Never Stop Learning – Manufacturing Leadership

Never Stop Learning – Manufacturing Leadership

“I am still learning” wrote Michelangelo at age 87. That’s one of my goals in life.

Seth Godin ran across this idea from the other direction. He wrote this week in Fully Baked:

In medical school, an ongoing lesson is that there will be ongoing lessons. You’re never done. Surgeons and internists are expected to keep studying for their entire career—in fact, it’s required to keep a license valid.

Knowledge workers, though, the people who manage, who go to meetings, who market, who do accounting, who seek to change things around them—knowledge workers often act as if they’re fully baked, that more training and learning is not just unnecessary but a distraction.

The average knowledge worker reads fewer than one business book a year.

On the other hand, the above-average knowledge worker probably reads ten.

Show me your bookshelf, or the courses you take, or the questions you ask, and I’ll have a hint as to how much you care about leveling up.

Where Do You Get Information?

I wrote yesterday’s post about getting information spurred by the thoughts of Jessica Lessin, founder of The Information. This is a Silicon Valley technology news site that is funded by subscriptions. No advertising. No worrying about pressure from advertisers to write something nice about them.

She recently wrote about the recent trend toward company CEOs or CTOs writing a piece, say on Medium, and then sending links and a quote to a few “trusted” sources in the media. She was seeing these stories picked up and passed along verbatim. No analysis or value add.

That is just what the PR people were hoping. How do they get their message out unfiltered. I’ve been advising marketing people along this path for years.

I knew a guy in my business similar to me who would just copy the press release and call it an article.

I have no problem learning about new products and solutions and technologies in the market from the source. Note: You do have to wade through an awful lot of hype and superlative words to get to the news. I don’t advise that, but marketing people seem to have no confidence in what they are peddling, so they resort to verbal overkill.

But when you go to a magazine or other source (like mine), you surely expect some perspective and analysis.

Where do you go to get this information? What do you trust?

Speaking of information

This piece in the MIT Sloan Management Review, Why Learning is Central to Sustained Innovation, seems to fit in with these thoughts. How do you create a learning environment for your people development culture?

Many managers think they can create better products just by improving the development process or adding new tools. But it’s skilled people, not processes, that create great products.

The authors, Michael Balle’, James Morgan, and Durward K. Sobek II, note, “We frequently visit companies where managers say they want to improve their product development capability. they want to learn how learn principles and practices can improve their ability to innovate while reducing costs and improving quality. When we inquire about their approach to human resource development, we often hear, as one vice president of product development recently told us, that  ‘of course, people are our most important asset. Se we recruit and hire the top people from the best universities and get out of their way.’

However, the only things many companies actually do under the heading of people development is to have an annual training-hours target and a travel budget for sending employees to conferences. If managers really thought that people were their greatest asset and that it’s the energy and creativity of employees that drives innovation, why do companies do so little? Why doesn’t growing and developing people excite them just as much as installing new additive manufacturing equipment or the latest cloud-based collaboration tool?”

It takes leadership concerned with a learning culture, beginning with the leaders. Are they always learning? Reminds me of James Truchard, founder of National Instruments. He had such tremendous curiosity. He passed that along to the organization in many ways. Everyone wanted to be like that.

Millennials and learning

In his On The Edge Blog, Keith Campbell, wrote:

Is a culture of entitlement contributing to the workforce skills gap?

There has been a lot of discussion of the entitlement mentality of today’s young people as they leave college and expect that they are owed a well-paying job starting somewhere near the top.  On today’s news, there was a discussion about some interns who decided that they were entitled to a work environment that operated the way they wanted it to, and they proceeded to challenge the employer’s policies (yes, the same employer that was kind enough to give them their first work experience). They were summarily fired. I was recently asked by a parent to provide some guidance to a son who had received a mechanical engineering degree, but had no job.  I suggested that he consider companies such as packaging machinery manufacturers or packagers – not only because they are hiring mechanical engineers, but because they offer exciting careers. But after a few minutes of speaking with him, I learned that he knew more about how the engineering workplace operated than I did (after 30 years), and he felt entitled to wait till some job came around that suited his vision of engineering.

Less often discussed is the entitlement mentality of employers.  I see employers also acting as though they are entitled to the workers that they want, when they want them and with the skills that they need.  There was a day when there were multiple qualified applicants for each open manufacturing job.  Employers had to use various screening mechanisms to pick from among the qualified.   But those days seem to be behind us.  Automation has raised the bar for entry level employment while high schools have arguably lowered the bar for graduation and reduced the diversity of programs, driven in large part by increasing state and national control.  The gap between the unemployed and unfilled manufacturing jobs is growing wider.

I’m currently sitting in a conference session. A speaker mentioned about Millennials and their work ethic. Sounded like Campbell above. I think that is a misplaced thought and terrible generalization. Remember when we talked about Gen X and the “slacker” mentality? I’m in a room about evenly divided with Boomers and GenXers. The GenX guys and gals are doing some really good engineering. But I remember when many of them asked how many months it would take before they would be CEO. Sounds more like the exuberance of youth than a generation thing.

The question remains. How do you keep learning? Where do you get information? How are you helping others learn?

Manufacturing Software in the Cloud Supports Innovation

Manufacturing Software in the Cloud Supports Innovation

I no more had outlined the post generated from Tim Sowell’s latest blog post, when an invitation arrived to talk to the General Manager of Scott Fetzer Electrical Group (SFEG) and the CEO of ERP manufacturing software supplier Kenandy about an application based on the platform which is so easily configurable that even the GM can do it.

SFEG produces electrical products, such as motors, blowers, power supplies, transformers, and electromechanical timers, for large and small OEMs and distributors. Its products are used in products such as blenders, commercial printers, consumer appliances, and electrical signs.

Before deploying Kenandy, it had an on-premise ERP system, but the software was very difficult to use and was not agile enough to support their growth objectives.

Encumbered, not enabled

“Our business was encumbered by our ERP system, not enabled by it,” said Rob Goldiez, General Manager at SFEG. “The software was so hard to use that many people simply stopped using it. The data got stale. We wanted the benefits of a modern cloud platform that’s easy to use, has built-in social and mobile capabilities, and is always current with the latest version of the software.”

SFEG wanted to modernize their operations to support business automation and robotics. They also plan to add features to their product that require the support of a cloud-based system. Kenandy enables them to quickly respond to best industry practices and business innovation.

“Moving to Kenandy eliminates legacy challenges and allows us to focus on quickly growing and extending functionality,” said Goldiez. “We’re excited that we’ll be able to use Kenandy to support innovations, such as enabling our products to be connected over the Internet. We’re committed to living and breathing our innovation vision throughout the company, and Kenandy is integral to that vision.”

Since deploying Kenandy in November, SFEG’s operations have become more efficient. With the previous system, SFEG’s controller required physical signatures on purchase orders. With Kenandy, the process is managed through an automated approval process. SFEG also uses Salesforce Chatter to attach conversations to their sales orders and purchase orders, keeping all the related information together for easy reference. The employees enjoy using the system so the data is always current. They also appreciate the real-time visibility into the business, which helps them make decisions more quickly.

“SFEG’s story is not an uncommon one. Because legacy ERP systems are difficult to use, manage and upgrade, they’re written off as a burden by many users,” said Sandra Kurtzig, Chairman and CEO of Kenandy. “Since Kenandy is built native on the cloud, it offers flexibility that just hasn’t been available before. Modern enterprises need an ERP system that helps them adapt to the needs of their business as quickly as possible.”

SFEG was also interested in Kenandy because it’s built on the Salesforce Platform. They were attracted to the ease of customization, the strong reporting tools, and the robust security down to the field level. They also knew they would benefit from the third-party apps available on the Salesforce AppExchange.

“I evaluated other cloud-based ERP systems and Kenandy really stood out. There was nothing else out there that could compete,” said Goldiez. “We also wanted a system that would be easy to implement. We were up and running on Kenandy four months after signing the initial agreement. That’s fast!”

Kenandy met all the key criteria for SFEG’s new ERP system including:

  • Ease of use for technical and non-technical staff
  • Customizable workflows and approvals
  • Real-time, tailored dashboards and reporting
  • Customer portal to allow direct access to status and shipping updates
  • Collaboration to facilitate communication around orders
  • Mobile interface for anytime access to the system
  • Business rules enforcement

Goldiez told me in a follow-up interview, that just about everyone in his plant touches the new system. The old system? Well, there were two “experts” who worked with it, but it was so hard to get into that most people didn’t bother. Not only that, SFEG’s system was tied to a paper report system. Another inflexible and cumbersome preventing widespread use.

Using the configurable cloud-based system is so convenient, that when someone needs a new report or feature, Goldiez can configure it with no need for special work orders through IT.

He said that today there are lots of eyes on the system. People are accountable to the data they are supposed to be managing. It is easier to use since it has a familiar interface.

Kurtzig added, “Millennials are coming into the workforce. They need software as easy to use as Amazon. They have higher expectations—and they also expect to use mobile devices.”

Because the application resides in the cloud as Infrastructure as a Service, new business rules and updates can be added without destroying the core and disrupting use.

Manufacturing Software in the Cloud Supports Innovation

Managing Manufacturing Workforce Shortage

Last month I wrote a piece of news and analysis regarding a survey by ThomasNet. The survey of 500 manufacturing leaders of small to medium businesses reported the good news of increased business and improving outlook. But, respondents complained about a couple of manufacturing workforce issues—lack of people with appropriate engineering and technical skills and work ethic (or lack thereof) from people of the “millennial” generation.

My first reaction is that I hate those generation generalizations. I’m technically a boomer, but I don’t think I identify with a majority boomer traits. In fact, I’ve discovered that I fit many traits of millennials. And I know others in my situation.

On the other hand, marketers have found those generalizations useful for consumer marketing campaigns. There must be some truth in the mix somewhere.

Regarding millennials, I also referred to a piece I wrote following a session at last year’s Emerson Global Users Exchange. One thing that shocked me at that meeting was the strong opinion among some “boomer” engineers who discounted an entire generation of engineers for being intellectually shallow by relying on Google too much and for being spoiled.

Probing deeper into the issues

In order to dive a little deeper into the survey, I had a follow up interview with Linda Rigano, ThomasNet Executive Director of Media Relations. She took me through a little history. For nearly 100 years, the 30+ volume green Thomas Register occupied a shelf in the bookcase of nearly every procurement person and engineer in a manufacturing company in the country. Its pages contained specifics of companies supplying almost anything you could need or want.

ThomasNet took the register online in 1998. “It’s the first online directory,” said Rigano. “It’s a major site with every manufacturer and distributor in North America. We are premier product source and discovery site with 68,000 product categories. We focus on helping procurement specialists and engineers even to the extent of downloading CAD drawings.”

ThomasNet also houses an internal ad agency. The company’s focus is small to medium sized manufacturers considering that to aggregate to about 80% of the total market.

For the survey, researchers talked to owners and/or managers of 500 companies—evenly split between product manufacturers and custom manufacturers.

As I reported from the press release, most see an improved economy, business growth, added investments, and the need for more employees. And there is the rub. The number one problem each talked about was finding qualified job candidates, especially in these areas:

  • Manufacturing and production management
  • Engineers
  • Skilled trade
  • Production workers

Worse, there is a “perfect storm” brewing with positive growth, need for workers, and 1/3 saying they plan to retire within 10 years with no succession plan in place.

Some are proactive

What I wanted to know was are there any of these owners/managers doing anything about the labor shortage? Do they recruit, train, apprentice? I’m not interested in yet another hand-wringing article much as we’ve seen for 10 years.

ThomasNet does not have statistics on this, but they did collect stories (which I hope to share in the future as examples for everyone else). There are some bright lights—some true leaders doing something about the problem.

There is a company in Phoenix that makes precision built-to-order components. The general manager was having a hard time getting the people he needed, yet he was bidding a contract that would require adding 12 people to his 85-person staff. So, he partnered with a local motorcycle school to find mechanics. He’s looked at some creative ways of recruiting from outside his immediate area and bringing them to Phoenix.

Another manager who has a location in southern US advertised on Craig’s List in the north about coming south where it is warmer. (That would work this week when I’m writing this, highs are low teens Fahrenheit with lows below zero!)

A Wisconsin manufacturer has been intentionally recruiting millennials. The manager had to sell his partners on the concept because of their perceptions of young people. He has gone to technical colleges and engineering schools. He gives seminars on manufacturing and technology. One key recruiting tool is tours of the plant.

Tackle the problem

There are ways to tackle the workforce problem.

  • First, remove the glasses that cause you to look narrowly at the problem.
  • Go out yourself to colleges and trade schools and meet people.
  • Give seminars on manufacturing
  • Take young people on guided tours of your plants to show them the realities of the joys of making things

Take a chance—be proactive and go out and get them.


Manufacturing Lack of Cyber Security

Manufacturing Lack of Cyber Security

During media interviews (more accurately mini-presentations) in November at Rockwell Automation’s media/analyst day “Automation Perspectives,” Sr. VP and CTO Sujeet Chand met with us individually along with several managers from Cisco Systems to discuss cyber security. This marks at least the third year where Chand’s role was to explain the Cisco/Rockwell relationship.

I’ve been thinking about the presentation for the past couple of weeks (OK, except for during Christmas). When they broached the idea of cyber security, I jumped to a conclusion about how thinking about security would lead engineers to more thoroughly thinking about their overall network leading to overall improvement in manufacturing.

What they seemed to be actually saying was much less than that. The message seems to have been about engineers should actually begin thinking about their network architecture.

Suddenly it dawned on me what the problem was that they were trying to solve. Automation engineers are evidently just cobbling together Ethernet networks in their processes and factories with no thought of network cyber security. But they will start—and buy some Cisco/Rockwell managed switches and security services. (Sorry, I don’t mean for that sound cynical. What they do is sell products and services to help their customers succeed.)

There has been NO thought to cyber security!?

They evidently thought that even with the several years of intense media coverage of security holes in SCADA and other processes engineers were still not taking security into account.

If that is true, then we truly need the new generation of computer/networking/security-savvy engineers (millennials?) now.

Thinking ahead

I know that one of my problems is jumping ahead. Companies will show me a new product, and I’ll immediately start thinking of all the uses and potential additions.

Any engineer who has not been building in some defense in depth and getting help from IT about security policies needs to be trained or replaced. We’ve known about this for at least five years.

Going back to re-engineer (or engineer intentionally for the first time) the factory network, should lead to significant improvements in the automation system, information flow, and ultimately manufacturing profits.

Manufacturing Lack of Cyber Security

ThomasNet Survey Shows Business Trending Up For Manufacturers

Here is a “good news / bad news” report. While manufacturing business looks good right now, we have yet another fearful article about getting a new generation of engineers. For a little context, here is an article I wrote about milennials. This press release is from ThomasNet.

North America’s manufacturing sector is on an upward trajectory. However, a shortage of young talent, compounded by Baby Boomers’ negative perceptions about Millennials, could impact its continued expansion, according to ThomasNet’s latest Industry Market Barometer (IMB) research.

The annual survey of product and custom manufacturers shows continued growth for this sector. Companies are hiring, increasing production capacity, and investing for more growth to come. More than half (58 percent) grew in 2013, and 63 percent expect even more gains by the end of 2014.

Positive indicators are everywhere. Manufacturers are getting more business from their existing markets, and their average account values are rising. Nearly eight out of 10 (76 percent) are now selling overseas, and one-third expect that business to increase. In anticipation of what’s ahead, they’re investing in capital equipment, optimizing operations, upgrading their facilities, and retraining their people. More than half (52 percent) expect to add staff in the next several months, up from the 42 percent who planned to hire last year. Respondents’ companies are looking for trained, experienced people—manufacturing/production management, line workers, skilled trade workers and engineers—to keep up with current and future demand.

Troublesome Trends

A deeper look under the hood raises questions about whether the manufacturing industry can continue its current momentum. “For the industry to sustain its steady climb, all the fundamentals need to be in place, and one of them is missing—a robust pipeline of talent,” said Mark Holst-Knudsen, President of ThomasNet.

Last year’s IMB called attention to the “ticking biological clock” in manufacturing—the disruption that’s coming as Baby Boomers leave the workforce without people primed to replace them. This year’s survey depicts the “ticking” turning to an alarm. Nearly half of this year’s respondents (49 percent) are 55 and older. Moreover, thirty-eight percent plan to retire in one to ten years, and most (65 percent) lack any succession plan.

One solution is in plain sight—the Millennial generation (ages 18-32)—who can take the time to learn the business before their predecessors retire. Yet, most manufacturers (62 percent) say Millennials represent a small fraction of their workforce, and eight out of ten (81 percent) have no explicit plans to increase those numbers.

However, companies are making headway in the area of apprenticeships, which provide opportunities to bring in entry-level employees and career changers. For manufacturers where these programs are applicable, 51 percent now have them in place, and 23 percent plan to do so. They’re teaching apprentices trades such as machining, CNC milling and turning, and welding while increasing their staff.

“We need new talent everywhere—on the plant floor, in the field, and in management—and getting young people to look at manufacturing isn’t easy,” said Karen Norheim, Executive Vice President, American Crane & Equipment Corporation, Douglassville, Pa. “To ensure our company’s success, our employees have become brand ambassadors for manufacturing. We’re bringing our children to our plants, looking at new internship programs, and reaching out to local colleges and trade schools. By making a local footprint, we’re helping to address a national problem.”

Baby Boomers’ Perceptions of Millennials

This year’s data shows that the manufacturing industry increasingly aligns with Millennials’ value systems and technology expertise. The research demonstrates that Millennials have an opportunity to make a social impact working with sustainable and green technologies, solar energy, and wind power. In addition, respondents cite innovations in design and manufacturing software, automation/robotics, and 3D printing as intrinsic to today’s jobs.

But 46 percent of respondents say that a larger issue is at work – younger people still perceive manufacturing as “blue collar” work.  And Baby Boomers’ perceptions of Millennials exacerbate the challenge. Forty-three percent of respondents believe that this generation lacks the work ethic and discipline to succeed.

“At a time when the American manufacturing sector is poised for a comeback, the talent shortage is the elephant-in-the-room that could impede progress. It will take the concerted effort of every manufacturer to reach across generational lines, and bring in the people who are critical to the industry’s continued success,” said ThomasNet’s President Mark Holst-Knudsen.