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