Friday, March 31, 2017

Developing a Strategic Plan: How to Avoid Common Stumbling Blocks

By: George Singos


You’ve made the decision to write a strategic plan. You’ve assembled your team, invested the time, done the analyses and have a document in the works. Congratulations! You’re on your way to vaulting your business ahead of the competition.

Even with the best of intentions, obstacles can still arise. Here are seven common stumbling blocks to watch out for—and the steps to take to correct (or avoid) them:

Stumbling Block #1: The wrong view of where you are today.

Corrective Step #1: Make sure you perform both external and internal audits to get a complete picture of the competitive market and your true place in it, as well as your real—not perceived—strengths. Let numbers be your guide.

Stumbling Block #2: Strategies that don’t align with objectives.

Corrective Step #2: Make sure your strategies serve your goals. For example, it’s not enough that your production team wants new equipment to increase capacity—it only counts if your goal is to increase capacity.

Stumbling Block #3: Lack of accountability.

Corrective Step #3: Check your team members. Is every one of them prepared to take responsibility for their sector? Are all areas represented? If there’s a department or division that is going to be responsible for executing strategy against an objective, there must be a contributing member on the team prepared to be vested with this knowledge and responsibility.

Stumbling Block #4: Goals that can’t be measured or quantified.

Corrective Step #4: Every goal, every strategy in support of an objective, needs to have a number by it—even if it isn’t one that is considered quantifiable. Figure out the appropriate, measurable unit for each objective, and then devise a test for it, if necessary.

Stumbling Block #5: Strategies that don’t work across divisions or departments.

Corrective Step # 5: Construct your goals so departments work with, not against, each other. For example, if your strategy is to increase capacity for engineering to upgrade systems, but the purchasing department’s goal is to avoid incurring new expenses, the divisions have been set with cross-purposes.

Stumbling Block #6: The blame game.

Corrective Step #6: No business owner or manager wants to hear, “We couldn’t get it accomplished because they fell behind.” Sometimes, this can be avoided by carefully constructing strategies across departments to reach concrete goals. Quite often, departments that depend on each other to attain certain objectives will have to develop smaller, finite cross-departmental plans to make the larger objective attainable. Remember, they should be developed early on.

Stumbling Block #7: Not using your road map.

Corrective Step #7: What’s the most important thing about your strategic plan? It’s usable! Your strategic plan should begin to look like a well used road map. Chart your progress against it, measure your goals and revise when necessary. The last place your strategic plan needs to be is in a binder on a shelf. Schedule group reviews at least quarterly to see if all responsible and accountable team members are on the same page.

By being aware of these common challenges, and creating tactics that avoid or overcome them, you’ve given your strategic plan much higher odds of succeeding. For help in designing a plan that will move your business forward, contact gsingos@the-center.org.

In other news:

The Center is pleased to host the following business operations event in April:

EXPLORE: Enhancing Business Operations

Wednesday, April 12, 2017
8:30 AM – 10:30 AM
45501 Helm St.
Plymouth, MI

For more information, or to register, click here.


Meet Our Expert

George Singos
Business Leader Advisor

George Singos is a Business Leader Advisor for The Center. He has more than 30 years of manufacturing experience in various capacities. For the past 20 years he has focused on sales and marketing management both domestically and internationally.

To read George’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 www.the-center.org.

Friday, March 24, 2017

On the Go with Gregg Peterson . . .

Lessons in Lightweight Materials


By: Gregg Peterson


My name is Gregg Peterson, and I’m on a mission to inspire the usage of lightweight materials as I assist U.S.-based SMEs. What drives this passion? I’ve devoted my career to the advancement of the technology and have repeatedly witnessed its benefits—from long-term cost savings to major reductions in fuel consumption.

As the industry evolves, my enthusiasm for educating and mentoring the next generation of engineering pioneers escalates. Part of this process includes speaking to the talented SAE-sponsored university racing teams. Join me on my journey to help propel lightweight innovation. Let’s go . . .

Inspiring Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) University Chapters

The Center supports the SAE University lecture series which highlights the many challenges of meeting the 2025 emission and fuel economy requirements. As part of my job, I constantly review new technologies available to meet these standards including lighter materials, cutting-edge joining methods and alternative manufacturing processes—all of which I am eager to share with engineering students on college campuses across the nation.

Driving Innovation at Kennesaw State University

I was honored to present my first SAE lecture at Kennesaw State University, located near Atlanta, Georgia. Kennesaw State, formerly Southern Polytechnic State University, has 35,000 students and a state-of-the-art engineering building complete with well-equipped labs. What I found to be even more impressive than the facilities were the students.


The Kennesaw State SAE Formula race team has about 50 members, most of whom attended my lecture. I centered my presentation on a specific vehicle study that is funded by the California Air Resources Board and utilizes steel, aluminum, magnesium and composites to achieve weight savings while doubling the torsional rigidity of the baseline steel SUV. My material included animated crash simulations for the multi-material SUV that is 40% lighter than the baseline steel intensive vehicle. These crash simulations include 35 MPH frontal (FMVSS 208), side impact (FMVSS 214), roof crush (FMVSS 216) and 50 MPH rear impact (FMVSS 301). It was great to see so many eager students ask me questions.


Following the lecture, I had the pleasure of going on a tour of their facility and race garage where they were designing the next generation KSU race car. I saw first-hand how lightweight ingenuity is taking shape at the collegiate level. The team has designed and built virtually every part of the car, including the frame, suspension and carbon fiber body panels. They’ve printed plastic 3D parts from their CAD files and trial fit the parts prior to machining them in metal. With the engine dynamometer, they fine-tuned the power output, and in the aerodynamics lab, they refined airflow for cooling and drag. I spent several hours with the team reviewing their latest improvements for the upcoming race season and offered some helpful suggestions.

I want to extend a special thank you to Sarah Carter, the race team captain, for coordinating this wonderful visit. I think it was an insightful experience for everyone involved.

The Good News Continues

The Center has donated the SAE honorarium to the Kennesaw State race team. This means that The Center is now an SAE Formula race car sponsor! This talented group of students will make this contribution go a long way.

Until next time…


Meet Our Expert

Gregg Peterson
Principle Materials Engineer

Throughout his 40+ year career, Gregg has embodied the true spirit of engineering innovation and excellence. An accomplished engineer, inventor, mentor of emerging talent and successful entrepreneur, Gregg brings an impressive array of expertise and enthusiasm to every endeavor he pursues. His expertise includes ferrous and non-ferrous body structure design and originality, aerodynamics, software controls and manufacturing. Gregg is dedicated to increasing the efficiency of any machine including: cars, planes, wind turbines, agricultural equipment and military fighting vehicles. To read Gregg's full bio, visit: www.the-center.org.



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 www.the-center.org.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Energy-Saving Tips for Manufacturers

By: Dale Wicker



Manufacturing processes require vast amounts of energy including: heating, cooling, lighting, office equipment and the production line itself. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that energy costs continue to be a major expense for manufacturers.

Yet, when it’s time to reduce expenditures, businesses often will try other cost-cutting measures first, rather than scaling back on their energy consumption. It’s time to alter this thinking—and focus on energy-saving initiatives that will significantly reduce expenses and positively impact your bottom line. Here’s how…

Process Heating

Process heating is required to make most consumer and industrial goods, and it is responsible for more than one third of the energy use within a manufacturing facility. Manufacturers can save energy within this area by:

Assessing heat transfer surfaces
Controlling exhaust gases
Ensuring proper furnace installation
Evaluating air-to-fuel ratios
Installing waste heat recovery systems
Reducing steam demand
Upgrading boilers to the latest energy-efficient models
Utilizing alternative fuels with higher combustion efficiency

Lighting

Since most manufacturing facilities tend to be well-lit, it’s critical that energy-efficient lighting is properly installed. Lighting alternatives include:

Using florescent or LED fixtures
Utilizing daylight as much as possible through skylights and clerestories
Adjusting the levels of light and turning off lights during the slow/off hours

Consumption Periods

Electrical rates can vary based on the time of day energy is consumed. Manufacturers can strategically use this factor to their advantage by adjusting operating hours accordingly. They also can use electricity at optimal operating hours by avoiding “rate peak periods” which usually occur in the afternoon and early evening hours.

Employee Efforts

To make conservation efforts more successful, all employees must be on board with your plan. Emphasize the importance of reducing energy consumption and encourage the following: turning off lights, machines, equipment, etc., when not in use. Getting the staff involved also will enable them to come up with their own strategies for reducing energy costs, fostering the idea of continuous improvement throughout a manufacturing facility.

By following these tips and focusing on the areas mentioned above, manufacturers can see significant savings on their next bills!


Meet Our Expert

Dale Wicker
Quality Program Manager


Dale Wicker is a member of The Center's Quality Team. He manages and delivers training and assistance to organizations in the areas of quality improvements and environmental management systems. Some of his projects involve support with the implementation of a Quality Management System including: ISO 9001, ISO/TS 16949, AS 9100 and ISO 14001. Dale also conducts training and provides consulting on the supporting tools of Quality Systems. To read Dale’s full bio, visit: www.the-center.org.






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 www.the-center.org.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Do You Know Who Your Customers Are?

By: Dave Nelson


We’ve all seen the memorable customer service sayings: “The customer is always right,” and “A satisfied customer is the best strategy of all!” framed on conference room walls and posted in cubicles. These phrases are not mere decorations; they’re words to live by and should be applied both internally and externally throughout your entire organization. Here’s why…

I have the pleasure of working with small to medium-sized manufacturers in the automotive, medical and aerospace industries. Whenever I tour a manufacturing facility, I often ask the people I meet (from supervisors to operators on the factory floor), “Who is your customer?” Most likely, the response I get involves their external customer. I rarely get an answer that involves their internal customer. Sometimes, I just get blank stares and puzzled looks, which is especially troubling to me.

Everyone should know who their internal customers are and why they’re important. If you satisfy your internal customers, the company will satisfy external customers. This philosophy is one of the core building blocks for establishing a lean and engaged culture. Teaching this simple mind-set can lead to greater efficiencies and reduce bottlenecks—without adding a lot of new steps, procedures, etc.

Recently, I was at a factory and noticed that the shipping person kept walking back and forth between his work location and one of the work cells. After inquiring about this, I learned that the work cell in question repeatedly did not provide all of the required paperwork upon completion of a run. Time and again, the shipping person had to hunt down the paperwork so he could complete his job and ship the product. Seeing this as an opportunity, I asked the work cell, “Who is your customer?” As I expected, I got the typical replies about their external customer. So, I rephrased the question and asked the group, “Who is your internal customer?” That questioned garnered some blank stares and a muddled reply by the plant manager.

I went on to explain that while they have many internal customers, the most important one is the shipping person. When they don’t provide the necessary documents on time, they aren’t properly completing their job. I also told them that if their company treated their external customers this way, they wouldn’t stay in business very long.

Afterwards, I helped facilitate a conversation between the work cell team and the shipping department about needs and expectations. When I revisited the facility a few months later, I discovered that the person in the shipping department didn’t have to work overtime anymore. The work cell team also had taken the initiative to have the “internal customer” conversation with their material handler. The end result? The teams are working smarter and efficiency has vastly improved.

In conclusion, I would like to modify the phrase I mentioned in the first line of this blog. It should say, “The best strategy of all is to focus on having both internal and external satisfied customers!”

The Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (The Center) can help your manufacturing facility work more efficiently and propel growth. To gain a better understanding about our full range of consulting services, visit www.the-center.org or email directly at dnelson@the-center.org.


Meet Our Expert

Dave Nelson
Senior Business Solutions Manager


Dave is a member of the Business Solutions Team and works closely with manufacturers in Wayne and Monroe counties. He is a seasoned professional with expertise in identifying new opportunities for clients and increasing market penetration. Dave also has extensive experience in generating/growing new business and recommending intangible services. To read Dave’s full bio, 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 www.the-center.org.

Friday, March 3, 2017

A Message for Management: Leverage Your QMS to Maximize Success

By: David Bradley


If executed properly, a business plan can help increase profits and the likelihood of your organization’s long-term success. Do you know that your Quality Management System (QMS) was designed to work in conjunction with your business plan? It’s true. ISO 9001 expects top management to take an active role throughout the entire process, otherwise the results will be less than stellar. Below are some helpful tips to enable your organization to reach its QMS goals:

• Business plan: There are several areas where the ISO 9001 standard refers to “the purpose and strategic direction of the organization.” The intent is that the QMS is aligned with (or better yet, integrated into) the organizational business plan. The QMS is the desired tool to achieve strategic goals.

• SWOT: SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It is not required for ISO 9001, but it is a great way to look at your organization and the business environment in which it operates. Periodically performing a SWOT analysis could meet several requirements in the standard and will be beneficial for the organization as well as its long-range goals.

• Quality Policy deployment: ISO 9001 has always required a Quality Policy. ISO 9001:2015 looks to the Quality Policy to be the bridge between the business plan and the shop floor. How the Quality Policy is deployed is critical to the success of the organization.

Integration into operations: The intent of ISO 9001 is to have your QMS requirements and activities a regular part of your operations, not a stand-alone or off-shoot.

Cascading of leadership: Senior management has to ensure that their commitment to the QMS is cascaded down the management chain. Each lower level is expected to demonstrate their leadership in regards to the QMS. It is senior management’s responsibility to ensure that lower management does in fact exhibit leadership.

Risk-based thinking: We have always considered risks when dealing with jobs. ISO 9001 takes this thinking to a deeper level. The consideration of risks is carried throughout the entire business and operations.

Interested parties: This has been part of ISO 14001 for years. An interested party is a person or organization that can affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision or activity. Interested parties can be either internal or external.

Employee knowledge: ISO has a new requirement for maintaining organizational knowledge. Top management needs to understand what knowledge is necessary throughout the organization, how to keep from losing that knowledge and acquire new knowledge.

Employee awareness: Management needs to ensure that employees are aware of requirements, the benefits of improved performance and the consequences of deviation from requirements. These consequences could be either to the product, to the organization, to the customer, to the end user or even to the employee.

Documentation: ISO 9001 no longer separates documents from records. This can cause confusion within the organization. Management must make sure that the organizational methods for dealing with documented information is clear and lacks uncertainty.

• Change management: The intent is that companies implement change in a controlled fashion. Change introduces a risk of unwanted variation that puts the product at risk. Top management is expected to have plans and programs in place to reduce unwanted variation of change in both planned changes as well as unplanned changes (think contingency plans).

By mastering these areas, management can accomplish much of what ISO 9001 is striving to achieve. Along the way, the organization will be in a better position to reach both short- and long-term goals and do what the business was created for—generating revenue.


Meet Our Expert

David Bradley
Quality and Environmental Services Program Manager

David Bradley has been The Center’s Program Manager in QMS for 18 years and is a member of the Quality Team. His expertise includes ISO 9001, TS 16949, AS 9100, ISO 13485 management systems, Automotive Core Tools, ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems and OHSAS 18001 programs. He is a Certified HACCP Manager and has completed SQF training. To read David's full bio, 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 www.the-center.org.