Friday, December 22, 2017

Happy Holidays from everyone at the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center. 
We hope your holidays will be filled with joy and laughter through the New Year.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Industry 4.0 on a Budget

Small Manufacturers Need Technology Too

By: Chuck Werner

One advantage of my current role, which I did not get to experience while working full-time in manufacturing, is getting to take part in conferences for the new tools, technologies and techniques being used in the industry.  As a result, I have witnessed many presentations from suppliers of Industry 4.0 products and processes, as well as heard from companies that have taken various steps to implement smart factories, Internet of Things, robotics and so on.

From the supplier side, these presentations typically go a little like this: “Hi, I’m [name] from [company]. We produce [technology/service] for Industry 4.0. We mostly supply to Automotive Manufacturers or Ginormous Tier I suppliers. Our product/service is not only amazing and revolutionary, but also highly expensive, and something that would be an enormous investment for you to make. Thank you very much.”

When manufacturers speak, the gist is: “Hello, I’m [name] from [company]. I’m here to share our amazing transformational journey into Industry 4.0 with you. While the technology/service that we acquired was highly expensive and an enormous investment, it is amazing and revolutionary. Fortunately, we had these bags of money available, so we went ahead with the implementation using our department’s wealth of resources and experts available to us.”

Although this may not be verbatim, to the small and medium-sized manufacturers in the room, it may as well be. During these presentations I have watched them literally wilt as they hear of the huge demand for resources, expertise and investment. Most get discouraged by this and begin to think that perhaps the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not for them. Given the incredible benefits of employing Industry 4.0 tools and methodologies, this is a mistake. While implementing anything new in a small to medium business provides challenges and requires some rather specific activities, it is not impossible to accomplish.

Fourth Industrial Revolution Evolution
With the increased pace of technological advancements, it’s been suggested that the age of “revolution” is over, and we are now entering an almost continuous state of “evolution” in manufacturing. This evolution brings with it discoveries in artificial intelligence that will create step-changes in both the design and implementation processes, as well as technologies in modeling and additive manufacturing that will reduce time to prototype and, by extension, time to market. As larger companies begin to implement these changes, learning and continuous improvements will take place. These improvements will include both application and cost.

In America, 99.7% of manufacturers fall into the bucket of small to medium-sized. The suppliers of 4.0 technologies and services are aware of this fact. Although we mostly only see bigger companies incorporating Industry 4.0 into their facilities, there are a number of companies supplying more affordable options for sensors using Bluetooth technology, cloud-based inventory and predictive maintenance, and automated solutions for manufacturing, inspection and data collection. As the price point for implementation drops, opportunities arise for small to medium enterprises to get a taste of what Industry 4.0 has to offer.

How to Approach Industry 4.0
Even if a company is not ready to take the plunge into Industry 4.0, there is no time like the present to test the waters. The following is a list of actions that small to medium-sized manufacturers can take to begin capitalizing on the processes and capabilities available:

  1. Understand the Needs of the Business (aka Voice of Business). No company of any size should invest capital or resources until they are sure that the investment will align with their needs. It is critical for a company to understand their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and be able to tie performance to financial results to track their Return on Investment (ROI). For example, will the increased capacity from reducing downtime pay for sensors or condition-based maintenance? Figuring this out could help identify the funding required for further improvements. This is a process that has been well defined and used for more than 30 years. If needed, there are resources (such as The Center) that can help you through this.
  2. Become Educated on the Opportunities Available. Once the organization identifies areas of opportunity, they also will want to identify which technologies or processes are available. There are many groups building 4.0 environments where hands-on experience can be gained, along with conferences and networking groups that bring suppliers and customers together. Not only does this educate the company on what is available, but it provides invaluable information to suppliers on what still needs to be developed. 
  3. Create the Vision. With the Voice of Business (VOB), awareness of 4.0 opportunities, and a decent idea of future products and services all in place, the leadership team can then envision the perfect future state for the company. It’s important that the champion tasked with creating the vision has a fair level of subject matter expertise. Many smaller businesses do not have a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or Chief Intelligence Officer (CIO) available to them, so it may be necessary to seek outside support both here and in the following step. 
  4. Build the Blueprint. Creating an implementation roadmap to achieve the future state is next. The order of implementation will be driven by the needs of the business matched with the ROI, availability and suitability of the products and processes required. It is possible that the initial steps will be preparatory. If a company wishes to use the Cloud for data storage or integrated manufacturing to connect with their suppliers and customers, they will need to consider whether the implementation of cybersecurity is needed prior to beginning that work (Hint: the answer here is yes). 
  5. Start Small. Choosing to implement 4.0 technologies in stages makes perfect sense for small to medium-sized businesses, particularly if the savings of the initial endeavors will be used to fund the next ones. As each success adds to the bottom line, the struggle to identify funds or resources for the next opportunity is simplified. The most important benefit of this approach, however, is the importance of building momentum, as with any continuous improvement effort. 
  6. Build on Success/Gain Buy In. The greatest advantage of starting small and focusing on one business need at a time is summed up nicely with the phrase, “Nothing succeeds like success.”  As mentioned previously, the practice of identifying and implementing process improvements to drive better results in a business is hardly new. Of course, the belief that each new initiative is simply the “flavor of the month” isn’t new either. If a company wants its team to embrace change, it must be able to demonstrate the benefit of the change while mitigating the fear of the unknown. This can be accomplished with incremental changes, as they are easier to communicate, measure and control.

They Who Hesitate Are Lost
Taking the time to determine the Voice of Business, research the opportunities available and establish an implementation plan is imperative for a company to accomplish as they set forth into the world of Industry 4.0. The leadership team must realize that while they may not choose to adopt these step-change processes and services, their competitors will most likely make a different decision. It doesn’t matter if the organization approaches it with the swiftness of the hare or the precision of the turtle; either way, it’s wise to get going.

Chuck Werner
Lean Program Manager

Chuck has been a Lean Program Manager at The Center since 2016. His areas of expertise are in Lean, Six Sigma and Quality. Chuck has devoted many years to practicing Six Sigma methods, ultimately earning a Six Sigma Master Black Belt in 2011. He is passionate about helping small and medium-sized manufacturers become more prosperous using a variety of tools and methods gathered from over 27 years of experience. Additionally, Chuck is a certified ISO/QS9000 Lead Assessor, Training Within Industry (TWI) Master Trainer and is certified in OSHA Compliance and Accident Reduction.

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, December 8, 2017

Yearly Planning and Goal-Setting- It’s Not Just for Bigger Organizations

By: Dave Nelson

Years ago in my career, I was the president of a small custom fabricating/molding company. If you had asked me back then about my yearly plans and goals, I would have rattled off reason after reason for why that type of planning doesn’t work for a small company.

In hindsight, what I once believed to be legitimate reasons for not using those strategies were actually poor excuses. Upon further reflection, you may find you are in the same boat as I was. Below are my past “go-to” excuses for avoiding goal-setting, along with my current words of wisdom that challenge those excuses. Does anything sound familiar?

  • We are too small for it to matter.
    • The size of the company is irrelevant. Any business can achieve positive impacts from achieving a set goal.
  • We don’t have time to plan.
    • The time used to plan for your company’s future is worth the rewards it could bring on. If you could save $50,000 by investing two days of your time, why wouldn’t you?
  • I know where I want to go, I don’t need to plan anything out.
    • Having goals in mind is a step in the right direction, but your team should be included in the plans as well. Goals also should be written down and thought through. After all, a goal not written down is just a wish.
  • We did a planning exercise a few years ago, but it was a waste of time.
    • Here it would be beneficial to look further into why the exercise wasn’t helpful. There is a good chance your answer resides in one or both of the following reasons:
      • You tried to be too precise, thus making it an overwhelming ordeal.
      • After you finished, you rolled up the documents and never looked at them again.

Chances are you’ve heard these excuses before, or even used them yourself. In my role as Business Solutions Specialist at The Center, I talk with a lot of small manufacturers and I cringe every time I hear the same excuses being used that I rattled off years ago.

Operating a business without any plans or goals is like driving cross country at night. You will eventually get to where you’re going, but you won’t see beyond your headlights so you will likely miss great opportunities along the way. I would like to challenge you to instead drive in the daytime; put your excuses aside and begin making goals and plans for the upcoming year.

To make this process as effective as possible for you, I have gathered some of my most useful techniques for approaching goal-setting and planning. Read on for proven methods that can be applied to your company.

  1. Start small. You don’t have to boil the entire ocean at once. Start with a short, manageable list of two to five goals for your company to achieve and continue from there.
  2. Include your key team members in the process of establishing next year’s goals and plan for them together. Goals that are developed independently then passed on to the team are rarely fulfilled. 
  3. Set periodic (quarterly or monthly) goal/plan review meetings for the year upfront. Add them to the calendar for all those involved. This limits the possible excuses for not getting action items done in time.
  4. Make sure your goals are SMART:
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Achievable
    • Realistic
    • Time-Bound
A few examples of SMART goals that your company could develop include:
    • Increase revenue from X category by X% within X months
    • Reduce overtime by $X in X months
    • Increase on-time delivery to X% within X months
    • Launch a new website in X months under a budget of $X

Developing set goals and plans for your company is not something you must, or should, do on your own. This leads to my final and most valuable suggestion: Hire someone from outside of your company to facilitate your meetings and discussions. Investing in a facilitator, like one of our experts at The Center, greatly changes the dynamic of the overall activity, as they increase active participation and reduce the “just agree with the boss” line of thinking. An outside facilitator can provide your business with clear and fresh ideas gathered from past experience with companies similar to yours that were once in similar situations.

Your business, no matter how small it may be, can greatly benefit from some goal-setting, whether it is done on your own or with an expert’s guidance. As Brian Tracy, famous motivational speaker, once put it, "Goals allow you to control the direction of change in your favor." Make 2018 the year you put your excuses aside and discover the power of planning.

Dave Nelson
Senior Business Solutions Manager

Dave joined The Center in 2013 as a Senior Business Solutions Manager. Working directly with manufacturers in Wayne and Monroe counties, he enjoys helping small and medium-sized companies reach their full potential. Dave is a seasoned professional with expertise at identifying/opening new market opportunities and increasing market penetration in existing markets. He also has extensive experience in generating/growing new business and selling intangible services.

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, December 1, 2017

Food Processors Can Get Lean with a Helping of Kaizen

By: John Spillson

Kaizens have been used in the manufacturing world for years. You’ve probably heard “Kaizen” mentioned around your facility a number of times- but what exactly is a Kaizen? And who can it benefit?

At its most basic level, a Kaizen is a change for the good, coming from the Japanese “kai” meaning change and “zen” meaning good. The way manufacturers use Kaizen, it is a method of improving business operations and decreasing waste within a facility, benefitting not only the process but also the team involved. They serve to identify, target and quickly attack a deficient area in a facility or to capitalize on an opportunity for improvement.

You may be under the impression that Kaizens can only help traditional manufacturers who create auto parts or work with textiles. This could not be further from the truth. Any manufacturer, including those in the food processing industry, can benefit from a Kaizen. The goal of a Kaizen is simple: reduce waste and improve processes in a targeted area. Waste is waste, regardless of the industry, and a Kaizen can help you get rid of it.

How Does a Kaizen Work?
Kaizens begin with your team being introduced to an overview of several Lean methodologies, including value stream mapping, 5S and standard work. This enables them to learn how to identify which steps in their processes do or do not add value, how to create a clean, safe and organized work environment and know the importance of creating standardized work instructions.

Once the team has a good understanding of Lean, they map the current state of the process. No judgements, evaluations or improvements are made at this point, it simply serves to put the process on paper. Dr. W. Edwards Deming, a main influencer in the Quality field, famously stated, “If you can’t describe what you’re doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.” By being asked to think critically about processes, this provides an accurate starting point and clearly lays out where things currently stand.

Each process step of the map is then analyzed and labeled as one of three categories: Value Added, Non-Value Added, or Necessary but Non-Value Added. The goal here is to eliminate or improve steps that do not add value, and minimize those that are necessary but do not add value.

Next, an action item list is created that helps get to the ideal future state of the process, assigning tasks of what needs to be done, by whom, and by when. This allows the team to get involved in the transformation as they gain more momentum and seek the next hurdle to overcome. After improvements are talked out, put on paper and implemented as part of the future state, the impacts will be realized.

Kaizens do not take as much time to implement as you might think, as they are typically completed in a week or so. While some may worry this is not enough time to have a real impact, the opposite is true. The team’s motivation and energy peak during the first week of a Kaizen, making it an exciting and eye-opening process for everyone involved. A successful event also can yield positive results years down the road as the company fully embraces a culture of continuous improvement.

Case Study: Kaizen in the Food Industry
After learning about the benefits of a Kaizen, you might be considering implementing one within your food company. But what would a Kaizen look like in a food company? Our team at The Center recently worked with a nutritional supplement company to assist in their new product launch process. This called for a Kaizen.

In the past, this company had experienced timing overruns and high variation in launch duration when rolling out new products. This resulted in missed opportunities in product availability in both catalog and online sales. During the mapping process, our team identified a total of 99 process steps, with 42 steps being non-value added. Four bottlenecks also were discovered, including the creation of the preliminary statement of work, prototyping, label creation and first run production. To address these issues, 35 action items were created. Once successfully implemented, these action items reduced the new estimated lead time by 29% to only 89 working days. The solutions put into place included:

  • Standardize New Product Info Packet
  • Cross-train staff to eliminate wait steps
  • Consolidate SKUs
  • Track inaccuracies to reduce them
  • Auto-generate some documents to eliminate data entry errors 
  • Standardize label sizes and usage 
  • Reduce prototype shipping sizes 
  • Reduce first product lead time

On day five, the final day of this project, the team presented their plan to management for how to move forward, specifically discussing how to alleviate several bottlenecks, complete their action items and significantly reduce new product launch time. This allowed them to beat competitors to market with their industry-leading products.

As you can see, the type of company or product involved has no bearing on the success of a Kaizen. Whether it be a traditional manufacturer or a processor of food products, the driving principles of Lean and Kaizen can be applied and dramatically improve a company’s processes. Although the industry may vary, Kaizens should always be structured, focused, action-based, implemented quickly, data-driven and exciting!

John Spillson
Food Business Development Manager

John works to develop and expand the food program at The Center. His experience operating his own business has given him knowledge in production, sales, food safety, marketing, warehousing and logistics. John comes from a long line of entrepreneurs, following both parents and grandparents in operating their own family food businesses. Prior to joining The Center, John owned and operated his own food processing company for more than 20 years. He loves helping food processors almost as much as he loves food itself.

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