from shop to shop or even from work cell to work cell, one thing that is assured, there WILL be positive impact. It’s hard not to see bottom line improvements or increased throughput when people are recognized for their achievements. When everyone is working together to make things better, employees catch the enthusiasm and excitement from each other. Each positive outcome creates more opportunity for improvement.
For more on these and other great Michigan companies, check our success stories or our Proud to Manufacture in Michigan pages, highlighting manufacturers and our friends around the state.

We’re scheduled to do this again with different customers but similar great stories, on May 1st.  The focus is on employee engagement. Come learn with me. I hope to see you there.


Since 1991, MMTC has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses compete and grow. Through personalized services fitted to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.mmtc.org.

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