Friday, March 22, 2019

A New Path for Automotive Manufacturers

By: Bob Jenkins

When it comes to manufacturing, Michigan has a wealth of talent and skills. Many of those skills were established through multiple OEM automobile launches and new product developments. And while the 2008 downturn cost Michigan a lot of skilled performers, they have returned in large part.

Now, it’s time to consider the next “down” cycle. While we can’t know for sure when it will occur, many researchers and experts are anticipating change within the next few years. Given the economic risk, manufacturers cannot afford to ignore the oncoming recession.

Same Skills, New Path
In traveling across the nation visiting various automotive suppliers, a noticeable difference exists as you leave the car mecca of the United States: many suppliers don’t focus on automotive products. Instead, it’s just a part of what they do. For example, one firm I visited in Missouri dedicated only 10% of their operation to automotive. Few suppliers in Michigan can say the same…

With a recession on the horizon, and a large portion of manufacturing in Michigan focused solely on automotive, how can we avoid a repeat of 2008? The sensible approach to this is diversification.

The best time to diversify is now, when things are going well and you can support change with the cash flow from your ongoing, profitable work. However, most of us tend to resist change because we get comfortable doing one thing (in this case, supplying the same products to the same customers or market). Then, when the inevitable downturn comes, we don’t have the resources or the inclination to change. Quite the Catch 22.

Those manufacturers who are able to overcome this natural urge to avoid change will be the ones who survive and thrive through the next recession, making their companies into a more competitive operation. One such path of change is with medical devices.

Some might be intimidated by the level of detail that is required to manufacture medical devices. However, none of this is beyond the skills of an automotive supplier. Through my work as a quality mentor, I often audit IATF 16949 (auto) facilities as well as ISO 13485 (medical devices) quality standards. Interestingly, some of the automotive standards are more stringent than medical devices.

I’ve seen both sides and know that a move from automotive to medical devices is no more challenging than an OEM launch that changes product, process and people at the same time. If a company can survive one of those, they can easily survive this transition.

Beyond widening product offerings and bringing in a whole new market of customers by diversifying, manufacturers can gain a competitive advantage in the medical device sector by achieving MedAccred accreditation. Provided by the Performance Review Institute (PRI), this is an industry-sponsored audit program for qualifying special processes involved in medical device manufacturing, including injection molding, welding, printed circuit board assembly, wiring harnesses, etc.

Going through this process of achieving accreditation gets you on a special list of businesses that medical device manufacturers such as Stryker, Medtronic and Johnson & Johnson use for sourcing. Recently, certain items have been sourced away from long-term suppliers who were not accredited and instead given to suppliers who had their accreditation, making it clear that contracts will be increasingly awarded based on this accreditation going forward.

With the uncertainty of the automotive industry and economy as a whole, medical devices are one option for manufacturers to pursue to generate stable sales now and into the future. There are many other paths available to diversify your production as well. Deciding to diversify is the hardest part. After that, it’s just work. Don’t wait to make changes until after the inevitable downturn, when you’re busy scrambling to keep your business alive…

To learn more about how to diversify products, or how to achieve MedAccred accreditation, contact

Bob Jenkins
Quality Program Manager

Bob Jenkins is a Quality Program Manager at The Center. In his role, he manages and delivers training and implementation assistance to organizations in the field of quality improvements. As an Exemplar Global Certified Auditor, Bob assists clients with Quality Management System implementations such as ISO 9001:2015 and IATF 16949. He provides internal auditor training and consulting services for various groups, including production, production management and corporate management, in disciplines involving the automotive core tools of quality systems consisting of FMEA, PPAP, APQP, SPC, MSA, and Root Cause Analysis/Problem Solving. Bob also teaches blueprint reading.

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 15, 2019

Are You Using Your Data to Its Full Potential?

By: George Singos

A company is only as good as its data. Whether you’re trying to increase productivity, eliminate bottlenecks in production or grow into new markets, data is the key to driving improvements and maintaining success.

However, data is useless if it is not properly analyzed and applied to strategic decision-making. Many organizations fall short here, spending 80% of their time gathering data and only 20% managing it. Others have massive amounts of data gathered via their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, but are unsure of how to use it.

To better utilize your time – and your data – consider the following factors:
  • How “clean,” or accurate, is your data? Maybe your buckets of measurement are too small or too large. Maybe your reports have incomplete or inaccurate data. Or maybe you’re not sure how clean your data is. Unfortunately, if data is not clean it most likely will not be helpful, either. In order to get a comprehensive picture of how the business is performing, companies must first ensure their data is clean and complete. 
  • Do the right people have the right data? Once data has been cleaned, it should be presented to the people who need it. The type of data shared will depend on what kind of decision-making each manager is responsible for. In this case, sometimes too much data is not a good thing. 
  • How is your data presented? Perhaps most importantly, make sure your data is in an accessible format. This makes it easier to visualize the data and make decisions based on what you see.
Some business leaders might be thinking, I’ve been collecting data the same way for years, why change now? Or, What tools are available to help me use data more effectively?

Business Intelligence (BI) software is changing the way data is organized and analyzed, making it easier than ever for manufacturers to gain transparency into their business performance. When used correctly, BI has the power to deliver data directly to you, highlighting opportunities for improvement in operations.

As manufacturers become increasingly focused on achieving predictive and autonomous processes, learning how to correctly gather and utilize data is essential. Here, using BI and your ERP system to their full potential can provide a number of benefits, including:
  • Gain real-time information and visibility. Used in conjunction with ERP systems, BI has the ability to gather and present data in real-time, allowing you to react immediately. Companies no longer have to wait days to see data, only to discover defects occurred in production a week after the fact. This not only minimizes costs associated with waste and defects, but also enables manufacturers to identify issues in production immediately and make improvements where appropriate.
  • Make data more interactive and dynamic. Many are still used to data that is flat, presented in a report or print-out. Now, by using BI and ERP systems, data can be optimized and presented in more interactive and collaborative formats. This allows companies to more easily view multiple data sets at once, as well as makes data easier to visualize and understand. 
The benefits of collecting and analyzing data are huge, helping companies drive improvements and boost their bottom line. The sooner manufacturers learn to use data effectively with ERP systems and BI software, the sooner they can make informed, strategic business decisions.

To learn more about how to harness the power of your data, click here or contact

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 8, 2019

Everything I Know About Motivation I Learned from Prison

By: Charlie Westra

Supervisors are constantly in pursuit of finding the perfect recipe to motivate problem people. Whether it’s a stereotypical millennial or an old-timer who is stuck in their ways, the question is the same: How do I get someone – anyone – to follow and execute my direction? It’s one of the most important and difficult questions for leaders to answer. For me, I found the solution in a very unexpected place: prison.

During my career as an instructor, I once had a student – let’s call him Ross – who shared a pivotal story from his former life as a guard at the county prison in Jackson, Michigan. One day, the prison warden tasked Ross with cleaning up the yard. To clarify, for those who have never watched a prison movie, “the yard” is the outdoor communal space where inmates congregate and work off energy. To accomplish this goal of tidying the yard, Ross was going to have to get help from the inmates.

Consider, for a moment, the task he was faced with. He had to motivate those who cannot be motivated. The inmates did not have a concrete reason (like a paycheck) to do what he wanted. So, Ross had to think creatively about how to convince everyone to help him. He weighed a few options for how to approach this: Ask the entire population for help? Ask only the most trusted inmates for help?

What Ross ended up doing was profound. He assembled a group of inmates (around 15% of the total population) based on observing who had the most influence with the other inmates. Essentially, he picked those who could best rally a team to make things happen. Then, with these powerful inmates gathered, he asked them all one simple question: “Do you guys want outside time?”

Now, Ross easily could have taken a different approach here. He could’ve stated, “You guys are going to help me clean my yard.” He could have ordered them, bossed them, intimidated them, threatened them into cleaning up the yard, which most likely would have resulted in a negative response. Instead, Ross appealed to what all the inmates wanted most: a chance to get out of their cells and break free from their daily routines. And, after asking his question, every single inmate in the room volunteered to help.

With his clean-up team assembled and motivated, Ross provided them with the tools they needed, including rakes, brooms and flats of flowers. The result was a rare sight to behold: the most hardened criminals planting flowers, pulling weeds and picking up litter. When everything was complete, the rest of the inmates entered the yard. Now that Ross had given ownership of the yard’s condition to the group, what do you think happened the first time a cigarette butt was thrown into a flowerbed? The inmates took care of not only the cigarette butt, but also the disrespect. The inmates now policed the yard’s condition – not Ross, and not the warden.

Ross’s dilemma was similar to what most leaders and managers deal with on a daily basis, providing a valuable lesson for how to motivate a team to work together to reach a common goal. Whether it’s cleaning up the yard or completing a project, people respond better when you align what you need with what they want. As a leader, if you are able to quickly articulate why it would be in the best interest of workers to follow your orders, you will be more effective at motivating people to follow you not because they have to, but because they want to.

Charlie Westra
Growth Services Program Manager

As the Growth Services Program Manager at the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (The Center), Charlie’s expertise spans many areas. In his role, Charlie is responsible for developing organizational growth strategies, providing management consulting, and building effective teams. Specializing in improving employee engagement with supervisory skills and leadership development, Charlie works collectively and individually with management and sales teams to develop customized workplace tools to fit specific needs and goals. His mission is to assist companies in producing sustainable, positive results.

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 1, 2019

ISO: Leave the Pyramids to the Pharaohs

By: Andy Nichols

Most of us are familiar with the famous Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Built 4,500 years ago, more than 118 of these structures have withstood the test of time and stand as a testament to the amazing engineering and construction skills of the day.

Now, fast forward to 1987. ISO 9001 was released with the visual metaphor of a pyramid often being used to represent the documentation requirements of the standard for Quality Management Systems (QMS). Despite not being a model directly described in the ISO standard or any related guidance, like ISO 9004, some quality teams preferred to envision the hierarchy of documents mentioned in ISO 9001 as a pyramid, much like the one below.
This pyramid metaphor did, indeed, come from a suggestion that there are “layers” of documentation required in a QMS. Early versions of ISO 9001 specified a procedure as a requirement for nearly every “clause,” with no reference to documentation. Clause 4.9 went on to define the requirements for control of an organization’s production processes as the option of “...documented work instructions, where the absence of such would adversely affect quality.”

This is the only clause that mentions the option of documenting work instructions. No additional documentation was mandated for the procedures for “Contract Review,” “Purchasing,” “Corrective Actions,” etc. This oversight, likely exacerbated by the mantra, “Say what you do, do what you say,” resulted in people creating more documentation than was required, either by the standard or by the organization.

As with the Pyramids of Giza, the visual metaphor seemed set to withstand the changes through which ISO 9001 has undergone (in 1994, 2000 and 2008). Not so!

In 2015, ISO 9001 went through a seismic event which should have toppled the documentation pyramid. After 30 years of use, there is no prescriptive requirement for:
  • A Quality Manual
  • Documented Procedures
  • Work Instructions
With ISO 9001:2015, it is now left up to the organization to determine which documents it believes it needs (considering factors such as “interested parties,” “organizational knowledge,” etc.). This significant change to the foundation of the QMS was partly inspired by feedback from small organizations who felt they did not need to rely heavily on writing down their processes to function effectively.

Unlike the Pyramids of Giza, which see thousands of visitors a year, an organization usually doesn’t entertain the same interest in its QMS documentation. Although no one expects employees to eagerly line up to read the quality manual or put the Corrective Action procedure on their “must-read" list, the simple fact is that a significant majority of Quality Management documents go unused.

There are many valid reasons for this, including:
  • Quality Manuals are written to rephrase the ISO 9001 requirements
  • Procedures don’t describe processes
  • Work instructions are written without involvement from the people doing the work
The latest revision of ISO 9001 gives all organizations an opportunity to revisit the purpose of their Quality Management documentation in achieving their goals and strategic objectives. After all, we equip our people with tools and machines to make their work more effective and efficient – shouldn't we do the same with their documentation?

Let’s not bury our people in documentation pyramids like the ancient Egyptians did to their pharaohs!

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

Friday, February 22, 2019

Death of a (Stereotypical) Salesman

By: Brian Mamo         

Over the years, salespeople have been unfairly labeled as pushy and dishonest. Unfortunately, these common stereotypes do not reflect the true purpose and goal of what salespeople do: Help businesses and consumers thrive.

When people encounter salespeople, whether it’s at the front door or at a furniture store, they are oftentimes avoided or ignored. Even salespeople have admitted to avoiding their professional colleagues when they are out and about. To combat the stigma when meeting with prospective clients, many in sales have replaced “Salesperson” on their business cards with something more approachable.

Adopt the Client’s Perspective
Ask yourself, If a salesperson were talking to me, how would I determine if I wanted to continue the conversation with them? Most would be interested in working with a salesperson that will provide them a solution, save them money or fix a problem. The goal within the first five minutes of meeting a client is to demonstrate that you are trustworthy, care about their business and can provide real impacts to their organization. To ensure these meetings go well not only the first time, but every time, use the following strategies:
  • Do your research. Don’t claim to know everything about the business because you spent a few minutes on their website. On the same token, don’t ask for the history of their company – read up on it before the meeting. The adage of, “Owners love to talk about their company” is no longer true; they don’t have the time, especially if they’re not sure if they want to continue the conversation with you. Coming into the meeting with a solid foundation of background information will show you are interested in their organization and will work to establish a basis of trust.
  • Go in with realistic expectations. Don’t try to get private information from the client on the first meeting. If that is your expectation, change it. Since trust has not yet been developed, they are less likely to divulge the information and you run the risk of offending them. Instead, let the client guide the conversation and focus on responding to the information they are comfortable sharing. 
  • Adjust your presentation style based on your audience. Every client is different. Understanding their personality type upon meeting them will determine your communication approach. Some people want to get right to the point, while others prefer engaging in small talk prior to discussing their goals. If you try to small talk with someone who only wants to discuss business matters, you could frustrate and lose them quickly. Getting a feel for the client’s personality and responding accordingly can make the difference between a second meeting, or a closed door.
  • Listen more, talk less. We’ve all heard the saying, “He’d be a good salesman because he has the gift of gab.” If you’re doing all the talking, the client doesn’t have a chance to discuss their company’s needs. Make the most of your meeting time by letting the client do the talking. This not only makes for a more productive meeting, but it demonstrates that you care about their business challenges. 
  • Show value. Instead of trying to push or manipulate someone into a sale, the goal should be to show that you can provide real financial impacts, solve challenges and ultimately be trusted. The main point of sales is to listen to clients, understand the problems they are experiencing, and have solutions ready that will benefit their organization and provide results. 
Salespeople must work together with prospective clients to identify areas needing improvement and find solutions. The quicker salespeople make that their priority, the faster the sales stereotype becomes a distant memory.

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, February 15, 2019

Looking to Diversify Industries? Consider Aerospace

By: Ron Quinkert

As we discussed in a recent blog, many manufacturers are deciding now is the time to diversify. With a potential recession on the horizon, organizations are faced with a few different diversification options to pursue: develop new types of products, sell to new geographic areas or expand into new industries.

But before companies can commit to expanding into new markets, for example, they must first answer a few important questions, such as: Which industries will provide the most business opportunities, now and in the near future? How do I successfully enter a new market? Which industry would make the most sense for my business to enter into?

One industry that has experienced steady growth in recent years is the aerospace sector. With commercial aircraft demand skyrocketing due to factors such as stable crude oil prices, growth in passenger travel and global tensions contributing to higher defense spending, the aerospace industry has become one of the most viable markets for manufacturers to operate in. Due to its promising revenue streams now and in the coming years, many manufacturers might decide that entering the aerospace sector is the right decision for their business. But how do organizations go about doing this?

When it comes to aerospace, quality is the number one priority. After all, it is rare that we hear of airplane recalls or disasters due to manufacturing errors. Because of this, any manufacturer who aims to find success in the aerospace industry must start by achieving an AS9100D certification.

First released in 1999, with the most recent revision published in 2016, AS9100D Quality Management Systems – Requirements for Aviation, Space and Defense Organizations is the standardized Quality Management System (QMS) for the aerospace sector, as well as for defense organizations. Essentially, AS9100D encompasses all the requirements outlined in the more general ISO 9001 quality standard, with additional requirements specifically related to aviation, space and defense organizations.

In addition to ensuring all manufactured parts reach specified standards of quality, having a QMS that is registered to AS9100D can improve manufacturers’ delivery performance while reducing production costs. Maintaining this certification also helps drive continuous improvement initiatives, as manufacturers must continually work to improve processes and prioritize quality in order to keep their AS9100D certification.

Unlike the domestic automotive industry’s requirement to another QMS standard, AS9100D certification is not mandatory for manufacturers to obtain. However, many aerospace customers still require suppliers to achieve a certification in order to conduct business with them. Because of this, manufacturers who choose to get this certification can gain a competitive advantage over others who have not.

Manufacturers with more questions about the process, costs and responsibilities associated with entering the aerospace sector can get answers at an upcoming Aerospace Industry Association of Michigan (AIAM) event. Hosted by The Center at our Plymouth location, this lunch and learn event will be held from 11am to 2pm on Tuesday, March 19. Speakers from the industry will share insights about what manufacturers must do in order to successfully enter the aerospace industry, and why they would want to. To register for this event, click here. Companies do not have to be an AIAM member to attend.

Ron Quinkert
Senior Business Solutions Manager

Ron Quinkert is a Senior Business Solutions Manager with the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center and has 20 years of automotive sales and manufacturing experience. He works directly with manufacturers in seven Southeast and Central Michigan counties. Ron is a seasoned professional with expertise in team building, automotive product and manufacturing processes, tool design, operational audit practices, procedures and improvements.

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 8, 2019

What is Value Added vs. Non-Value Added Work?

By: Mike Beels

You’ve heard the old saying: Time is money. But how much of our time at work is really spent engaging in activities that add value to the organization? We tend to assume that every task we perform is essential in sustaining operations. But after analyzation from a Lean perspective, we might be surprised to discover that many of our activities are actually costing the organization time and money.

At its core, Lean is a methodology that aims to eliminate waste in all areas of an organization, resulting in shorter lead times, improved quality and reduced cost. One activity that Lean practitioners use to eliminate waste is to break down workplace processes into categories of Value Added, Non-Value Added and Necessary Non-Value Added. Completing this step allows manufacturers to identify which activities are actually necessary to satisfy the needs of customers, and which are simply wasting valuable resources. Once these distinctions have been made, manufacturers can then work to eliminate Non-Value Added activities so that waste can be minimized, while maximizing value added.

In order to separate your activities into these three categories, you must first understand what each entails:
  • Value Added Activities must satisfy the following three criteria:
  • Work that the customer is willing to pay for
  • Work that physically transforms the product (or document/information)
  • Work that is done right the first time
One easy way to remember this definition is to use the acronym CPR, which stands for: Customer pays for it, Physically transforms the product, Right the first time.
  • Non-Value Added Activities involve work that consumes resources, but does not add value to the product or service.
  • Necessary Non-Value Added Activities are a bit trickier to identify. These are activities that do not add value to the product or service, but are currently necessary. For example, this work might be required by:
  • Customer contract or specification
  • Industry standard such as ISO 9001
  • Government regulation
  • Outdated work method or equipment
We now know what each of these categories involve, but what do they look like in daily life?

On the shop floor, Value Added Activities are those that transform the product from raw material into finished goods that the customer is willing to pay for. Examples might include drilling, piercing or welding a part. Non-Value Added activities, or those that consume valuable resources but do not meet the CPR criteria, might include extra motion or transportation involved in walking from one area of production to another, or any rework caused by defective products. Finally, if a customer requires you to maintain two weeks of finished goods because they don’t trust you to produce or deliver on time, this could be considered a Necessary but Non-Value Added activity. While the activity is Non-Value Added because it is creating extra inventory, it is Necessary because the customer expects it to be done in order to continue doing business with them.

These same types of Value Added, Non-Value Added and Necessary but Non-Value Added activities exist in the office as well. There, a Value Added activity might involve completing an accounting statement or drawing for the customer. On the other hand, a Non-Value Added activity could include the copying and filing of documents. To some, the need to utilize a corporate document at the plant level could be considered Necessary but Non-Value Added because although it may create additional work, it must be done.

Analyzing all the process steps involved in your operations, no matter how big or small, can put your company on a path to saving money while boosting efficiency, increasing customer satisfaction and even heightening employee morale. All it takes is asking the question, Is my work adding value?

For those interested in learning more about the basics of Lean, The Center’s Manufacturing Skills Development (also known as Manufacturing Process Development) course provides participants with a foundational understanding of manufacturing concepts including Lean, quality, problem solving and culture. Register for the upcoming course on March 21-22 here. To learn more about how to start your Lean journey, click here or contact

Mike Beels
Lean Program Manager

Mike Beels has served in the role of Lean Program Manager for the Lean Business Solutions Team at The Center for more than 12 years. Mike’s areas of expertise include Change Leadership, Workforce Engagement and Succession Planning, as well as the entire portfolio of Lean strategies and methodologies. He is a professional trainer and has the ability to command an audience and deliver the training message in a way that participants can understand in a clear, non-threatening manner. Mike always leaves trainees excited and ready to complete training transfer to the shop floor or office. 

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 1, 2019

Why You (& Your Company) Need PCQI Training

By: John Spillson

According to the Food & Drug Administration, every food processing facility is required to have a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) on staff to manage their food safety preventive controls program. Although not required, advanced training is encouraged to provide individuals with the skills needed to successfully navigate the complicated process of developing, writing and maintaining a Food Safety Plan. With most courses costing between $800 and $1000 for two or three days of training, manufacturers often wonder: Is PCQI training worth it?

For some, the answer may initially be a ‘no.’ Individuals CAN be recognized as a PCQI if they, through adequate job experience, can perform all the duties required of a PCQI. After all, years of working in the food processing industry and understanding proper food handling techniques, adequate holding temperatures and sanitation practices should be enough to handle the responsibilities of a PCQI without formal training. Right? The answer is: Not exactly. 

While you may understand general food safety and be able to identify and control hazards, you may not know or fully understand all the latest regulations, recordkeeping needs and recall plan requirements that go along with maintaining your company’s Food Safety Plan. In other words, for most manufacturers, relying on experience is not always good enough. Gaining additional training develops stronger skills and allows for a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Benefits of PCQI Training
Formal PCQI training provides a variety of benefits including:
  • Understanding the significance and details of Federal Regulations. Fully comprehending the significance of new food regulations is essential. This is a main topic covered in a PCQI course. This course highlights the value behind requirements including the need for a formal Food Safety Plan and recall plan, proper recordkeeping and other responsibilities of a PCQI. By discussing the significance behind each task, participants are made to understand that these regulations are not suggestions and are not negotiable. 
  • Learning from specially trained instructors. PCQI courses are taught by lead instructors who have gone through unique training to provide the most efficient transfer of knowledge possible. In order to become an instructor, they must attend the full PCQI course, meet training experience requirements and take additional lead instructor training designed specifically for teaching adult learners. Instructors also are given several sets of training exercises with detailed instructions for how to best administer them so that participants can get the most out of their training experience.
  • Gaining in-depth knowledge about hazards and preventive controls. Training builds upon participants’ foundational knowledge of Current Good Manufacturing Practices through understanding what hazards are, where they can be found, their likelihood of occurring and their severity. Four different preventive controls are then introduced, giving participants an opportunity to decide which of the four would best control the identified hazards. Verification and validation procedures are taught next so that PCQIs can identify whether the applied preventive controls are being properly implemented and are functioning as planned. Recall plans are included in the discussion, as their main intention is to prevent more people from getting sick than necessary in the event of a recall. Participants learn many strategies for developing a robust recall plan that will account for every affected product, such as outlining a list of all names and businesses to immediately contact in order to minimize the potential impact of a recall. 
  • Improving your recordkeeping abilities. Establishing effective recordkeeping procedures is just as important as understanding and establishing preventive controls. Much time in PCQI training is spent explaining how to effectively maintain records since they are vital to the construction and maintenance of a Food Safety Plan.
  • Gaining experience through different exercises and activities. Hands-on training is provided to best encompass the types of tasks the PCQI will have to complete on the job. Through various training exercises, participants learn new tools in decision-making and strategic thinking, eventually combining all lessons learned to effectively complete their Food Safety Plan. Participants then report their findings to the rest of the class, which provides them with the opportunity to interact with other companies and learn from their experiences.
  • Speeding up your auditing process. The curriculum taught in a PCQI course, which was developed by the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance (FSPCA), is the same no matter where you are in the country. Since all food processors, consultants, auditors and inspectors learn the same curriculum, audits can be completed much more smoothly. Further, if the PCQI can present a certificate of course completion to the inspector at the beginning of an audit, the inspector will know they have learned all the information necessary to build a robust Food Safety Plan, without having to first go through a lengthy validation process. 
  • Receiving resources to help create your Food Safety Plan. Individuals are given several resources in training that can be used in the development of their Food Safety Plan. Sample worksheets, forms and templates are included, providing participants with the precise tools needed to outline their Food Safety Plan. 
The benefits of investing in a PCQI course are clear. While it might be possible to develop, write and maintain your Food Safety Plan without taking the time to become formally trained, the process is made much easier and will be more effective for those who do.

To gain the skills needed to confidently manage your company’s food safety preventive controls program, come to The Center’s upcoming PCQI course on February 20-21, taught by our FSPCA Lead Instructor. For more information on the benefits of PCQI training, click here or contact John Spillson at

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.

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, January 25, 2019

When Lean and Six Sigma Meet Industry 4.0

By: Anna Stefos 

By now, all of us are aware of how deeply the internet has engrained itself into our lives. Through a myriad of applications, it has opened us up to a new world of instant information and connectivity amongst family and peers. It truly has changed our lives forever!

The same can be said about the impact Industry 4.0 has had on the manufacturing world. Each day, more manufacturers are implementing new technologies in their facilities in efforts to improve operations, boost efficiency and increase profitability. However, many are still trying to figure out how to best approach these new technologies and what they will look like for their business. One way to better understand how to achieve a “smart” factory is to think of it in the context of Lean Six Sigma (LSS).

Manufacturers who have already begun their Industry 4.0 implementations have experienced rapid improvements in data accessibility, computational power and connectivity, all made possible using sensors, cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). As a result, there has been an increase in the use of Data Analytics – affectionately called “Big Data,” or data collected automatically – to drive business strategies and make solid, fact-based decisions. With more manufacturers generating data at higher rates than previously possible, Big Data Analytics has become a hot topic for manufacturers of all sizes.

That’s where LSS comes in. Basic data mining techniques such as clustering, association, prediction, classification and process mining algorithms help organizations reach correct and optimal decisions in various stages of LSS. Now, as companies are upgrading to digital operations, the appropriate LSS tools can be applied to expand on initiatives that companies have already started.

Most companies have responded to this evolution by “turbo charging” every process-driven operation supported by Big Data that is guided by LSS practitioners. My only hope is that companies do not misunderstand and overestimate their new capabilities and assume they no longer need LSS tools!

In reality, when aligning IoT and Industry 4.0 with LSS methodologies, these tried and true tools are made even more relevant. Why is this? The need for an established quality process is not going away. Furthermore, these tools empower dynamic and efficient analyses of complex and not-so-complex processes, enabling organizations to better leverage vast amounts of data. This way, companies of all sizes can easily make operations more efficient, improve business intelligence, identify strategic initiatives and provide better products and services to their customers.

We all know the cliché…knowledge is power. In this context, that cannot be more true. Managers and employees with knowledge in LSS are better positioned to take an active role in ensuring new technologies are incorporated into their operations in meaningful ways. The large amount of data collected by Industry 4.0 innovations will not do anything for a company if it is not cleaned and formatted so it can be properly analyzed to provide informed, actionable insights that can improve a business. A linguist will always be needed to translate and share the unique story only data can tell us. Therefore, for any operation, it is crucial to start with an LSS framework from the beginning and watch the data-driven transformation emerge, evolve and thrive in the competitive business climate that now demands real IoT decisions.

Charles Darwin said it best: “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most adaptable.”

The principles of how to run a production line, find defects and bottlenecks, increase capacity, remove waste or work more efficiently, etc., are still part of manufacturing operations. How to modify operations in this new environment is where the adaptation comes into play – by combining what we have learned about manufacturing in the last few decades with all the new benefits of Industry 4.0. Using advanced analytics to solve the same manufacturing challenges we’ve faced for years just accelerates our ability to reach operational and business excellence.

LSS practitioners know where and how to collect data, translate raw data into practical and interesting stories, provide targeted information and develop actionable strategies in response to collected data. Their role will not be diminished because of the massive data available. Instead, their skillset will be needed now more than ever as they are able to guide decision-making around much larger volumes of data better, faster. More importantly, their skillset enables them to sift through Big Data in ways that can be overwhelming for the untrained. Just imagine – what used to be accomplished with a laptop and Minitab, for example, using four or five variables, can now been done in data lakes with 400, 500, 600+ variables. Now that’s HUGE!

To get your team the data collection tools and skills they need to drive your company’s success with Industry 4.0, click here or contact

Anna Stefos
Operational Excellence Manager

Anna Stefos has a diverse background in automotive spanning 20 combined years at GM and FCA, ranging from international manufacturing to product development, strategic planning, program management, corporate strategy and international operations. Anna’s experience in partnering with C-level executives provides a strong foundation for and advising small and medium-sized companies to achieve Enterprise Transformation and propel them towards Operational Excellence. Anna has a passion for Lean Six Sigma and is a trained Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt.

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, January 18, 2019

Will Your Company Survive the Next Recession?

By: Shelly Stobierski

A hard life lesson everyone has had to learn at one point or another is that all good things must come to an end. This is an especially difficult lesson to learn when it comes to the economy, but one that Michigan manufacturers may soon be faced with.

After a decade of economic expansion, and with unemployment reaching a 50-year low, it has now become a waiting game to see when this period of economic prosperity will finally begin to slow. And with recent announcements by Ford and GM about plant closures and layoffs signaling a shift in demand, this could mean a recession is closer than we think.

With an impending recession just around the corner, it’s time for Michigan manufacturers – especially those involved in the automotive industry – to face some difficult facts. Many unpredictable factors, such as tariffs and an incoming wave of new government leaders, are expected to impact the industry in the coming months, whether positively or negatively.

Some factors have already started to slow down automotive production, including:
  • Ongoing changes to the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards, which largely impact the market overall
  • Public transportation and mobility becoming more prevalent across the nation, decreasing the need for personal vehicles
  • Increased life expectancy of cars due to improvements in quality, resulting in fewer vehicles being sold over time
These challenges should come as no surprise to manufacturers. Many market analysts have been anticipating a slowdown in production for years. With the economic downturn in Michigan already starting to be seen in several industries, time may be running out for manufacturers to safeguard their companies from another recession. That being said, how can manufacturers ensure 2019 isn’t a repeat of the 2008-2010 slump?

Diversification. For manufacturers who are heavily involved in the automotive industry, with most of their revenue generated from supplying OEMs or Tier I suppliers, now is the time to diversify. As the market enters another cycle of decreased productivity and demand, diversifying is the key to making your company more resilient to change and more stable in the years to come, regardless of the current economic state.

Some might argue this is unnecessary, claiming the automotive industry will be able to sustain them into the future. However, we can look back at the 2008-2010 recession, when countless automotive suppliers throughout Michigan and the U.S. went out of business or had to restructure, as an example of what could happen if your company fails to diversify.

To prevent this from happening to your business, manufacturers must get ahead of the predicted recession and prepare in one of three ways:
  • Supply existing products to new industries. One of the easiest ways to diversify is not to change the products you manufacture, but to instead supply to new industries. Although technically “easier” than other diversification strategies, shifting to supply new industries may still involve a certain level of investment. For example: 
  • Tooling or product design changes may be needed to meet the requirements of other industries, but if you target industries with similar end-use applications, such changes can typically be done quickly and with minimal costs.  
  • Mandated quality certifications, such as ISO 9001 or AS 9100, may need to be achieved in order to supply to certain organizations.
  • Hiring new sales staff with contacts in your target industries and/or retraining existing sales staff will enable you to more quickly prepare a marketing strategy and close new customer sales.
  • Sales and marketing staff will need to attend trade shows, industry association meetings and other “watering holes” to learn about the industries and network with key decision-makers who will impact your sales goals.
  • Marketing collateral such as websites, social media, brochures and product data sheets will need to be updated with messaging aimed at your new industry and customer targets. You might consider running a coordinated marketing campaign by investing in advertising in targeted industry publications or sponsorships at trade shows.
  • Make new products for existing customers. Some manufacturers might find it is most feasible to begin manufacturing new products for existing customers. Building a wider portfolio of product offerings in this way enables manufacturers to essentially cover all their bases and provide more stable revenue into the future. However, product development takes careful planning and focused execution to ensure that the new product launch is successful. With a possible recession in the next few years, it is critical for new product development efforts to get underway now. Most importantly, make sure that you obtain solid and reliable input from existing customers. Understanding what new products are needed and what will be purchased can ensure maximum success and return on investment. 
  • Grow into new geographic areas. In order to stay successful through the next recession, it might be necessary to expand into new geographic markets. For example, if one country is experiencing a recession, another country’s economy might be booming. By expanding into global markets, manufacturers can set themselves up for more consistent revenue, now and beyond. 
Companies that choose to ignore the warning signs and continue business as usual likely will regret it once the economy takes a downturn. Instead, get ahead of the impending recession and diversify – whether it’s with product type, market or geographic area – while you still have the resources and time to do so.

The Center’s market research experts can help manufacturers diversify and become less vulnerable to external changes in the coming years. To learn more, click here or contact

Shelly Stobierski
Director of Research Services

Shelly Stobierski is the Director of Research Services for the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center. She has more than 15 years of market research experience, the first 10 years with a primary focus on automotive-related manufacturing businesses. Shelly has extensive skills in survey research (phone, internet, focus groups) and in the use of proprietary industry databases. Prior to joining The Center, Shelly spent five years as a research analyst for a turnaround firm conducting secondary research with databases such as LexisNexis, Capital IQ, and IHS Automotive forecasts. That was preceded by seven years working in various levels of project management at leading primary research firms.

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, January 11, 2019

Defense Contractors: Is Your Information Protected?

By: Elliot Forsyth

Every 39 seconds, a cyber-attack occurs somewhere in the world. Yet, most small manufacturers still believe they are safe from cyber threats, assuming hackers only target large, multi-billion dollar companies. Unfortunately, that cannot be further from the truth.

Consider, for example, the recent Sea Dragon breach. In early 2018, hackers within the Chinese government targeted the computers of a Navy contractor to steal 614 gigabytes of sensitive government information related to undersea warfare, which included information about Sea Dragon, a highly confidential project, and other sensitive material.

Rather than attacking the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, a military organization responsible for developing Sea Dragon, hackers instead chose to target the contractor, further demonstrating that companies of all size are at risk when it comes to cyber threats. The information stolen was housed on an unclassified network, despite its sensitive nature, leaving it highly vulnerable to theft or attack. Had the contractor originally recognized the risks involved with holding such information – regardless of their company’s size – and taken the proper precautions to ensure the information was protected, this entire breach potentially could have been avoided.

This was not the first major breach of sensitive information to occur within the military realm, and it won’t be the last. Hacks are only becoming increasingly more prevalent, especially among smaller contractors throughout the supply chain. Because of this, a growing number of sectors within the military are moving toward making cybersecurity a top factor in awarding future contracts.

The Department of Defense (DoD) is leading the way when it comes to establishing cybersecurity regulations among suppliers, with thousands of contractors across the nation now compliant with the NIST 800-171 standard. Essentially, this standard provides suppliers with guidelines for closing gaps in their existing information security systems while creating prevention and reaction plans for future cyber-attacks.

Many defense contractors have started their journey towards cyber safety, or are already compliant with the NIST standard. Others have yet to get started, getting held back by questions such as, Where do I start? What kind of information needs to be protected? Where can I find information security experts to help me keep my information protected? Why does this matter to my business?

All of these questions and more will be answered at the upcoming Cybersecurity: Defense Sector Summit held in Troy, Mich., from March 5-6. Hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), in collaboration with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), this event brings together members of industry, government, academia and security research to discuss the latest and most pressing challenges related to cybersecurity in the military. To help Michigan contractors better understand the risks and responsibilities associated with maintaining safe cyber practices, speakers will discuss methods for how to best safeguard information, with live demonstrations related to cybersecurity.

Defense contractors who want to stay competitive and protected in the coming years won’t want to miss this informative event. To learn more about this summit, or to reserve your seat, click here.

For further assistance with safeguarding your company’s sensitive information from attack, contact The Center’s cyber experts at or call 888.414.6682.

Elliot Forsyth
Vice President of Business Operations

Elliot is Vice President of Business Operations at The Center, where he is responsible for leading practice areas that include cybersecurity, technology acceleration, marketing, market research and business development. Over the past two years, Elliot has led The Center's effort to develop a state-of-the-art cybersecurity service for companies in the defense, aerospace and automotive industries, supporting Michigan companies in safeguarding their businesses and maintaining regulatory compliance.

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, January 4, 2019

Redefining Manufacturing in 2019

With the start of a new year, businesses are inspired to reflect on the progress and changes they’ve made in the past year. If they were to look back five or 10 years, most manufacturers would realize their companies have changed so tremendously, that they are unrecognizable compared to how they once were. These transformations in processes, products, staffing and innovations have altered how their businesses appear and operate. This begs the question, what will manufacturing look like in 2019?

New technologies and trends are changing the manufacturing industry. With so many advancements happening at once, it can be difficult for manufacturers to know where the industry is headed, or where to focus their energy in order to stay prosperous and competitive in the coming year. To learn how to navigate this ever-changing market, let’s break down some of the biggest issues, challenges and concerns of manufacturers today and discover how to best mitigate them to ensure success in 2019.

Tackling a Talent Shortage
On the top of all manufacturers’ minds is a shortage of talent. A recent poll conducted by Tooling U-SME found 99% of manufacturers reported that their top workforce challenge was finding skilled new hires. Manufacturers have been dealing with a massive talent shortage for years due to the looming retirement of the baby boomer generation and a general disinterest in manufacturing careers amongst the younger population. However, recent efforts such as National Manufacturing Day, apprenticeships and education reform have worked to improve perceptions of the industry and establish manufacturing as a viable career path for incoming workers. These efforts are proving effective, with more than 66% of those polled saying they would be somewhat or very likely to encourage someone to pursue a career in manufacturing.

Many manufacturers have proactively tackled this challenge by engaging incoming workers with apprenticeships, which equip students with the skills and education needed to excel in manufacturing while securing them as future workers in the facility. Apprenticeships are a win-win situation that can set manufacturers up for success in 2019.

Ensuring Employee Retention & Engagement
As important as it is to find great talent, it is even more important to retain it. As unemployment has reached a 50-year low, companies must offer increasingly competitive benefits to retain workers. This is especially true for manufacturers. In fact, 43% of manufacturers report an average of 20% or higher annual turnover, according to the report by Tooling U-SME.

What can a manufacturer do to preserve the talent they have? There are a few ways to combat this issue, with leadership being a large determining factor for employee engagement. Ask yourself, do you engage with other workers on a personal level? Do you demonstrate appreciation to workers beyond paychecks? Do you include workers in upcoming changes to the facility or operations? Learning how to effectively navigate these situations significantly impacts employee engagement and determines if you will have a loyal, driven team or disinterested staff with one foot out the door.

Offering training and education is another way to inspire loyalty and engagement in workers, also while filling shortages in talent at your facility. By investing in the right training, existing workers can seamlessly move into the positions you need to fill most, eliminating gaps in your facility and increasing engagement in newly trained workers. According to a survey conducted by LinkedIn, 94% of workers say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development.

Leveraging the Power of Technology
With Industry 4.0 becoming more engrained in modern manufacturing facilities, an increasing number of manufacturers are committing to technology. While some manufacturers are already well-positioned to succeed in this new technology-focused landscape, with employees on board and initiatives underway, others have yet to get started.

Concerns about technology implementations being too expensive, too time consuming or unnecessary have largely held small manufacturers back from taking the initial steps towards smart manufacturing. However, adopting technology does not need to be dreaded or difficult. By taking the right approach to technology and investing in the right training, manufacturers can identify innovations that are relevant and affordable to get the most out of all investments.

To start, manufacturers should use their business needs and goals to identify areas that could be improved, which will then highlight areas that could best benefit from technological innovations. Once these areas have been identified, appropriate technologies can be applied. With more technology options available than ever before, affordable solutions can be easily provided to those who want to improve operations on a budget. Instead of avoiding technology and the benefits it can provide altogether, manufacturers should learn to embrace it in a way that makes sense for their business to ensure they can stay ahead of the competition in the coming year and beyond.

Looking back, manufacturing has changed in many ways since the beginning of 2018. The same can be expected for 2019, with new and ongoing transformations in the workforce, technology and market forcing manufacturers to advance or be left behind. The question remains: what will your manufacturing look like in 2019?

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