Friday, February 28, 2014

Tackling Business Pain Points

Business pains, much like pain from injuries, are not unusual. However, the cause and the cure to those pains can vary greatly. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to problems.

A Business Pain is defined as a problem or need a business or company aims to solve. For an entrepreneur, this can be the motivation behind a new product or service. For an established company, this can be fuel for new product development or the focus of an internal process improvement.

We hear regularly from companies with untreated business pains. Sometimes a company knows exactly what’s wrong, but cannot slow down or stop the line in order to tackle the issue. Other times, it’s not the pain, but identifying the root cause, that is an issue.


Some common pains we hear from companies include: 
  • "We struggle to meet customer demands”
  • “High operating costs are eating our profit margins”
  • “our scrap and rework is increasing and limiting our production”
  • “we’re growing so quickly we’re running out of floor space”
  • “We’re already at capacity so don’t have time to follow up on all the leads we’re getting” 

Not all ‘pains’ are bad, but ignoring or postponing a response can be more costly than addressing the need in a timely manner.
  • Case study one: a popular pickle manufacturer faced enormous pressure on production scheduling to produce enough product to meet customer demand. MMTC was able, as an outside observer, assess the production line, and propose a rapid improvement event on-site over 4 days, with the intent to increase production by 25%. The result, a process innovation that led to a 50% increase in production, as well as reduced first piece lead time. The company even added jobs.
  • Case study two: a local dried fruit provider was facing a scrap and reject issue due to unique weather patterns that negatively affected its products. MMTC trained staff and, through Statistical Process Control, was able to quickly determine the root cause of the rejects. A new process was established that help identify and correct issues before the products made it to final packaging. The result, improved quality that retained its multi-million dollar customer, helped increase sales, and improved communication through the supply chain. The company even added jobs.
  • Case study three: a family owned and operated business in northern Michigan wanted to expand its market. Its location was considered a barrier and the company wanted to grow its business. MMTC provided concepts and tools, including a new website, which helped increase traffic to the site and in turn, to the business. The result, a new website, increase in annual sales by 10%, and increase foot and web traffic, oh, and the company doubled its employment.

This is what drives us. We want to do what we can to alleviate the pains stressing out manufacturers today so that those same manufactures can focus efforts on what they do best . . . making great products, delivering exceptional quality, and exceeding customer expectations - on time, every time.

Hey, if it results in more people with jobs, that’s okay too.


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



Friday, February 21, 2014

Why the Talent Shortage in U.S. Manufacturing is Happening


Manufacturing jobs in the United States have changed dramatically over the past decade, requiring employees with higher, more technologically advanced skills. An unfortunate side-effect is that these improvements in the manufacturing world have led to a shortage of qualified employees throughout the country. In fact, a recent report by the Manufacturing Institute reveals that as many as 600,000 manufacturing job openings in the United States remain vacant.

Job Perception

One reason that manufacturing openings are going unfilled is that many job seekers have the wrong perception of the industry. People often think of manufacturing jobs as dark, dirty and low-paying positions. However, with today’s technology, many manufacturing companies offer clean, healthy environments for high-skilled workers. Today, most manufacturing jobs require employees to manage sophisticated equipment, and the salaries offered to these workers reflect the expertise necessary to do so. In some industries, experienced technicians earn between $50,000 and $100,000 per year.

Aging Workforce

Almost 80 percent of manufacturing jobs are held by people between the ages of 45 and 65, according to a report by ThomasNet.com. As many as one-third of them are planning to retire in the next few years. Many experts believe this will cause a major problem for manufacturing companies. As noted above, the younger generation rarely considers manufacturing jobs as a career, or thinks that working in the industry is only for people with few skills. Therefore, it is critical that the manufacturing industry change the perception of manufacturing jobs in order to build the pipeline of future workers.

Lack of Interest in Manufacturing as a Career Choice

The problem may go deeper than simply a manufacturing perception problem. Young people have fewer role models in manufacturing, long considered manual labor. Most schools do not portray manufacturing as a viable career choice, focusing more on preparing students for college than for a trade. This despite numerous changes occurring in manufacturing including 3-D printing and other additive manufacturing concepts, advanced manufacturing, robotics and other innovations that are incorporating the concepts of ‘on-demand’ to the design and development of new products. In conjunction with MEP, MMTC and other organizations participate in the annual Manufacturing Day in October that highlights these and other fascinating changes taking place in manufacturing. 

 Addressing the Problem

There are people and organizations taking steps to dispel the myths about manufacturing jobs. Some are stepping up recruiting efforts by offering apprenticeships or internships to high school and college students. Some are focusing on community colleges and technical schools in an effort to obtain the qualified workers they need for the sophisticated equipment used on the line. In addition, manufacturing companies have begun promoting the fact that employment in manufacturing is not limited to the factory floor. The ThomasNet report claims that many jobs in the industry are in sales and production management.

There is no question that there is a shortage of skilled, qualified employees for today’s manufacturing jobs. The answer lies in better promotion of the industry at the high school and college level, as well as in changing the perception that manufacturing jobs are undesirable.

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

Friday, February 14, 2014

Operational Excellence and Food Processing? Absolutely and Here’s Why . . .


If you did a Google search for Operational Excellence (OE), results would include over 10 million website hits, not including images and book reviews. Sometimes referred to as ‘world-class manufacturing’, the concept has been around for decades, and relates to well-run organizations of every type. And it’s no stranger to manufacturing. We've highlighted a few below:


  1. In a recent interview from Manufacturing.net, Mark Davidson of LNS Research, defined Operational Excellence (OE) as a continuous improvement journey. This can be slightly different for each company, but always involves strategies, goals, and objectives, often defined by industry.
  2. In another article, contributor Kevin Duggan offered 8 Operational Excellence Principles to Grow your Business. His primary emphasis was on lean value streams, and the corresponding standard work and visual flow that spring from that.
  3. In a January 2014 article, Naples News offered Seven Secrets to Operational Excellence, which took a higher level view of OE and emphasized business culture and metrics among the keys to a successful OE journey.
  4. An Automation World article from 2010 titled, Enabling Manufacturing Operational Excellence, offered a unique twist to the issue by highlighting the IT role in the OE process. A key component is the traceability and genealogy of all products and components. To quote, Compliance and governance represent a key dimension of operating excellence. The requirements of agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and others encourage excellent operation, while placing additional data gathering and reporting requirements on manufacturers. 
Is this starting to sound familiar?

World Class or Operational Excellence in manufacturing is a goal that many companies strive toward and, as noted, is a never-ending continuous journey to reach an ever elusive destination.

We often hear from food processors that manufacturing concepts don’t apply because the products or processes are so different. However, what we’ve often found is that the opposite is true.

While it’s true that the same internet search linking Operational Excellence and food processing or food industry, yields notably fewer websites (Google’s search engine registers just under 4 million). It’s also true that the concept is out there and gaining momentum.

With the recent update to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and regulation by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), it’s only going to grow.

If you’ve ever felt the pain of not meeting customer demand, been unable to quickly switch from one product to another, experienced excessive stoppage due to faulty equipment, suffered high utility costs, or endured large waste removal fees, then you might benefit from MMTC’s Operational Excellence in Food Processing, designed specifically with you in mind. The next journey starts on March 6th.  Then, perhaps the next time someone performs an internet search on “Excellence in Food Processing,” your company name will be at the top of the list. 

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

Friday, February 7, 2014

Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Manufacturing: Why It’s Important


There was an interesting article in Bloomberg Businessweek on Tuesday, this week called, “International Paper Recruits Women in War for U.S. Talent.” In the article, International Paper CEO, John Faraci, discussed an important company goal. He wants his payroll to more closely reflect the U.S. population, specifically when it comes to gender. Women accommodate approximately 51% of the population, but only 23% of his organization.

The Current Situation

International Paper isn’t alone. The article goes on to highlight some startling facts about women in the manufacturing field.

Women in manufacturing
A report by the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress states that “more than two-thirds of the more than 12 million people employed in manufacturing are male.” Furthermore, “…women’s share of manufacturing employment is the lowest since 1971. They account for 17 percent of board seats, 12 percent of executive officers and six percent of chief executives.” The Manufacturing Institute says that “while approximately 50% of the labor force is female, that number is only about 24% in the manufacturing labor force.” Michigan employment is consistent with the national numbers, with recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates revealing that in 2012, women make up 24.5% of the over 618,000 manufacturing workers currently employed.

There are outliers in the field. Mary Barra, Marilyn Hewson, Linda Massman, and Ursula Burns are noted for running General Motors, Lockheed Martin, Clearwater Paper Corp. and Xerox, respectively. However, the numbers are clearly skewed. How did this happen? Why is it like this?

Workforce diversity is a much-discussed topic across numerous sectors and many studies have been conducted to prove its importance. In a Forbes study of large global companies, “85 percent agreed or strongly agreed that diversity is crucial to fostering innovation in the workplace.” Companies that foster workplace diversity are also said to experience lower turnover rates. (Of course, diversity isn’t just limited to gender.)

Typically, people focus on benefits such as creativity and communication when it comes to diversity. Workers from different backgrounds bring different perspectives. They collectively yield the best solutions.

Moving Forward

Here’s what’s notable about the Bloomberg article though – when articles tackle gender in the workplace, they tend to discuss things in terms of “men vs. women.” Studies and articles will dive into evaluating stereotypical communication habits of men and women, assessing discrimination in the workplace, or how men and women work differently. These topics are all important and worth looking into, but that’s not the point of this article. 

Faraci focuses on the numbers. He recognizes and experiences the talent shortage in our field. His company will be looking to replace more than 50 percent of its plant operators and mechanics in the next decade. And with fewer women currently in the field, he notices an untapped resource of possible workers. As he simply puts it, “It’s a war for talent. If we only compete for half the people that are on the planet, how are we going to get the best? You want to compete for everybody.”

Key Takeaway

It’s not about replacing men with women, and it’s not about hiring an unqualified woman over a qualified man just so we can inflate the numbers. We need to address the talent shortage in our field and we need to attract the next generation of manufacturers. Looking at the numbers, we can see we have a talent gap. Looking at the numbers, we can also see there’s a lack of women in our field. The bottom line: we need to attract the most qualified people, men and women, into U.S. manufacturing careers!

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