Friday, November 17, 2017

Apprenticeships Today, Skilled Workers . . . Today?

By: Rebekah McCarter

Apprenticeship is the new buzzword in today’s skills gap conversation as manufacturers face a growing shortage of qualified workers. Jobs for the Future (JFF), a national non-profit, recently hosted an event in Washington, D.C. as a kick-off to National Apprenticeship Week (November 13-17), and announced the launch of a new Center for Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning, supported in part by a $3 million grant from Walmart.

Companies who visit the website can view a variety of resources filtered by industry, program structure, program elements, population and demographics and a variety of other filters. The resources themselves consist of case studies, reports, other websites and organizations, toolkits and blogs.

Michigan has been active in creating programs and opportunities to introduce young people and unemployed individuals to the vast and evolving opportunities in manufacturing. One such program, the Michigan Advanced Technician Training Program (MAT2), is a partnership between educators and technology leaders that seeks to train workers in the manufacturing and technology industries. Students are taught to combine theory, practice and work to gain a more comprehensive approach to their jobs. It functions like an apprenticeship program as students alternate between classroom instruction and on-the-job training. MAT2 is a three-year program and features training in 3-D modeling, computer simulation and software development. Students receive a wage from participating employers while in the program, then commit to staying on the job for at least two years after program completion.

Applications are currently open for the 2018 fall program. Kalamazoo Valley Community College will offer CNC technician training, while Baker College-Cadillac, Henry Ford College and Oakland Community College will offer both Mechatronics and CNC technician training.

For more information on Pure Michigan Talent Connect, job offerings, skilled trades, apprenticeship and other on-the-job training opportunities, click here.

To put these apprenticeship programs into perspective, here are some relevant statistics from the Department of Labor:

  • There are more than 545,000 apprentices nationwide in more than 1,000 occupations, with more than 14,000 active apprentices in Michigan.
  • Nearly 9 out of 10 apprentices are employed after completing their apprenticeship, with an average starting salary of $60,000 annually.
  • Workers who complete apprenticeship programs earn $300,000 more over a career than their peers who don’t.
  • For every dollar spent on apprenticeship, employers get an estimated $1.50 return on investment (ROI).

The importance and impact of apprenticeship programs is clear as they seek to address the increasing skills gap that has emerged in the manufacturing industry. As more attention is given to this problem, and more programs are established such as the ones highlighted during National Apprenticeship Week, this skills gap might soon be filled with educated and trained young workers to take the manufacturing industry into the future.

Rebekah McCarter
Market Research Associate

Rebekah has worked with The Center for over 19 years as head cheerleader and advocate on behalf of Michigan’s manufacturing community. As a Market Research Associate, she prepares custom market research reports, detailing trends by target industries. Those trends include market leaders, market size, geographic analysis and any regulatory issues that might impact a company seeking to enter the market. She also has an interest in the future of manufacturing, as she enjoys researching current and upcoming trends, events and challenges facing the industry.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed 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

Friday, November 10, 2017

A Safe Approach to Buying Used Machinery

By: Roger Tomlinson

Manufacturers couldn’t exist without machinery, and keeping that machinery functioning and up-to-date is essential to productivity and success. While that sounds simple in theory, buying new
machinery can be extremely pricey in reality. Fortunately, there is an alternative option that some manufacturers opt for: buying used machinery. Much like buying anything that is used, used machinery is often written off as being too big of a risk. However, used products have proven themselves in the past to be just as good as new products, if you don’t mind the presence of a few dings and scratches. That being said, there is a way to go about purchasing used machinery that minimizes the risk of unintentionally acquiring a faulty machine.

It is important to note that there is no correct way to buy used machinery, whether it be through online or in-person auctions, online retail sites, or in-person sales or trades.  This process should be handled with care and smart decision-making to avoid spending more money on a used product than you would have on a new product.

Do Your Research
After deciding which piece of machinery your facility needs, take the time to find a few different options of models and sellers from which to buy. Note the prices of the machinery, both new and used, to ensure that the price difference is worth buying used. Furthermore, keep in mind that the price of used machinery will vary depending on its condition. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. You’re looking to save money, but purchasing the cheapest option may lead to endless bills in the future put toward fixing a faulty used machine. Always remember to investigate the individual or place that is selling the machinery as well. It’s best to inspect the machinery in person first if possible (especially when buying from an individual), but if you’re purchasing online, be sure to buy from a reputable seller.

Ask the Right Questions
It does not matter if you are buying from a used machinery company, individual seller, or broker – it is essential that you do your research. Ask your contact directly about the history of the equipment. If they are reluctant to answer, this may be a warning sign. Remember to also request references if you are buying from a used equipment company or broker to ensure credibility.

Unfortunately, purchasing products online has made it more common for customers to be easily deceived. Pictures can prove to be misleading or even fake. This can result in the customer being left with a product that is in much worse condition than they were promised, or even an entirely different product than expected. Avoid these disasters by creating a list of questions to ask the seller that will reveal details about the machinery you are considering, such as:

  • How many previous owners did the equipment have?
  • Why is the current owner looking to sell it?
  • Can they offer their personal knowledge of the machinery’s specific working capabilities?
  • Can they provide a preventative and breakdown maintenance log for the machine?
  • How long has the machinery been stored at its current location, and is it stored in a warehouse?
  • What is the age of the machinery, and has it been reconditioned?  If yes, when?
  • Will mechanics and electricians test-run the machinery before shipment? Will they provide any guarantee that the machine is in good working order before it is shipped?
  • How has the company dealt with problems in machines they have sold in the past?  
  • What is their return policy?
  • Will you receive timely assistance if a machine should have mechanical or electrical issues once in production?

Try Before You Buy
Review the machinery under power before purchasing it. This is a foolproof way to discover if the machinery is in good shape. Although this may not always be possible depending on the situation, be sure to take advantage of an opportunity like this if it arises!

After understanding the condition of the machinery, it is fair of you, as the buyer, to suggest a price that you think is reasonable. If you feel that the price of the used machinery is too high, don’t be discouraged to suggest a lower price – the worst that can happen is the seller says “No”! The whole point of buying used machinery is to save money, so it is worth trying to negotiate the price down.

Although purchasing used machinery may seem to be a daunting task, it can save a considerable amount of money. As long as buyers take their time when considering which used products to pursue, and precautions are taken every step of the way, there should be minimal issues throughout the process. Look for deals and reputable sellers so you can supply your facility with great machinery while saving a big chunk of change!

Roger Tomlinson
Lean Program Manager

Roger Tomlinson has been a Program Manager in The Center’s Lean Business Solutions program for 18 years. He has trained and mentored hundreds of Michigan manufacturers in the entire portfolio of Lean strategies and methods (e.g., Kaizen events, Standardized Work, 5S/Workplace Organization, Value Stream Mapping, Total Productive Maintenance, Culture Change, Team Building, operations management and process re-engineering). He is also involved in Transactional Lean Office, which identifies and eliminates waste in the office areas in a company.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed 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

Friday, November 3, 2017

Quality Manuals – QMS “Quick-start” Guide?

By: Andy Nichols

One of the first things that comes to mind when describing Quality Management Systems and “ISO
9000” is documentation, which often includes a Quality Manual. The background to Quality Management Systems started with big procurement organizations such as government agencies and Fortune 500 companies making Quality Systems a contractual requirement. Frequently, these requirements included the need for a document, often referred to as a “Quality Manual,” a “Quality Plan” or similar. These were used by a supplier to describe the approach prescribed to fulfill the contract requirements and assure the quality of the deliverables.

Today, a hallmark of ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems documentation is a Quality Manual, and documents of this type have been a requirement of the International Standard since 1987. Manuals produced by many organizations emulate the format and content of the ISO 9001:2008 clauses (4 through 8) to the extent that the words “The organization shall” have simply been replaced by the name of the company! This often leads to documents that run onto 25 or more pages, written in cryptic terminology which has little relevance to the business of the organization. The result? People rarely read the document, and it’s often only rubber stamped by auditors before gathering dust on an office shelf somewhere…

Amazingly, the 2015 edition of ISO 9001 dropped the requirement for a quality manual along with any type of traditional quality documentation. This included procedures, work instructions, etc., leaving it up to the organization itself to determine what it needs based on understanding customers, regulatory expectations, and its own requirements for documenting.

Based on their experience with Quality Manuals, it might be tempting to an organization to discard theirs as, after all, it only sees the light of day when the Registrar auditor is on site – and no-one else reads it.

But wait! Before that proverbial baby is discarded with the bath water, why is it that no-one reads the Quality Manual? Maybe it’s because it’s not helpful, uses arcane language, and is formatted on an ISO document which no one has reason to read!

There’s a better model on which we can base our Quality Manual which might bring some help to users: The “Quick-Start Guide” you get with some items of household electrical equipment, for example, is a clue. These guides cover the basics of what the new user needs to know in order to get “up and running.” For more detailed descriptions, including navigating the complete set of functions, features, and fault finding, reference can be made to the more comprehensive manual which is also included.

Will your upgrade to the 2015 ISO 9001 requirements be heralded by a new, useful Quality Manual “Quick Guide to the Quality System”? You decide. If you’d like to learn more about the format and content of such a document, contact our Quality Team at

Andy Nichols
Quality Program Manager

Andy has 40 years of expertise in a wide variety of roles and industries, with a focus on quality management systems in manufacturing organizations. In addition to his ISO 9000 Management Systems experience, he has worked extensively with ISO/TS16949, ISO/IEC 17024 and ISO/IEC 17025. His broad practical knowledge of ‘Quality Tools’ includes: SPC, FMEA, Quality Circles, Problem Solving, Internal Auditing and Process Mapping. He has also been an IRCA and RABQSA accredited Lead Auditor. To read Andy's full bio, visit click here.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed 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