Friday, February 23, 2018

Anyone Can Satisfy a Customer. But Can You Delight Them?

By: John Spillson

We’ve been conditioned to desire complete and utter satisfaction in everything we receive.  But why should we be content with being only satisfied? Satisfaction is merely accepting the minimum to meet a desired requirement. It would be even better if we could take it up a notch and truly delight our customers, whether they are buying cars, clothing, food, or anything in between. Before we can accomplish this, however, we first need to make sure we have all the right ingredients in place to create a delightful product. 

The Road to Delight
1. Know your customer. First you must answer the question of, who is your customer? Is the customer the individual who consumes your product last?  Is it the store that has purchased your product to put on its shelves?  Is it the distributor that purchased your product for resale? Or could it be the co-worker (or machine) next to you waiting for you to finish your work before they can continue the job?  Too often we fail to recognize that the customer is right next to us. Once you understand who the customer is, you can then determine what you must provide to them to ensure they are delighted, whether they are an end-user or co-worker.

2. Communicate effectively. Lack of communication at any level often leads to diminished results. Do you have a clear understanding of the customer’s needs and are able to fulfill them the first time, every time?  A 90% success rate is not good enough if you are part of the 10% that doesn’t receive what is promised or expected. Adding value and providing exactly what the customer wants, when they want it, pushes past the line of satisfaction and into true customer delight. In this step, it is important to be careful not to over-deliver or waste time and resources on ‘extra processing’ that the customer hasn’t requested or is not willing to pay for.

3. Find the right balance between quality, price and delivery time. A famous saying in the manufacturing world is, “You can have good quality, a good price or quick service, but you can only have two of these.” Why is this? There seems to be a consistent trade-off between these three variables to where if you want something of high quality you must to sacrifice price or timely delivery, or if you want something quickly you must settle for a less quality item, etc. However, in this current industry environment, we should be able to demand all three. Lean strategies, combined with best practices and standard work, can lead to this becoming a reality. Which brings us to number 4…

4. Get Lean. Lean and the world of continuous improvement can help bridge the gap between expectations, satisfaction and customer delight. Henry Ford’s desire to reduce the time taken to produce a product was revolutionary when introduced more than 100 years ago. He recognized that the longer a product took to be produced, the higher the cost involved- and he wanted to do something about it. Henry Ford was on the leading edge of understanding the true benefits that Lean process improvements could bring. Utilizing standard work and single piece flow on the assembly line, he was able to successfully reduce the time it took to produce a final product, while consistently giving the customer a quality product, with a reasonable delivery time, at an affordable price.

When implementing Lean principles, the initial step is usually to complete a process map, which provides a detailed look at the process. Any process. As Lean guru Dr. Deming said, “If you can’t describe what you do as a process then you don’t know what you’re doing.” In developing a detailed process map, each step is laid out to analyze and it becomes easier to identify deficiencies and areas of improvement. This starts the journey toward making corrections, perfecting processes and ultimately delighting customers. Giving the customer exactly what they want, when they want it and at a reasonable cost every time is a realistic and achievable goal when using the right Lean tools.

Satisfaction used to be considered the ultimate goal, but we should strive to go further. In reality, customers rarely tell their friends to try product X because it gave them satisfactory results. I wouldn’t either. I would much rather find a product that pushes past satisfaction into true customer delight.

Does Your Food Pass the (Taste) Test?
These lessons are especially important for manufacturers working in the food industry. It might not be noticeable if a shirt is made with sub-par quality, but customers will immediately know if their food is less than satisfactory. Although all manufacturers should strive to delight, the stakes are raised for food processors.

To gain more insights about how to improve your food manufacturing processes with advice directly from leaders in the industry, come to the 5th Annual Pure Michigan Agricultural Summit on March 14.  The Center also will be taking part in this exclusive event, which makes 35 of Michigan’s most influential food buyers available through pre-scheduled appointment. Several speakers from the Michigan Department of Agriculture as well as Michigan State University will headline the event, discussing the latest trends and innovations in the food industry.

Stop by our table and speak with one of our experienced, passionate professionals to learn more about what The Center has to offer.  From A3 Problem Solving to Website Optimization, The Center has a way to bring sheer delight to your customers through our many customized programs.

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Super Bowl of Manufacturing: Are You Built to Win?

By: Jamie Headley

Whether you are a New England Patriots fan or not, there is no denying they are consistently one of the best performing NFL teams. In fact, they have played in more Super Bowl games than any other team in the league, with a total of 10 games played and five won. But how do they keep up their winning streak? Many people attribute it to them being “built to win.”

What does it mean to be “built to win”? It all comes down to strategy. The Patriots have earned a reputation as being one of the best football teams of our time by having a solid strategy in place, supported by exceptional tactical execution. They win because they have found the perfect balance between strategic and tactical planning.

The Road to Winning
There is a hierarchy to this type of planning that allows companies to be proactive and in control of their overall destiny, rather than reactive to the market or customer demands. Achieving this type of control begins with establishing a clear Mission Statement. The Mission Statement should be a realistic, high-level description of what is important to the company. This lays the foundation for the business.

The company’s sales and operations plan, or business plan, follows the Mission Statement, which is essentially the high-level objectives the company seeks to achieve in support of the Mission Statement. This might include goals such as wanting to increase sales 10%, reduce costs or enter a new market. Once these plans are in place the tactical plan comes into play, which lays out how your company will achieve the goals of the Business Plan. It is absolutely essential to perform these tasks in this order to ensure all high-level goals form the basis of business plans and tactical decisions. This process looks a little like this:

Order is Everything: Why Tactical Must Come Last
A common situation (mistake) I see among companies is that executives generate lists of tactical objectives to immediately accomplish, rather than starting with a strong strategic plan. Although it can benefit a company to accomplish such goals, doing so without being connected to a business plan can reduce the return on investment.

For example, an organization I was working with requested supervisory skills training.  When I asked about the issues they were trying to fix, they explained how supervisors were being stretched too thin, chasing quality issues, double checking paperwork and having to fill in for absent workers.  As I continued to ask questions and listen to the situation, it became clear that the training they were requesting was not going to fix their issues. Although the training would help supervisors better manage their time and communicate more efficiently, it would be akin to putting a Band-Aid on their particular “wound” and would not address the root cause issues. 

I pushed further and asked if they had a business plan outlined, but they admitted they had not had time to create one yet. Instead, using the Mission Statement written on the wall of their lobby as a guide, we went through the key components of their company: Customer Service, Quality, Engaged Workforce, Profitability.  As we talked about each of these elements, the leadership team admitted they were having issues in all of these areas but could not quantify the impact since they had not assigned metrics to measure success within each area.

After more discussion, it became clear that we would need to address the large-scale issues of culture, waste and quality systems if they wanted to make long-term improvements and achieve their mission. To accomplish this, we would need a strong strategic plan that would enable us to identify high-level issues, prioritize how to address them and establish metrics for success. After the strategic plan is in place, and only then, we could begin with tactical planning, such as laying out departmental plans or considering training. By starting at the most basic strategic level of the company, then creating business and tactical plans from there, we were able to identify more targeted and effective solutions to the root cause issues present in their company. When done in the proper order, such planning can be immensely valuable for driving your company’s high-level goals.

Plan Your Way to the Top
Embarking on the creation of a business plan can sound arduous, but it does not have to be.  There are many tools and templates that can help guide this process, as well as resources like The Center that can facilitate the process from start to finish. 

Many executives claim they do not have the time to sit down with their leadership team and develop a plan, but continued success is not random. It is worth the time invested as companies that continue to operate in a reactive mode with only short-term plans will consistently find themselves out-performed by those that embrace a proactive, thoughtful strategy.

Although it is easy to get caught up in day-to-day firefighting and forget about the importance of planning, it is clear that having a proactive strategy can serve the higher goals of your company, provide a better return on investment and establish more targeted problem solving. When used correctly, these tools can help your company become the Patriots of manufacturing. You might not make it into every Super Bowl, but you will be built to win.

Jamie Headley
Senior Business Solutions Manager

As Senior Business Solutions Manager, Jamie works as an advisor to Michigan manufacturers in the Southwest region of the state, helping them to “manufacture smarter.”  Jamie is a seasoned operations professional with expertise in change management, strategic planning, leadership, process improvement, lean implementations, cost containment and operational excellence. With more than 25 years of manufacturing and consulting experience, Jamie has served as Director of Supply Chain for Catalent Pharma Solutions, Vice President of Operations for and President and CEO of Dementia Services Group.  

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, February 9, 2018

Leaders in Lightweighting: What to Expect at the 2018 GALM Summit

By: Gregg Peterson

Looking to learn more about the latest innovations in lightweighting technologies? The upcoming
GALM Summit might be for you.

What is GALM?
Taking place February 21-22 in Detroit, the fifth annual Global Automotive Lightweight Manufacturing Summit will focus on discussing advanced joining, forming and manufacturing technologies in the transportation industry. This conference is a part of the Global Automotive Lightweight Materials (GALM) series of conferences, known as the world’s leading conferences on automotive lightweighting. Originally launched in London and Detroit in 2012, the GALM events bring together some of the world’s leading OEMs and automotive experts to share and explore the latest innovations in the industry.

This year’s event will be no different in terms of prestige and impact, but it will have a new approach to its theme. With an emphasis placed on new opportunities and applications for electric vehicle (EV) body structures, this conference will present solutions to the current joining and forming issues facing manufacturers.

The Future of Lightweighting
As lightweighting technology continues to impact and change vehicle production, it is now becoming a priority for all automotive manufacturers to discover and utilize the latest methods and technologies in using advanced lightweight materials, such as magnesium, aluminum, ultra-high strength steel and composites. Speakers at this conference will explore the latest opportunities for using lightweight materials on EV body structures, as well as discuss how EV body structures will influence current and future joining and manufacturing technologies.

The benefits of using lower density materials are still being discovered, but case studies of the past have demonstrated how lightweighting practices can help lighten structures, decrease the cost of materials involved, improve fuel efficiency, lower the carbon footprint and enhance vehicle performance. Conferences such as this help to give OEMs and suppliers more experience and confidence in using these materials and discover new ways to use them in traditional vehicles.

With a number of expert speakers from global OEMs, including GM, Ford, Karma Automotive and Faraday Future, anyone involved in the automotive industry can benefit from attending this year’s Global Automotive Lightweight Manufacturing Summit. Many Tier 1s and automotive OEMs are sponsoring this event, including our partner Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT), making this a unique networking opportunity in addition to a technically informative event. I’ll be participating in a panel discussion at the conference, as well, to share my insights about the changes facing the transportation industry. Join me and more than 400 other experts in the industry at this exclusive, innovative event to catch up on the latest trends and practices in the lightweighting world.

To learn more about this event, or to register to attend, click here.

To learn more about the innovative lightweight vehicle frames being developed by The Center and LIFT, in concert with the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) and LIFT members including Detroit Engineered Products, Pennex Aluminum and Commander Innovations, click here.

Gregg Peterson
Principal Materials Engineer

As 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. In his current role as Principal Materials Engineer, Gregg works on-site at the Detroit headquarters of Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT) as part of a program to propel the use of lightweight materials in manufacturing. Gregg’s OEM and Tier 1 automotive engineering experience spans more than 30 years and includes extensive ferrous and non-ferrous body structure design and innovation, aerodynamics, software controls, manufacturing/processing and more. Gregg also has more than 10 years of sales experience and substantial entrepreneurial involvement. 

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, February 2, 2018

Achieving Competency in Quality - Manufacturing's Got Talent!

By: Andy Nichols

Competency is all around us. It pervades our lives. We see competency on television, for example, in “America’s Got Talent.” Talented people, regardless of their age, gender or social background, performing all manner of stage acts that wow the show’s judges and viewers. We often ask ourselves, “How did they do that?”

We see competency in Quality as well. ISO 9001 includes a requirement for an organization’s people, specifically those involved in the Quality Management System, to be competent in their work responsibilities. The normative reference (vocabulary) document, ISO 9000, defines competence as “the demonstrated ability to apply skills and knowledge.” Those TV show contestants could certainly demonstrate skills and knowledge, but how did they become so competent? They aren’t likely to have been born with some “gift,” therefore, their performance is most likely the result of a combination of factors.

Practice, Practice, Practice…
 Zig Ziglar is credited with saying, “Repetition is the mother of learning, and the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.” Most of those performers would likely attribute their impressive abilities to a combination of three important sources: education (performance “theory”), training (master classes or similar) and practice, practice, practice. Competent performers can usually demonstrate a specific part of their act and describe the purpose for it, often including some portion of the related theory.

The same can be said for many work-related activities in manufacturing. A journeyman machining center setter, for example, would be able to demonstrate competencies in terms of:
  • Blueprint reading
  • Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GD&T)
  • Machine feeds and speeds
  • Material properties
  • CNC programming

If we analyze these, we can see that some knowledge aspects are going to be based in education – for example, material properties which affect the way a part is machined, or CNC programming. Some knowledge aspects may be derived from training, such as from a classroom event and/or “on-the-job.” Furthermore, a significant proportion of competency is experiential – which comes from practice, practice, practice.

When an organization is determining competencies, it’s worth breaking down the required records into these three categories:
  • Education
  • Training
  • Experience

From here, creating some criteria against which a person can be evaluated for the job they do should be relatively straightforward. Keeping a record of these criteria and stating that they were successfully demonstrated will sufficiently meet the ISO 9001:2015 requirements stated in section 7.2.

Through this process, management must prepare themselves to discover that some employees may not be at the same level of competency they were assumed to have already reached. From Burch’s Learning Model of the 1970s, we can see there are four distinct stages of competency:
  • Unconscious Incompetence- the individual does not know how to do something, but is not aware of their lack of ability or denies it.
  • Conscious Incompetence- the individual does not know how to do something, but is aware of their inability.
  • Conscious Competence- the individual knows how to do something, but their performance requires concentration.
  • Unconscious Competence- the individual knows how to do something, and it can be performed easily without concentration.

These stages can be used to roughly measure and track an employee’s competency with certain topics and tasks. It’s important to recognize, however, that these stages are not concrete, and any changes made can affect the person such that they regress from unconscious competence right back to unconscious incompetence. After all, mastering this process, as well, takes practice, practice, practice.

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 also has been an IRCA and RABQSA accredited Lead Auditor.

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