Steel Toes and Stilettos A Story of Manufacturing Transformation

The go-to book for manufacturing operations management for a generation has been The Goal by Jeff Cox and Eliyahu Goldratt. The book tells about transforming a failing plant using the Theory of Constraints and examples from life such as a Boy Scout hike.

Steel Toes and Stilettos: A True Story of Women Manufacturing Leaders and Lean Transformation Success by Shannon Karels and Kathy Miller captures my nomination for the manufacturing operations management story for the new generation. This first person account (told in sections by each of the authors) tells the story of how they assembled and led teams of three divisional automotive parts plants through a Lean transformation. The plants became clean, profitable, enthusiastic examples of how manufacturing can be done better.

Noticing, perhaps, that the authors are women, they use shoes as a metaphor for the journey and for the outline of the book. They also played with the metaphor of walking a mile in someone’s shoes. Part of the book discusses some of the work and planning involved from convincing people to try new ideas into having those same people (mostly) become creative participants in turning the plants around. Like all good stories, there are several levels. Another part of the story is how they managed to blend home life with the time consuming travel and meetings a turnaround requires. Still another part touches on some unique challenges women face in an overwhelmingly male culture.

Oh, and I think many grapes were killed in the making of this story. You’ll have to read the book to catch the meaning.

Note: I link to bookshop.org rather than to Amazon. This website supports your local independent bookstore. Just as I’m a fan of local coffee houses that provide direct trade coffee, I also support local bookstores.

Poor Product Documentation Costs Enterprises

I was hired early in my career to solve the problem of providing product information to all the departments that needed it in the form and quantity they needed for doing their jobs. Fifty years later, looks like it’s still a problem looking for better solutions. I’ve written recently about companies solving the complexity issue. This company tackles product information from a visual perspective using the customer’s 3D CAD models.

Canvas GFX, Inc, a provider of visual communication and collaboration solutions to the manufacturing and technical industries, published new research showing the damaging commercial impact of inefficient and ineffective product documentation workflows and processes at manufacturing companies.

Here are some quick read bullet points:

• 73% of manufacturing industry professionals surveyed said inefficiency in current documentation workflows risks undermining gains made through other process and technology initiatives

• 97% of respondents said products or projects had been hit by errors or delays as a result of documentation being late, inaccurate or unclear

• 41% said outdated documentation had led to delayed or missed sales opportunities

Based on a survey of over 500 manufacturing industry professionals, the research shows how documentation that is routinely late, inaccurate, and outdated is causing downstream damage to the organization.

Note: I think I would have been fired for that.

My daughter who is a psychologist would love this (not). The report describes a new disorder—Product Communication Disorder. OK, that may be a little over the top.

Almost three-quarters of respondents (73%) felt that inefficiencies in their product communication processes could be undermining gains made through other technology initiatives.

“What this research shows is that challenges which might only be understood as departmental workflow issues are actually intricately connected to the success of the entire organization,” said Patricia Hume, CEO of Canvas GFX. “How product communication content – from engineering through to sales –  is created, collaborated on, and consumed underpins company performance. Where these processes are malfunctioning, the result is self-inflicted damage. Product Communication Disorder is a systemic problem which must be viewed and addressed as such.”

Click for the full report and methodology.

Fifteen Years of iPhone

Remember 10-12 years ago when some worriers considered all the bad things that could happen if workers took their iPhones and other smart mobile devices into the plant? I wrote articles at Automation World about all this mobile connectivity. Companies figured out how to connect them to the HMI of machines and processes. Engineers complained to me at conferences that I was responsible for their loss of free time even on vacation because bosses expected them to be always on.

But the benefits have been tremendous. Maybe managers had to learn how to allow people to be off the grid at times, but there would have been no way to negotiate these Covid times without them. My first smart device was a Palm Pilot. I lusted for a Newton, but I just couldn’t rationalize it. With the Palm, I synced my ACT CRM, loaded documents, and took notes. When I was calling on a large engine manufacturing plant or other large facilities, I didn’t have to take a big notebook, briefcase, and lots of paper. That was mid-90s.

One of my favorite tech writers, Om Malik, blogged a retrospective of his writing on the iPhone. He wrote for Wired and Red Herring and then started the Web-based news site GigaOm. Now he blogs on his own.

I brought the Palm (later generations) with me when beginning my editorial career at Control Engineering in 1998. Once again, I could call on a company and only take that along.

Gary’s Device Collection 1995-Present

The photo shows a couple of my Palm devices then several, but not all, of my early phones. Then a couple of iPods, which were way cool. A couple of early HTC Android phones, and then five of my iPhones including my model 12 at the bottom right.

These devices have been essential to my improved productivity and effectiveness. They’ve also been a time-waster, but you can’t have everything.

Thank you to Steve Jobs and Apple for the development and evolution of the iPhone.

Podcast 226 Respect for People

Show notes: Get outside. Get outside into nature, a park or something, to refresh your mind and body. Get outside your preconceived ideas and prejudices for better thinking. Mary Donelan came to KMC Systems to use Lean to improve productivity. She had to overcome existing prejudices that improvements meant reducing workforce. She exemplified the basic Lean principle of Respect for People leading personal growth along with improving productivity allowing the company to take on more work. Then I wondered about adding software and knowledge workers and any impact on productivity. This leads to considering Cal Newport’s new book A World Without Email and a look at improving knowledge worker workflow. Finally, a challenge to Americans about adopting standards and productivity-enhancing methods. Thanks to long-time sponsor Inductive Automation.

Slow Down, Accomplish More

Slow down 

You move too fast 

You gotta make 

The morning last, just 

Kickin’ down 

The cobble stones 

Looking for fun 

And feeling groovy.

Paul Simon, 59th Street Bridge Song

Henry Ford imagined a new way to build cars. Productivity per person in manufacturing increased tremendously in the 20th Century and prosperity followed.

By the 1980s continuing until today, much work is done by “knowledge workers” sitting in front of computer screens. No one (or very few) are imagining new ways to do this work. Productivity lags, people are frustrated, work never ends thanks to the always-on mobile phone.

Well, one person is thinking about it. Cal Newport. I am in the midst of his latest book, A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload. His previous best seller changed the way many of us thought about work–Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

You can sort of summarize the latest book with a quote from a 50s-60s comic strip by Walt Kelly, Pogo. One time, Pogo, the title character–an opossum in the Okefenokee Swamp, said, “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.”

In this latest book, I’ve gotten to a section where, after discussing Henry Ford and increasing productivity making Model Ts, brought up the story of a German entrepreneur Lasse Rheingans. He looked at the way people worked in his small company. He then told the employees–you will work 5-hour days. Come in about 8 and leave about 1. When you leave, you’re done. No more work. No more checking emails. No more on-call. You should be able to get all the important work for the company done with 5 5-hour days per week.

How?

No social media during those five hours. Severely restricted meetings. Severely restricted email checking. Two years down the pike, the concept is still working. This sounds a bit like the terrible approach that Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of Basecamp just tried. But they didn’t reduce hours or work with employees (see below). Just a sharply written blog post to the people.

He did hire some outside coaches to help the employees through withdrawal. They showed that it was in their best interest to not check all those distracting apps. They also encouraged stress reduction through mindfulness and meditation. And physical health through exercise such as Yoga.

Rheingans’s goal was for everyone to slow down; to approach their work more deliberately and with less frantic action; to realize that they were’ running all the time without getting anywhere.’

Cal Newport

I bet that no matter what we’re up to, this is sound advice.

Dana Adopts Additive Manufacturing For Machine Parts

While I’m on an additive manufacturing theme today, here is some news I picked up revealing additive manufacturing applications at a major manufacturer. It involves Dana, a supplier to the “mobility industry”, namely automotive, commercial vehicle, and off-highway markets.

The problem statement—Dana was seeking a way to expand its engineers’ ability to rapidly ideate and prototype more efficiently and effectively. A team was assembled to explore the opportunities that additive manufacturing could bring.

“Additive is a situation where if you’re not engaged, if you’re not learning, if you’re not driving innovation from it, you’re going to miss the boat,” Terry Hammer, Vice President, Light-Vehicle and Global Core Engineering at Dana. “Dana took a very structured approach to additive manufacturing. We wanted to define the value first.”

The team at Dana had heard about Markforged’s 3D printers and software solution and started exploring the technology as an option. The company invested in two Markforged X7 3D printers and two Metal X systems, putting one of each in Maumee, Ohio and Trento, Italy.

“From the beginning, it was about being able to leverage additive manufacturing to provided more cost-effective replacements for specialized tooling,” says Hammer.

The company now has Markforged 3D printers across seven countries — including Italy, the U.S.A., Canada, Brazil, Germany, India, and China.

When the initiative was approved, Kelly Puckett, Senior Manager of Additive Manufacturing, who has been with Dana for twenty years, was asked to lead the additive manufacturing efforts. “I’m tasked to ensure Dana uses additive more frequently or in a better way,” he says.

Markforged VP of Sales Bryan Painter says that bringing the technology in is just the starting point. “Your need to then think about how you’re going to be successful and the values that you’re going to get if you are successful,” Painter says. “The rest of it is just technology. People and process are really what makes the difference.”

From whiteboard sessions about the deployment plan to the creation of Markforged University — the educational program that aims to teach Markforged users about how to best use its technology — the two companies have collaborated with one another to continuously learn how to improve their businesses.

For Markforged, this collaboration has resulted in the creation of new products and services, as well as improved hardware, software, and professional services — thanks to Dana’s candid feedback. Some notable products and services made possible or better with Dana include Enterprise Eiger, Markforged University, Turbo Print, and Blacksmith. 

More than 150 people from Dana have taken part in Markforged University so far, either in-person or online, meaning that more and more engineers and designers have the tools they need to use their Marforged printers effectively. Andrea Aylward, Additive Manufacturing Engineer at Dana in Canada, says that the team gained a lot from completing Marforged University. “We got a handle on best practices and things to keep in mind when trying to design or adapt a design for additive manufacturing.”

With a large network of Markforged 3D printers at their fingertips, the Dana team can quickly iterate and innovate.

Each manufacturing facility has a different need for additive manufacturing. In Ontario, Canada, the Power Technologies division has used its X7 3D printer to create functional forming dies — stamping sheet metal into proof-of-concept designs that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive and time-consuming to create. This allowed the team to rapidly test products and prepare for customer analysis in a more efficient, scalable way. 

In Italy, Dana’s Off-Highway advanced engineering team can often be found using their Markforged printers for internal tooling and fixtures. 

“The good quality of the composite parts of the X7 opens some very good opportunities in terms of tooling and fixtures,” says Fabrizio Zendri, Advanced Engineering Manager at Dana in Rovereto, Italy. An application Zendri is most proud of is workholding gears that hold parts as they are being processed. At the end of 2020, the fixtures had been in use for over a year without failure and have resulted in 70% cost savings and a 90% reduction in lead time per fixture.

In Maumee, Ohio, each tech center’s additive manufacturing lead joins a monthly meeting with other leads to share findings, ideas, and concerns. Some centers even share designs that are printed in other global locations, and they’re finding new and exciting ways to use their printers. This mindset has set them up for success, according to Marforged’s Cady. “Dana as an organization is going to be able to move faster than many because they’re designing with an additive mindset, even for the subtractive process.”

Though many of Dana’s engineers are spread out across different time zones, Eiger’s cloud architecture allows them to work seamlessly as if they were in the same room together. They’re able to share designs, get real-time analytics, and live telemetry in one place for easy global fleet management. “Eiger itself is a very simple software to use. It’s very intuitive,” says Puckett.

Now that Dana has started to adopt and deploy Markforged printers, software, and training, Dana is looking forward to the future and how they’ll continue to be leaders in the mobility industry with the help of additive manufacturing. “We’re expanding our facility to another floor of the building so we will have a better place for the machines, and we’re finalizing the installation of the Metal X,” says Fabrizio Zendri in Italy.

Scaling the speed and efficiency of prototyping operations across their global locations is key to the future success of additive at Dana. “We have begun to produce some of the tools and fixtures that we might have purchased on the outside before,” says Puckett. “Especially as we go to the plants, the plant engineer that needs something printed with a machine—they ned it today. And the faster we can get it to their hands with the least amount of effort for them to get it produced, the better off they are.”