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