Friday, March 30, 2018

Seeing is Believing with Value Stream Mapping

By: Roger Tomlinson

With all of the moving parts within a manufacturing business (both literal and figurative), it’s easy to lose sight of strategic objectives. What if your management team had a way to actually see all of the goals and processes of your entire organization in one clear visual? Fortunately, value stream mapping provides just such a solution.

This Lean method of management comes from the idea that every process, product and service has a value stream – the chain of activities involved in completing a given task. This activity stream forms the basis for creating a visual map tool, which encompasses all the steps, decisions and people involved in a specific process. By laying out actions in this way, value stream mapping can be used to effectively deploy and monitor your assets and activities.

One type of such mapping is swim lane process mapping, a technique ideal for tracking goal progress and identifying responsibilities at every step of a process. This is accomplished by creating a visual structure that tracks workflow along with the people, places and things that impact it.

Swim lane maps begin with establishing and listing all tasks and sub-processes involved in a particular project, including all decision-making that might affect the workflow. Each “swim” lane then represents a different department to better distinguish and divide capabilities, roles and responsibilities present in all process steps.

The actual labelling of the lanes can be accomplished in a number of ways, with both vertical and horizontal lines included in the visual tool. For example, vertical lanes may represent a sequence of events, while horizontal lanes could depict which department, person or material is involved in an activity, with symbols to show how the actual process workflow takes place.

Once all of this is properly arranged and labelled, the map is used to analyze all steps of the process and categorize them as value added, non-value added, or necessary non-value added. Following this determination, non-value-added steps can be eliminated, and necessary non-value-added steps can be minimized. Laying out the steps in this way can help to identify and eliminate bottlenecks, inefficiencies and redundancies, leading to a faster and more productive workflow.

Swim lane mapping brings issues to the surface that you may not have previously noticed, raising new opportunities for improvement along the way. This seemingly simple management method accomplishes these complicated tasks through:
  1. Guiding processes. Swim lane diagrams provide a comprehensive visual reference tool that allows anyone to easily answer questions such as, “what happens next?” or “who is responsible for this task?” This mapping technique provides a level of operational transparency and accountability that is not otherwise easily achieved.
  2. Encouraging effective communication between process roles. Whether it’s improving production times, installing a new computer system or onboarding new hires, swim lane maps clearly determine areas of responsibility and display how all tasks depend on each other to be completed. This encourages collaboration and communication among departments to ensure all steps are completed effectively and on time.
  3. Identifying each team’s responsibility. This is important for both current and future initiatives. Responsibilities covered in process maps should include every organizational unit involved in a given activity along with any source of input, such as documents, data or approvals, as well as anyone receiving an output from the process.
  4. Providing flexibility. When creating your own swim lane map, you can choose which elements and symbols to include based on your company’s needs and activities. In addition to the standard “start,” “step,” “decision” and “end” symbols, various levels of complexity can be introduced to the map to provide overviews or specific details, and symbols representing outside data, documents or events can be incorporated.
  5. Anticipating future changes. Once areas of improvement are identified through the map, team members can brainstorm ways to address each issue and implement changes. The process does not end there, however, as swim lane maps also can help map out proposed changes to identify potential risks and rewards ahead of time.
This visual management tool can give your company the ability to identify issues and opportunities for improvement that you did not previously know existed, or did not believe to be real problems. With value stream mapping, seeing really is believing.

Roger Tomlinson
Lean Program Manager

Roger 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). In addition to his training and consulting work, Roger has over 20 years of experience in manufacturing management.

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, March 23, 2018

Got Powder Metallurgy? Get This…

By: Gregg Peterson

We recently published a blog post detailing the many resources- 114, to be exact- available for manufacturers of all kinds to take advantage of. These resources included anything from websites to publications to blogs to books. But what about something more long-term? Something that you can contribute to and continue to draw resources from? And gain access to exclusive networking opportunities?

Countless established organizations in the manufacturing world exist to deliver these unique benefits to members. One such organization is the Center for Powder Metallurgy Technology (CPMT).

CPMT was originally developed by the United States Department of Commerce as part of a series of cooperative technology programs, with the ultimate goal of promoting the progress of the powder metallurgy industry. With members from across the nation, CPMT continues to conduct research on the latest practices involving this sector of the manufacturing industry. But what exactly does this organization provide to its members? Manufacturers interested in supporting the growth of the powder metallurgy industry can receive the following benefits from joining CPMT:
  1. Participate in Technology Focus Meetings, sponsored by CPMT, as well as access archived Technology Focus presentations. 
  2. Contribute to discussions about certain activities happening at CPMT, such as training programs.
  3. Vote and serve on CPMT’s Board of Trustees. Gain a first-hand look and have a say in how CPMT awards its scholarships and grants, develops its training and conducts its research on the industry.
  4. Network! Current members of CPMT include everyone from end users to manufacturers to powder/equipment providers, including big name companies such as Eaton Corporation, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, John Deere Technology Center and General Motors Corporation.
  5. Receive periodic research reports. CPMT is constantly funding and conducting new research projects to benefit and further support the powder metallurgy industry. Members can gain direct access to past and current project findings to help educate their practices and operations. Overviews of current and past projects can be found on their website, which include:
    • Fatigue testing to investigate the strain-controlled, low-cycle axial fatigue response of steel and aluminum powder metallurgy steel materials and process conditions. CPMT expects to continue gathering data on this topic for several years.
    • Resonant acoustical mixing testing, which involves preparing a variety of high performance mixes using acoustical mixing technology. Samples will be evaluated and compared with traditional mixing techniques. Compacted test specimens also will be evaluated in the green and sintered condition for improved microstructural uniformity and mechanical properties. 
    • Sinter hardening improvement. In this research project, different sintering tray/plate materials will be evaluated to compare microstructure and dimensional stability of powder metallurgy parts during the sinter hardening process. The plate materials involved will be ceramic vs. carbon/carbon fiber.
If all of these benefits sound interesting to you, become a member of the Center for Powder Metallurgy  today and join me at the upcoming spring meeting (members only) from April 17-18 in Detroit to connect with leaders in the powder metallurgy industry and gain access to the exclusive resources this organization provides.

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, 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.

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, March 16, 2018

Smarketing: Funny Name, Serious Benefits

By: Brian Mamo

If I asked you to think of the two best things ever put together, you might immediately think of pairings such as peanut butter and jelly, biscuits and gravy, or fish and chips. But what combination really surpasses all others? Smarketing.

Smarketing is the term used to describe an integrated sales and marketing team that effectively works together in a harmonious fashion. It has a funny sounding name, but when Smarketing is in full effect, the impact is serious.

Smarketing may not seem as ground-breaking as fish and chips on the surface, but consider this: Are your company’s sales and marketing teams rarely on the same page? This could be detrimental to your organization as it is nearly impossible to increase revenue and expand your client base when these departments are not integrated. Revenue and client growth can only happen when both teams work together toward shared goals that benefit the entire company.

Once a company acknowledges the importance of this partnership, they can start working on making improvements in their planning. This process might begin with asking the question, how can both teams work together more efficiently? The answer lies in communication. Tear down the silos! If your company is fortunate enough to have a sales and marketing team, it could benefit your team and your company to open up communication and discuss the following topics. Or, if you make up the entire sales and marketing team, then have this conversation with yourself (just make sure no one else is around to witness you talking to yourself).
  1. Understand what a perfect client looks like. Where are they located? Which industries are they in? How are their decisions made? Who makes the decisions, and what are the most common objections?  Have the sales and marketing teams work together to determine what the perfect client looks like, get a list together and determine who your top 100 prospective clients are.  
  2. Sales Team: Show the Marketing folks what the sales funnel looks like. How many touches (any time a prospective client sees your name) does it take for a client to agree to a meeting? How many meetings does it take to provide a proposal? How many proposals does it take to get a sale?  After you do the math (see, you thought you would never use algebra in your sales career), the marketing team will know exactly how many touches it will need to make in order to hit the sales goals of the company. Hopefully by going through this exercise, efficiencies and bottlenecks will be identified.  Now you are getting somewhere...
  3. Get together and discuss what and how frequent these touches should be.  Examples of touches are phone calls, educational blogs, emails, LinkedIn connections, educational events and postcards. Both teams should work to determine the frequency of touches. With an established, consistent plan for implementing touches in place, potential clients will be made more aware of your services for when the need eventually rises (also referred to as drip marketing). 
  4. Build a robust website. It is up to the marketing department to make sure prospective clients have positive experiences with your branding and website. Beyond having an initial touch, prospective clients will look at your website and determine if they want to meet with your sales team based on what should be a professional, educational, easy to navigate and inspiring website.
  5. Have a story. Why choose your company over the competition?  Let prospective clients know why they should work with you. Leave out phrases like "we have the best people, best product/service and best on-time delivery." These characteristics should be assumed about your company, as you wouldn’t still be in business if you didn’t offer good service. Ask your employees to think of a few important elements to add to your story, and share it with your friends, family and business confidants to test its effectiveness.
With all of this integrated communication and work in place, there is no reason your company shouldn’t succeed in reaching prospective clients, getting leads and staying competitive. Contact The Center today to help get your sales and marketing teams working together even better than peanut butter and jelly.

Brian Mamo
Senior Business Solutions Manager

Brian Mamo is a Senior Business Solutions Manager at The Center. In his role, Brian works directly with manufacturers in Macomb County, providing services and support that enable them to compete, grow and prosper. Brian has more than 25 years of experience as a trusted advisor to hundreds of clients in several industries including the manufacturing, industrial, medical and service industries. Prior to joining The Center, Brian spent the past seven years as Director of Business Development and member of the Executive Team of a facility maintenance company. In addition to managing the sales team, Brian worked to redesign the company’s sales and marketing plan while streamlining the sales and operations delivery process.

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, March 9, 2018

Want Big Data? Start Small with Your ERP

By: George Singos

The process of embracing new technology continues to confuse and discourage many small and medium-sized manufacturers. Although there is no established protocol in place for how to successfully transition to utilizing such technologies, the first step for all manufacturers is to understand the needs of their business (read more about this here). With this in place, along with a few of the right tools, this journey can become simpler, cheaper and even exciting. But what kinds of tools are necessary for this?

Much like how a car is needed to travel long distances, an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is needed to support company initiatives. While most companies have ERP systems in place, many fail to realize their full potential. They do not understand that such systems can support operations that involve automation and data to drive performance and profitability. Additionally, these systems can integrate with a wide variety of automated equipment and sensors to better manage operations. If used correctly, your ERP system can help your company join the factories of the future.

The Data is Out There. Use It.
It is worth noting that having the right tools in place, such as a strong ERP system, can be useless if the data it provides is not measured and analyzed. Your company could have the most expensive, effective sensor on the market, but it won’t improve your operations unless you fully utilize the data it provides to you. Mastering this step can boost your company’s competitive advantage, help you better manage your operations and increase overall profitability. Although there are endless ways to use big data to improve your business, here are a few essential things you can and should be doing with your data to begin tapping its potential:
  • Monitor and report on your efficiency. This may sound obvious, but many companies fail to track the efficiency of their facilities. To measure this, we typically start with establishing how often the equipment in a given facility is running (producing parts). For example, if a shop is opened 2,080 hours a year, how many hours is the equipment actually making parts per line/cell? Gathering and analyzing this data could help you discover a few important areas of improvement:
    • Is your equipment breaking down too much?
    • Are your set-ups available at the end of a run for the next job?
    • Are you sufficiently staffed and/or do you have a flexible workforce?
  • Track standard costing/variance. Many companies have the ability to compare the estimate and subsequent (i.e., bill of materials) with the actual costs during and after the production run, but they do not always invest time in tracking it. This should be made a priority due to the numerous benefits it can bring your company, such as:
    • Answer the question of, are you operating according to the established standard? If not, your efficiencies and process compliance may be out of control. This typically can be found by looking at the estimated gross margin versus actual gross margin (which, more often than not, is lower).
    • Discover if your estimates are accurate. Even at your best, you might not be meeting the standards set by the estimation department. Many times we see this when outdated estimation labor costs and material are used.
    • Track your scrap properly. Lack of proper scrap tracking appears when ‘bad’ product is returned to inventory, assuming it will be used someday (hint: it won’t), or when the incorrect standard volume of material is used in production.
  • Know your part family/product line profitability. When used properly, your ERP should have the ability to group similar parts together and establish profitability levels by category. An example of where you can use this information is if you have five product lines and one of the families has lower profitability than the others. Your ERP system can provide information to help the sales team quote the products that you are more efficient in producing. This same information can be used to prioritize a continuous improvement plan that can help identify which areas to focus on for future changes.
With basic practices such as these in place, your company will be on the right track to finding success in existing and future technologies.

Lead the Way to the Future
As these technologies and ideas are still so fresh, most manufacturers are only in the beginning stages of transitioning to a modern form of data acquisition. In this era of uncertainty, you may be asking yourself, is my company staying competitive in this changing market? To help answer this, The Center has developed a free Transformation Planner for manufacturers to use, which can determine how effectively your company is performing compared to competitors in the market. You might find you still have a long way to go on your journey to the top, or perhaps you are already leading the way to the factory of tomorrow.

George Singos
Business Leader Advisor

George Singos is the Business Leader Advisor for the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center. He has accumulated more than 30 years of manufacturing experience in Business Development, Sales & Marketing Management, Project Planning, Quality Management, Costing and Scheduling. Prior to joining The Center, George worked in International Business Development, where his primary focus was growing International Sales in Europe and East Asia while supporting North American, South American and ASEAN operations.

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, March 2, 2018

114 Resources to Power Your Business

By: Jeff Schultz

As the saying goes, “knowledge is power,” and that’s as true today as ever. Thanks to technology, we have unprecedented access to information, to the point where “Google” has become a verb. Need the answer to just about anything? Google it.

This access creates a wide range of opportunities to improve decision-making in many areas of manufacturing, including improved business processes and operations, predictive maintenance, competitive intelligence, sales forecasting, and on and on.

The bottom line is that if we know where the money is going, what processes are the most efficient (or inefficient) or where there are opportunities for growth, we can manage the business from an informed position of strength rather than guessing or gut reactions.

The technological advances related to digitization clearly offer even small manufacturers beneficial data and insights, but that’s a topic that deserves its own blog post (coming soon!).

Recently, we came across an incredibly comprehensive and valuable set of resources for manufacturers. This list was compiled by Stacy Crawley, who handles sales and marketing for Novo Solutions, a provider of highly flexible, web and mobile information management software. Stacy organized 111 websites into eight categories, including:
  • Associations, Organizations, & Sites
  • Publications & Have-it-All Websites
  • Blogs to Subscribe (we’re honored to be included here)
  • Workforce Challenges & Education
  • Forms, Tips, Calculators, and Tools
  • Books/Guides/Manuals/Resources
  • Best Practices & Benchmarking
  • Compliance, Standards, Safety
You can view the resources here, and you will want to bookmark the page for future reference.

Another approach is in-depth or customized research conducted by a third party that is very specific to your organization. As an example, The Center’s Research Services team has access to a variety of private data sources that enable Michigan manufacturers to answer critical questions, implement data-driven tactics and make strategic business decisions. In this case, there are three key areas:  Market research, competitive intelligence and supplier scouting.

Market research has come a long way from being something only large corporations with big budgets could undertake. Today, market research is an organized effort and systematic approach to collect and interpret information about business and industry environments, customers and competitors for the purposes of decision-making.

For many companies, competitive intelligence is needed now more than ever due to rapidly changing technology and the nature of manufacturing in general. This business-specific process involves aggregating information from industry reports, news and trade media, company profiles, government statistics, and other resources to create an accurate portrait of the competitive landscape.

Manufacturers seeking to improve or expand their supply chains increasingly are turning to supplier scouting as a way to connect to companies that offer a tailor-fit solution. With support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), we have access to a unique set of databases and the ability to leverage our statewide network of experts to construct a prioritized list of Michigan companies that match the request of manufacturers of all sizes and all stages of growth.

Clearly, there is no shortage of data that can benefit today’s manufacturer, regardless of size or specialty. The companies that tap into these readily available resources will be those that are better positioned to compete, grow and prosper in an ever-changing environment in the days ahead.

To learn more about our Research Services, visit:

Jeff Schultz
Marketing Manager

Jeff joined the marketing and communications team at The Center in 2016. With more than 20 years of experience, he is responsible for managing the marketing team and ensuring the successful completion of strategic communication initiatives. Jeff started his career with three prominent public relations firms before transitioning to a corporate communications role prior to The Center. Jeff earned his BA in English and Communication from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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