Thursday, October 18, 2012

Driving the uptake of new skills in manufacturing

Hi there. Sorry for the long break between posts. You may have read in previous posts about the F1inSchools project. It's a great project [read here about similar ones in previous posts] that encourages young people, usually school teams, to be involved in the design and manufacturing of model Formula One race cars. The cream on the cake is that at regional, state and national finals, the team also get to race the cars.

Recently, the Queensland finals were held at Bundaberg State High School. The Manager of the project Leanne Hixon, was closely involved in organising the event and ensuring a good turnout of schools at the finals which saw 84 students from 18 teams involved in the event. Leanne was so involved she helped designed and manufactured two cars that almost held their own in achieving fast racing times.


Leanne Hixon ready to put the cars under starter's orders


Congratulations to the Major winners:

  • Overall Winner (highest points on the day): Attacca Subito from Pine Rivers State High School
  • Professional Senior Class: Attacca Subito – Pine Rivers State High School
  • Professional Junior Class: High Voltage Racing from Noosa District State High School
  • Development Class: Southern Cross Racing from Noosa District State High School
  • Cadet Class: Ace Racing – Mackay North State High School

The National Final will be held in Avalon Melbourne 27/28 Feb and 1 March in 2013 in conjunction with the Avalon Air Show with the following Queensland teams attending:
  • Attacca Subito from Pine Rivers State High School
  • High Voltage Racing from Noosa District State High School
  • Southern Cross Racing from Noosa District State High School

Apastron from Mirani State High School and a collaboration team from Split Second Racing – St Patrick’s College Mackay and High Calibre Racing Mirani SHS’ received wild cards to attend the National Finals.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The poetry of waste

One of our clients penned the following poem about waste in their work environment:


Manufacturing is all about production
but too many and then there is more reduction
As time is lost on extra widgets
the warehouse manager will get the fidgets

Inventory is always great,
but not when you have to wait and wait.
So do not polish and do not shine,
if it is a waste of time.

Wasted time and loss of space
When we try to do with haste
So make a plan and think it through
otherwise you will make a blue
Touch it once and this is great
Touch it thrice and you need advice
Sometimes the waste is beyond our reach
but QMI Solutions can fill the breach


Many thanks to Radmila Bowman at Playhard Sports for the contribution.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why manufacturing matters - the difficulty in disconnecting

Tim Mazzarol blogs on The Conversation about some of the reasons why manufacturing matters. He reasons that it is almost impossible to disconnect manufacturing from its flow-on benefits to other sectors in terms of innovation and productivity specifically, but this doesn't mean propping up unsustainable industries either.

Both government and industry have a role to play to ensure we don't lose manufacturing as a key enabler for economic growth and become too reliant on a finite mining boom. He also refers to the US commitment to rebuild their manufacturing industry and the reports that underlie the movement. It's quite a good read.

Click here to read the full story.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Giving women a start in manufacturing

Yesterday I attended an event that was positive on many levels. It was an event recognising the participants in a program called "Women Who Weld". A Brisbane manufacturer, Atlas Heavy Engineering has taken on the first participants in a program which encourages young women, of varying ages, to learn to weld. Once they've completed the program it counts towards a Certificate I in Engineering (Welding).


The first Women Who Weld participants as well as:
Local Member Lisa France MP (far left), Rex Vegt (second from left) and
Assistant Minister for Technical and Further Education Saxon Rice (far right).

Atlas General Manager Rex Vegt said the program has many aims but the primary one is to give these young women a 'start'. A start in a profession that will give them many skills, that they may not have otherwise had, to further their career in welding or another associated trade.

What a great sentiment! Isn't that what we all want(ed)? - a chance, a start to a career that offers opportunities, rewards and challenges. While the Women Who Weld program is obviously targeting women, it has a broader purpose of recruiting from:
  • a wider age group - the first intake ranged from 16 to mid-30s
  • varying backgrounds - four indigenous participants took part in the first intake
  • those that are out of work 
All have the opportunity to get a start - and get a start in an industry that can take them to a range of sectors and career pathways into other industries.


Assistant Minister Saxon Rice is taught to weld
by Women Who Weld student Zoe Girgenti.

The program is to be extended with the second intake underway and with further plans to expand it across other areas of Brisbane.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

ICN helps IDEC win $4.2 million contract

An online database that links suppliers with projects helped steel fabricator IDEC Solutions win a $4.2 million contract on the Gold Coast University Hospital.


Industry Capability Network (ICN) in Queensland recommend businesses registered on ICN Gateway for projects such as Gold Coast University Hospital based on the suppliers' capacity and capability.

Idec Solutions Senior Projects Manager Ian Glover registered the company on ICN Gateway in early 2010 after investigating information on its services.

“I was doing my own research when I heard about ICN and the assistance it provides. Through registering with ICN, we have had a lot of exposure and been able to tender for more projects.”


ICN also helped Idec win a tender to supply 120 tonnes of steel to the $408 million redevelopment of the Mackay Base Hospital, which is scheduled for completion in 2013.

Click here to read the full story.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Camel Tanks thirsty for more project wins



With so many major project on the go in Queensland - how do you maximise the amount of local involvement in these projects? By doing so, more jobs remain local, expertise is also developed local and project owners can benefit from a local supply chain.

Camel Tanks - primarily manufactures water tanks, producing 12 models ranging from 1,591 litre to 24,424 litre capacities - and by helping the company align itself with the capabilities required by major project Camel Tanks was able to tender for $5 million in contracts and in one case winning a contract worth $800,000.

Click here to read the full story.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Powering up the manufacturing engine room


In my spectacularly unsuccessful rugby days, I had the dubious privilege of playing 'Hooker'. This must conjure up some colourful images for my US friends, but I assure you the hooker position is an important and respectable one. In Rugby, as opposed to Rugby League, the hooker is charged with the task of winning scrums (by hooking the ball), throwing the ball for line-outs and should be fit enough (not me) to be present when contesting the ball in all rucks or mauls. The Hooker is one of three players in the front row of a scrum, which my coach used to call the 'engine room' of the game.


This is apt because those of us in the engine room were not particular known for our good looks or flamboyance, but were the essential cogs in the team's machinery that provided the force and power to enable the other team members to score the points. Post-game there are always half-serious jibes between the forwards (the workhorses) and the backs (the glamour boys).

I recently heard the engine room analogy used to describe manufacturing and it is an apt one. Manufacturing provides the process - the grunt work - for industry such as mining, resources, construction and infrastructure - enabling them to deliver value and boost the ceonomy as a result. Value, in this case, is more than product. It is delivering value in its broadest sense in terms of product and service (maintenance), but also in terms of R&D, innovation, process improvement and job multiplier effects.

Like any engine room, manufacturing needs to have the muscle and intelligence behind it to move forward. Our muscle and intelligence can be built if we address the following (as mentioned in a previous post):
  • the business case for manufacturing
  • the elements impeding the career path
  • sector prioritisation
If we get these things right, the engine room will continue to move us forward. If the engine room slows down, so does everything else.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The pursuit or the prize?

Today I stumbled across an old friend, a blog which had got me interested in blogging and getting the message out there about manufacturing - and I'd recommend it to everyone. It's a marketing blog by Seth Godin called "Seth's blog". Although by categorising it as a marketing blog is probably too restrictive - he certainly resonates with many marketers, but his thing is encouraging all of us to "be remarkable" in our businesses. (NB: It's the basis of his book Purple Cow - read it!).

His blog comprises of bite-sized insights that, I think, challenge conventional wisdom and urge consideration of varied and creative approaches to everyday problems. His latest entry about unfairly raising expectations when offering grants was interesting, but his summary was gold:
"Pepsi did the same thing with charities last year, and my concern is the same: when you activate your supporters, you need a clear path to victory, not a wild goose chase.
One significant way around this: have the outbound messages of the tribe be about more than the grant. Figure out how putting in the effort to help your local organization actually strengthens ties, instead of weakening them. The pursuit could be even better than the prize if you establish the right groundwork."
We see this all the time with our clients who get the concept of the "journey to excellence". That is, the 'journey' of continuous improvement is never over, never complete because you can always improve. This may sound fruitless but it is just the opposite for those who get it. They get it because they realise, as Godin says, that the activities that take place on the journey by engaging staff in the process and it is their participation, their buy-in that strengthens the collective commitment towards a particular goal.

The quantifiable results may be substantial and impressive, but it is the force that has been harnessed in achieving the goal that is more valuable to the organisation.

Thanks Seth. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Advancing manufacturing

by Jim Walker, CEO - QMI Solutions

QMI Solutions has a history of aligning itself with world leaders and experts on manufacturing. This is how we are able to transfer proven practices and technology for the benefit of local industry - the primary reason for the establishment of QMI Solutions.

Most recently, we have been fortunate enough to work with Professor Goran Roos, a leading thinker on manufacturing and a world-renown academic and strategic advisor to industry around the world. It was great to see Professor Roos as one of our keynote speakers on “The future of Australian Manufacturing” at our Manufacturing Skills Conference held in May.
 
In 2008, Australia moved from being a low cost environment to a high cost environment and is ranked the third most expensive country in which to conduct business. Professor Roos says because the shift to a high cost environment has occurred relatively quickly, many support businesses and systems have not been able to make the change required to compete successfully.
 
Compounding this, over the past decade, Australia has experienced a flattening trend in productivity. Although the Australian economy has experienced average annual GDP growth rates ahead of many other developed economies, ours dropped over the past decade and is only now showing signs of relative improvement. Sometime around 2002, Australian productivity went from growing substantially faster to growing substantially slower than the OECD average. Added to this, Australia’s innovation performance over the past eight years slipped from 5th to 15th according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.
 
Click here to read the full article.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Advancing Australian manufacturing

Attached is an article by Craig Milne, Executive Director of the Productivity Council of Australia, that gives a potted history of manufacturing in Australia and the associated problems it has faced over time. He also attributes the negative effect economic reform has had on the industry, however my favourite part is this:
"There are strong arguments for Australia staying in manufacturing, and being prepared to pay a high price to do so. Manufacturing is the sector that contains and advances the skills and capabilities that prescribe membership in the ranks of the advanced nations of the world. For research and innovation, manufacturing provides the essential ground from which future streams of products and incomes can emerge. Whatever form the economy of the future may take; manufacturing will provide the enabling foundation for it."
Click here to read the whole article.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Flood assistance turns to profit

Thousands of businesses were directly impacted by Queensland’s 2011 flood crisis. Many faced extensive recovery costs; some failed to survive.

The Rocklea Group Pty Ltd’s 1,000m2 factory, in the Brisbane riverside suburb of Rocklea, was inundated by floodwaters. The company lost at least $300,000 and could not operate for two months.

But, thanks to QMI Solutions’ assistance, The Rocklea Group did more than survive; it is better off now than before the floods. Co-owner Walter Vrbancic said: “Before the floods, we would break even most months, or sometimes suffer a loss. Now, we consistently make a profit.”

Click here to read the full article.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Today's jobs are manufacturing jobs

A study published by the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute, titled “Keeping America Competitive” states that “today’s manufacturing jobs are technology jobs, and employees at all levels must have the wider range of skills required to respond to the demands of an increasingly complex environment.”

However, the US identifies a number of obstacles in employing more in manufacturing:

1. Manufacturing’s image
2. Parents
3. Teachers and counselors
4. Shop classes
5. Vocational Training
6. Advanced Technical Training

Click here to read the full article.

Monday, June 11, 2012

US manufacturing has a great opportunity

US manufacturing has a great opportunity. In an election year, candidates are falling over themselves to be seen as the champion of rebuilding the economy, through creating jobs and making it easier for business to do business. Jeff Moad from Manufacturing Executive Community says it is likely candidates will cater to larger manufacturers rather deal with the issues faced by smaller manufacturers. He says for them, it is the reduction of red tape and export guidance that improve potential, not reduction of the corporate tax rate which resonates with the big players.

Click here to read the full article.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Squeaky clean manufacturing and the third industrial revolution

An interesting article from The Economist about the dawn of (new) manufacturing, see my previous post - specifically referring to the trade fair Euromold and the emergence of 3D printers and additive manufacturing in particular. The article points towards a Third Industrial Revolution, as outlined in a previous Economist article.

For me, there are two subtle, but important, points underpinning the theme of the article:
  • with new technology being developed in additive manufacturing, virtually anyone with the technology can be a manufacturer (see previous post)
  • it will be more important than ever for this (new) manufacturing industry to be located in proximity to market of consumption  (see previous post)
Tell me I'm wrong...

Click here to read the full article.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The evolution of (new) manufacturing

There is much conjecture about the future sustainability of the manufacturing industry, especially in industry news out of the US. Previously, some economists predicted the need for a more service-based economy as, they argue, manufacturing is now the primary domain of the lower-cost BRIC nations. Contrarily, stories are now emerging where large manufacturers are 'reshoring' or coming back to the west - up to a third of manufacturers are looking at reshoring according to a recent Boston Consulting Group Survey.

There's no doubt the industry is at a watershed in its global relevance. To date, the focus has been on an emerging China and the low-cost production and vast consumer market it offers. The balance is due to shift, as outlined in a previous post on MIMOC. Manufacturing In Markets Of Consumption is where production is determined by proximity to markets and is expected to be felt in large consumer markets such as Europe, US and China. Some will say it is jobs coming back to their rightful place and well... let them say that.

In consuming various facts and opinion, I've reached a number of conclusions that both resonated with and challenged my previous beliefs:

The business case for manufacturing

The business case for manufacturing must be compelling enough to convince economic rationalists and those in positions of power as to its worth. These stakeholders will be supportive of the industry if they recognise its long-term value - at present, most do not.

It is likely industry will change it spots - perhaps a third Industrial Revolution is on its way, led by a digital manufacturing movement? Adjusting to such change will be difficult at worst, but not impossible. Its resilience has been proven in the face of natural disasters, economic volatility and competitive pressures in times gone by, and there's no doubt our approach needs to change. I recently became engrossed in a presentation by Professor Goran Roos who noted that Australian manufacturing, mainly because of its parity with the US dollar, has moved from a low-cost competitive environment into a high-cost one and has to shift its approach accordingly. He makes salient points in his 2011 report "Manufacturing into the Future" such as - advanced economies need manufacturing because:
  • nations that emerged best from the GFC were based around high-value add export oriented manufacturing
  • it is the biggest spender on applied research and driver for productivity
  • it is the largest generator of employment
  • manufacturing is at the forefront of applied technology and innovation
  • the resources boom may be shorter than expected
It is people like Professor Roos that will help build a sound business case for manufacturing that will resonate with economists and influencers, minus the sentimentality.

Blatant promotion: Professor Roos is a keynote speaker at our upcoming Manufacturing Skills Conference on 18 May.

Let's address the career path

Many governments and industry associations have orchestrated campaigns to make manufacturing "sexy" or "cool" to kids. I read an article on the manufacturing skills shortage that examined the deep psychological roots the industry has for Gen Y and thereby influencing their choice of manufacturing as a career path. AJ Sweatt says its not that people are smarter, that they don't want to make things or even that they don't think manufacturing is "cool". He says:
"The problem is that for a generation, US manufacturers outsourced the jobs of fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters in search of cheap labor...the factory/mill/shop/plant was shutting down, and the manufacturing job that had given them a decent life, pride, and dignity was no more. There were probably tears. Moods changed, relationships suffered, some families shattered. These kids watched their parents and communities face a dust-bowl reality that said they were expendable....How do you tell someone to ‘un-live’ that?"
Is this the same for Gen-Y and Gen-Z in Australian manufacturing? Perhaps. In my encounters with Gen-Y, it seems that remuneration, status (career progression) and lifestyle are the determining factors in a career choice. Much is being done to re-educate Gen-Ys about the changing nature of (new) manufacturing careers, but this is a long-term challenge requiring a long-term commitment. If we do not continue this campaign, we will reduce the future capability of (new) manufacturing. We will only know if it has been successful once all of Gen-Y are in the workforce and by then, we should be wising up Gen-Z that manufacturing is "mental"(?)..watch that phrase catch on in a couple of years.

The "S" word
Now here's a dirty word... "subsidies" a.k.a. "protectionism". I know it is US-centric, but I refer you to a great article on how "Balancing Trade is not Protectionism". The author Mike Collins argues that the US trade balance is not based on a level playing field as China manipulates its currency to force a trade deficit. He says the only beneficiaries are US multinationals (who produce in these low-cost countries) and those nations that manipulate their currency, likening the relationship as trying to sustain a heroine addiction. His argument that the US should be using the "S" word to protect its future from the ultimate collapse that will happen from an ever-expanding trade deficit.

I tend to agree that why wouldn't we, as part of a manufacturing policy, identify key manufacturing sectors of strategic importance and support them in preparation as future economic cornerstones? As those sectors mature, ultimately other low-cost providers will emerge which is when the free market should take over and we should look at the next wave of strategically important sectors.

Well, that's my brain drained. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Skills development: are manufacturers shooting themselves in the foot?

A pertinent question as asked by the Manufacturing Executive blog. It aligns with one of our previous posts about the benefits of recruiting mature-aged workers. But in the long-term does this benefit the industry?

Will this practice of hiring mature-aged workers ultimately discourage Gen-Y and the long-term sustainability of the manufacturing industry?

Comment below or on the post at Manufacturing Executive.   

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My 100th post... have I jumped the shark?

Well 100 posts seemed to come around quite quickly and whenever a TV show reaches some sort of milestone (read: runs out of ideas) they have a flashback show. So if you'll indulge me I'd like to provide some highlights of the last 100 posts, in no particular order:

IBM's 100 years in 100 seconds
A great snapshot of the evolution of a company and communicating its achievements, some of which you may not know about.

The myth of quick innovation adoption
An innovation normally takes up to 25 years to be adopted, when the perception is that it usually happens overnight.

The cuckoo clock vs Michelangelo
Does chaos stimulate innovation and order breed stagnancy?

Why doesn't Britain make things anymore?
Things are cheaper at the cost of expertise.

Santa's supply chain - the best in the world?
Reasons why Santa delivers.

Here's a solution: why not declare a war on manufacturing
Use the logic: declare a war on something and see it grow

The Music of Innovation (and vice versa)
My first real post.

Mature-aged workers - an unrealised resource?
The first post by a non-blogging colleague - and our most read post to date. Grrr! :)

I hope you've found the blog informative and entertaining. Let me know if you ever think I've 'jumped the shark' like Fonzi.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Offshoring in the west. Viable in the long-term or just lucky?

I found this a very interesting article to come out of WalesOnline. Major multi-national Tata, which makes everything from trucks to tea, has invested £800M in Welsh steelworks facilities. The Tata Steel spokesperson said the reasons for this investment were because of the quality of the workforce, strong industrial relations and a supportive Welsh government.

It's welcome news for the 8000 people employed by Tata in Wales, but more broadly offers an interesting twist on the offshoring issue and its implication for Western manufacturers.

Could manufacturers in the US, Europe and other western nations be genuinely considered as viable offshoring alternatives for the big manufacturers? eg those from India and China. The majority of economic arguments up to now would say otherwise.

Two of the reasons why you might think western manufacturing nations were unattractive offshoring alternatives; a quality (highly paid?) workforce and industrial relations practices, were some of the reasons why Tata were drawn to investing in Wales. Are these features that much of an enticement for overseas investment?

Another byproduct of the success was the Welsh government was able to 'on-sell' education via its FE colleges to the Indian education department - this may have helped seal the deal.

What do you think? Is it a viable alternative for western manufacturers to attract BRIC-type (Brazil, Russia, India, China) investment?

When companies shouldn't outsource manufacturing

An excerpt from an article in Industry Week, by Jeff Wallingford, vice president, Supply Chain Strategy, Riverwood Solutions.

* * * *

The trend to outsource manufacturing has been going strong for two decades. Recently, it has been popular to speculate on whether this trend has gone too far... There are still many cases where a company may benefit by choosing in-house manufacturing over outsourcing - but only when these cases truly apply:
  • a company's manufacturing process is the source of its competitive advantage
  • a firm does something in a unique way and does not want competitors to know how to do it
  • a competitive market for the specific manufacturing service does not exist
  • there is no opportunity for the service provider to leverage their fixed capital, common overhead, specific purchasing power, or expertise
  • to capture a limited and critical resource or channel
  • it is too costly to outsource the manufacturing process because of the additional costs driven by outsourcing
Click here to read the full article.

Friday, April 13, 2012

ABP AllBoards kickstart change

QMI Solutions provided an essential “outsiders’ perspective” for family-run ABP Allboards that helped  the company kick start change.
 
The manufacturer has so far identified $120,000 in possible savings by reducing inventory costs and the potential to save $150,000 a year in rent by rearranging the factory layout or using smaller premises. Here's some compelling pics of some of the changes ABP have made to their factory layout:
 

ABP AllBoards factory before


ABP AllBoards factory after

Click here to read the full article.
 
 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A global perspective on NextGen workforce

Manufacturing Executive poses some good question on its website regarding the features of the next generation workforce:

"Next-gen workers in the US and Western Europe, for example, have high - some say unrealistic - expectations of well-balanced home/work lives and work that has meaning beyond a pay check. But...the expectations of Millennials in Asia are significantly different. There it's all about rapid advancement and compensation. If such opportunities aren't readily available, next-geners in China will quickly bolt for greener pastures.."

What do you think? Comment below or at the Manufacturing Executive blog.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Companies that are terrible at innovation

Tim Kastelle, on his blog, dissects the types of innovation based on an Innovation Matrix that measures companies based on Innovation Commitment and Innovation Competence.

He argues some companies don't need to innovate, i.e.:

  • well-established firms in stable industries
  • monopolies and oligopolies
  • some startups
  • established firms that have forgotten how to innovate


  • I like his reference to Schumpeter regarding innovation in startups:

    "..all new firms are founded on an innovation, but there are two groups that don’t: startups in bubbles and startups in trouble."

    Click here to read the full article.

    Monday, April 9, 2012

    US Automotive Sector: "I'm Not Dead Yet!"

    Apologies in advance... as a long-time Monty Python fan, I had to re-post this given the headline. Besides that, the article provides an interesting take on the resurgence ot the US auto industry from Manufacturing Executive.
     
    * * * *
     
    The U.S.automotive industry has reprised the role made famous in a classic Monty Python sketch: One lucky soul about to be cast atop a heap of bodies cries out, “I’m not dead yet.”

    It’s hard to believe, but just a few years ago, many in the United States saw fit to toss the Big Three automakers on the undertaker’s pile. Through a powerful combination of innovation, regulation, and reconciliation, mixed with a healthy dose of luck, the automotive industry has picked itself up off the pile.

    In the afterlife, Ford has made billions. Across town, GM has done the same. Meanwhile, Chrysler has managed to turn its red ink black, albeit at a slower pace. The troika’s March sales numbers, released this week, show an industry on the rise.

    The question is how it happened. The answer, of course: It took a crisis. Most of us are familiar with the basic plot of this epic resurgence.

    Click here to read the full article.

    Friday, April 6, 2012

    There's no point curing mice

    Quite a thought-provoking piece from Dr Tim Kastelle at the Innovation Leadership Network. He refers to a quote from Dr Ian Frazer, developer of the  his development of the vaccine for papillomavirus associated cancers, regarding how to turn innovation into real practical applications. Dr Frazer said:
    "There’s no point curing mice. They’re not even grateful."
     Kastelle then asks three pertinent questions for researchers:

    For business research, there are three things that you have to consider:
    1. Is your research question interesting?
    2. Is your research idea doable?
    3. Does your research have a practical application?
    Click here to read the full article.

    Thursday, April 5, 2012

    GE embraces Lean Manufacturing as a sustainable competitive advantage

    The opening of a new GE Refigeration factory in Kentucky is good news for US manufacturing. However it is important to note that GE built the high-tech plant with the reduction of environmental impact foremost in mind.

    Click here to read the full article.

    Wednesday, March 21, 2012

    SME Clients: Do It Smart, Win Their Hearts

    This is a little away from the norm of our regular posts, but interesting nonetheless. I can across this article posted on LinkedIN by AT Kearney, where it looks at the value generated by SMEs - almost half of GDP of G7 countries. However the dichotomy is that SMEs aren't well represented (serviced?) by banks because of the fragmented nature of the SME community.

    The article recommends banks do not segment SMEs on the (generic) basis of size, but rather adopt a more tailored approach that considers product/channel usage and data credibility.

    Click here to read the full article.

    Tuesday, March 20, 2012

    Anyone can be a manufacturer

    Another interesting post from Derek Singleton on the Software Advice website discussing the next manufacturing revolution - and how it's driven by individuals not corporations. For me, the most interesting part was his list of enabling technologies to help this revolution:
    • Crowdsourcing – Crowdsourcing is an approach to idea generation and product development, not a technology. However, there’s a variety of tech resources available that enable crowdsourcing for any kind of project; check out Open Innovation for a great list.
    • CAD Software – 2D and 3D designs created with CAD software can be saved in a sharable file format before production. You can access professional-grade CAD software on a subscription basis for $19.95/month from Local Motors.
    • 3D Printing – 3D printers are rapidly decreasing in price, making it affordable to create a prototype model of a CAD design. Some 3D printers are already powerful enough to make small numbers of finished items. As this technology advances, the hope is that individuals will be able to produce larger batches of finished products.
    • Manufacturing-as-a-Service – Manufacturing is following software’s lead and becoming an on-demand service. Online manufacturing directories like Alibaba and ThomasNet can connect you with a manufacturer that will build for you so you don’t have to invest in any equipment.
    • Cloud Computing – The Cloud isn’t a manufacturing-specific technology but it deserves a mention because of how cost-effective it makes running a product business. Cloud solutions like NetSuite and Plex provide affordable solutions for managing orders, inventory, accounting and other business functions.
    • E-commerce – Of course, the Internet is a critical enabler for any business these days. Sites like eBay, Amazon, or your own e-commerce website, make it easy for customers to find and buy from you. If you’re interested in running your own e-commerce site, you should check out Volusion and BigCommerce.
     Click here to read the full article.

    Monday, March 19, 2012

    Moving from talent ownership to talent attraction

    An interesting article from the Innovation Excellence website:

    * * * *

    Silicon Valley icon Bill Joy once famously said, “There are always more smart people outside your company than within it.”

    In this new world of work, organisations must begin accepting that the most valuable employees will now be those that not only do good work, but who also serve as a force multiplier for their organizations by being good at organizing and orchestrating the innovation efforts of others who do not even work for the company.

    And ideally, you will want to evolve to a place where even those who do not work for you actually want to work with you. In this brave new world, you must have strategies in place for attracting both internal and external talent to your innovation efforts.

    Click here to read the full article and download the white paper.

    Tuesday, March 13, 2012

    News coverage of Obama's $1 billion initiative to boost manufacturing

    Some recent news coverage from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers on Obama's announcement to boost manufacturing:  

    CNN (3/9, Aigner-Treworgy) reported, "President Barack Obama traveled Friday to a Rolls-Royce jet engine facility in Virginia, where he outlined a proposed network for manufacturers to share 'access to cutting edge capabilities.' Obama, speaking in Prince George, said the National Manufacturing Innovation Network is meant to link industry stakeholders in a national conversation about best manufacturing practices. The cost of the president's new proposal is $1 billion, but the White House is committed to creating a pilot program using appropriated funds from various departments, rather than waiting for Congress to approve funds requested in the president's budget."
            The Washington Post (3/10, Wilson) reported, "The centers would bring together industry, colleges and universities, and government agencies, as well as invest in new technologies, to help train workers for what the president has called the manufacturing jobs of the future. Obama also announced steps to use executive authority to authorize $45 million in existing resources to develop a pilot program for those institutes. The money does not require congressional approval, which he joked during his remarks was hard to come by."
            Bloomberg News (3/9, Runningen) reported, "Each of the technology hubs would focus on a specific manufacturing technology geared to the region, such as developing lightweight materials for use in next-generation automobiles, aircraft, ships and trains."
            Voice of America (3/9, Robinson) reported Obama said, "We have got to have this all across the country. I want everybody thinking about how are we making the best products, how we are harnessing the best ideas, and making sure they are located here in the United States. And sparking this network of innovation across the country it will create jobs and will keep America in the manufacturing game."
            Also covering the story are the Los Angeles Times (3/10, Hennessey), McClatchy (3/10, Clark), the National Journal (3/10, Quinton, Subscription Publication), The Hill (3/9, Sands), the Milwaukee Business Journal (3/9, Rovito, Subscription Publication) and other media sources.

    Thursday, March 8, 2012

    Overcoming the manufacturing skills gap

    An interesting post from Derek Singleton on the Software Advice website discussing the three ways to overcome the skills gap, which he suggests are:
    • strengthen educational partnerships
    • invest in in-house training
    • energise the workforce of tomorrow
    Much of what he discusses is valid to the contemporary manufacturing environment in Australia. One element that is crucial in Australia is the role of government. We need to secure and maintain government support for the contribution of manufacturing, particularly SMEs, to the economy.

    Click here to read the full article

    Thursday, March 1, 2012

    No-waste circular economy is good business – ask China


    Don't throw out that broken toaster: it's key to our prosperity. Redesigning the economy so that all waste is reused or recycled would be good for business, according to two new reports.

    For centuries the global economy has been linear. Companies extract resources from the environment, turn them into products and sell them to consumers – who eventually throw them out. As a result we are burning through Earth's natural resources and wasting useful materials.
    But it doesn't have to be that way, says Felix Preston of think tank Chatham House in London. Instead, we could have a circular economy in which waste from one product is used in another.

    Click here to read the full article.

    Wednesday, February 29, 2012

    Why would a rich man want a poor man's product?

    Bigthink.com talks about the concept of reverse innovation - that is... creating value for many rather than value for money.

    Vijay Govindarajan, Professor of International Business at the Tuck School of Business, defines it as innovation that starts in poor countries and brought to people in wealthy countries. He argues that poor countries have unique problems that inspire solutions usable throughout the world, regardless of economic status.

    Reverse innovation, however, is not about making cheap products, says Govindarajan. "It's about giving value because poor people, their hard earned money, they want value they don't want cheap products." he said.

    This means the onus is on innovators to find creative ways to drive down the cost of material and labor and add features that cater to the needs of the community. It's about doing more with less.

    Click here to read the full article.

    Monday, February 27, 2012

    Manbulloo heats up export competitiveness

    In 2010, only 44% of Manbulloo mangoes met the required standard for export to Japan, China and Korea.. In monetary terms, this meant a $20K-$30K loss for just one batch. By the end of the project with QMI Solutions, the plant was operating effectively – more than 80% of Export Premium mangoes met the requirements, with negligible losses due to heat damage.

    Through the project we were able to save Manbulloo approximately $500K per year.

    Click here to read the full article.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2012

    Forget onshoring (reshoring) - what about MIMOC?

    Do you ever a read a post and say to yourself "Man, this person is smart!". I've only read a few posts by AJ Sweatt and all fill me with excitement and envy. In a post dated October 2011 (nothing like keeping my finger on the pulse), he discusses reshoring and how the concept is important in redressing the balance of unneccesarily lost jobs overseas, but ultimately not sustainable.

    Instead he suggests MIMOC - Manufacturing in Markets of Consumption, which apparently has been around for years. Known by Coca-Cola and many well-known auto manufacturers, the process specifically locates production locally for exposure to local markets. Makes sense.

    The benefits of MIMOC are:
    • it encourages exports
    • it’s sustainable
    • it simplifies politics & public opinion
    • it creates jobs
    • it creates, nurtures & moderates the global manufacturing network
    I also like his point that MIMOC gives corporations an "out". Corporations can relocate operations based on where the local market is situated. No need to admit failure over an unsuccessful offshoring initiative.

    Click here to read the full article. 

    Monday, February 20, 2012

    Middle managers are holding back innovation

    So it's the middle managers fault that we aren't innovating! I knew it!!

    I'm unfairly framing what is a very good post from Paul Hobcraft on Innovation Excellence. He says that middle managers are often too focused on delivery operational objectives when they are the key to innovation execution. Hobcraft offers a staged approach to remedy this:

    1. Core competences need to be changed
    2. We need to focus the middle manager on different learning concepts
    3. Working the innovation learning ‘muscles’ through the three learning loops
    4. Apply a coaching framework
    5. Use the ADKAR methodology of change

    As with the Theory of Constraints principle, it makes sense to address the constraint of innovation, if in fact it is the middle manager. I suspect this is partly true. The challenge for our clients (SMEs) is the same challenges felt by middle managers, as Hobcraft suggests, is felt across the whole business. Neverthless the approach is still valid.

    Click here to read the full article.

    Thursday, February 16, 2012

    How to save manufacturing - well, some good starting points anyway

    Following is an article in last week's Huffington Post. It's a little misdirected in its approach, implying that the manufacturing industry is faced with challenges caused by the recent onset of technological advances and globalisation. In fact, the manufacturing industry has arguably had ot be the most adaptive being particularly more sensitive to the booms and busts of past decades. Fuel prices go up, manufacturing has to adapt. Mining booms occur, manufacturing has to cope with the talent drain. GFCs, natural disasters etc have made manufacturing an industry chameleon that has had to adapt or die. The industry's resilience is not to be underestimated and most companies have had to inmplement, in some form, the 'next generation' points made by the author, which are:
    • anticipate customer needs
    • innovate around the core
    • focus on collaboration
    • pre-solve problems
    • inform and communicate
    • do continuous de-commoditisation
    This is a good start for sure and more details abouts each of these points is provided in the link below, however SME manufacturers need more guidance.

    Being time and resource poor, they need (external) assistance to validate their strategies. This where government should play a role as funding the enablers for a more globally competitive and sustanaible industry.

    Click here to read the full article. 

    Wednesday, February 15, 2012

    Lean leadership lessons from General Colin Powell - Problems are gold

    A great post from Lean Pathways.

    General Colin Powell says of leadership:
      “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
    In the article referred to by author Al Norval, General Powell goes on to say that in his opinion, given this test, the majority of CEOs would fail.

    Norval makes a comparison between Powell and Lean's Mental Models:

      "Problems are Gold, buried treasure to be unearthed. But in all too many organisations, problems aren’t treated as gold, rather they are treated as things to be swept under the carpet and left alone. People learn quickly to stop bringing problems to leaders. The funny thing is - the problems still exist."
    Click here to read the full article.

    Tuesday, February 14, 2012

    How to Measure New Product Productivity in Your Industry

    Geovanny Romero blogs on Innovation Excellence about the importance of new product development to keeping your business ahead of the game. But how does your industry fare? He says:
    • the best firms have twelve times the productivity in new product development compared to the worst
    • the most productivity industry is consumer packaged goods, including food
    • the least productive industry is pharmaceutical
    For new products to be a succesful part of the business, the new product development process needs to be clear, measurable, sustainable and consistent.

    Click here to read the full article.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012

    Manufacturing and innovation - tied together

    Detroit is synonymous with the US auto industry and as such, experienced the worst of the industry's downturn over the past 30 years. So you may be excused for thinking an article on manufacturing from The Detroit News may carry baggage, but the author Mark Benvenuto uses the past troubles as a good example of the importance of an intrinsic link between innovation and manufacturing.

    The most salient point for me was the theory that didn't work - namely the practice of shipping production overseas, whil hoping to retain the idea factories locally.

    "To believe that is to misunderstand something fundamental: many of the most valuable innovations happen close to production, where scientists, engineers and researchers have tangible problems before them to solve."

    He also mentions an admirable initiative from the American Chemical Society, which is awarding chemical scholarships to encourage innovation and job creation in the chemical sciences.

    There are plenty of lessons we can learn from Detroit.

    Click here to read the full article.

    Monday, February 6, 2012

    Mature aged workers - an unrealised resource?

    An article from the AMMA - the Australian Mines and Metals Association ran a discussion on mature age workers on LinkedIn. Our MSQ General Manager Erik Salonen replied with the following points, which were then used on the AMMA site. Here is the article.

    Last week The Australian ran an article about the economic benefits of having older people in the workforce. While Australia struggles with a skills shortage, many other countries are tapping into a particularly rich vein of talent, the over 50 market.

    Erik Salonen, General Manager at Manufacturing Skills Queensland, wasn’t one bit surprised at the report. He believes mature aged workers play an important part of any organization, particularly because of the vast amount of intellectual property they take with them when they leave.

    Flexible work options

    Mr. Salonen advises a key method of attracting and retaining mature age workers is providing flexible work options to accommodate caring responsibilities, health issues or a desire for a different work/life balance. Mature age employees can often be encouraged to stay on when offered:
    • phased retirement
    • part-time work
    • job sharing opportunities
    • work from home arrangements
    "In particular, phased retirement enables mature age employees to continue to participate in the workplace, allowing employers to retain employees - and their skills and knowledge - for longer than they would otherwise."

    “Many options are available for phased retirement, depending on the needs of employees, as well as business and operational requirements.”

    Options for Phased Retirement

    Mr Salonen shares the following options employers can provide to mature age employees:
    • Transition from full-time to part-time work in their current job
    • Take alternative job opportunities on either a full-time or part-time basis
    • ‘Retire’ from the organisation and contract back
    • Work full-time with additional flexible leave and flexible hours entitlements
    Business benefits of phased retirement
    • Retention of skilled employees in the workforce for a longer period of time
    • Preservation of organisational and/ or corporate knowledge
    • Provision of a system for effective succession management
    • Creation of a flexible and responsive workforce
    • Increased return on investment in training and development
    Help for mature age workers

    Employers are being encouraged to hire and train older workers under a Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) government scheme called Experience +. Over the next three years, 7500 workers aged 50 years and over with trade relevant skills but no formal qualifications will have the opportunity to have their skills assessed and formally recognised. Assistance is available for workers needing an apprenticeships or traineeships. Industries given priority include Construction, Manufacturing, Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services. These grants are also available for small business owners.

    For more information, check out:
    It’s all good news for older workers looking for jobs in mining, energy jobs or oil and gas jobs. As the global resource industry feels pressure to find skilled workers, the biggest source may well be the people who have powered the economy for the past 40 years.

    What is your experience with mature age workers?

    Click here to see the webpage or comment below.

    Friday, February 3, 2012

    Stemming the flow - the reluctance of youth to pursue STEM careers

    A Reuters article recently points to an ASQ Survey results stating that youth in the US are reluctant to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) for a number of reasons, perhaps the most disturbing of which is that too much work is involved.

    There were 713 respondents surveyed from grades 6-12 who offered the following insights:
    • STEM careers offer the most opportunities
    • STEM degrees cost too much
    • their grades aren't good enough
    • too much work is involved
    • teachers aren't preparing students well enough for STEM careers (with girls feeling underprepared x4)
    I'm not sure if these results for US students translate to the rest of the world, but let us assume they do. So there is a major paradox present here. There is recognition of the opportunities offered by STEM-related careers, but (leaving cost aside) students feel underprepared, disinclined or insecure about pursuing these careers.

    Of course, it is probable that a section of those surveyed have not been aligned to STEM careers no matter what the circumstance. However, what seems to be lacking is a passion and drive for STEM careers and visibility of a pathway towards that career.

    Certainly from any engineering perspective, there are a number of programs on offer to ignite that passion. See the F1inSchools program that we have been specifically involved with, but also a list of engineering programs for schools is available at the Australian National Engineering Taskforce website.

    Such programs ignite the interest, the passion and the drive for students to prepare themselves to take advantage of STEM opportunities.

    Click here to read the results of the STEM survey.

    Thursday, February 2, 2012

    Social media for innovators

    A blog from the Innovation Excellence site about the importance of social media when it comes to building personal brands. No real surprises there. But author Stefan Lindegaard talks about social media in the context of providing and promoting innovation offerings and constructing the strategy and innovation eco-system supporting this.

    Click here toread the full article. 

    Wednesday, February 1, 2012

    The disappearing of exports

    An opinion piece in the New York Times explores and compares the world of a politician and that of the CEO. Politicians see the world as dominated by voter geography, while CEOs see the world as a global supply chain where anything can be sourced, made and sold.

    The author, Thomas Friedman, quotes a Hong Kong manufacturer who says, “Source everywhere, manufacture everywhere, sell everywhere. The whole notion of an ‘export’ is really disappearing.”

    But until we vote a one global community, the tension will still exist. So the focus of our elected officials is as key enablers; immigration for the skills, protection of ideas, funding research and provision of logistical infrastructure.

    Freidman also alludes to the long-term debt problems of the US, which is not enabled by the four year election cycle. One way around this may be a long-term (longer than four years anyway), bi-partisan, debt-reduction strategy committee - my 2 cents worth, not Freidman's. That is, only if debt-reduction strategy is an important goal for governments.

    Click here to read the full article.

    Friday, January 27, 2012

    The Music of Innovation (and vice versa)

    I am no student of music. My foray into music extends to screeching my recorder (or miming it) in unison with my other classmates at school assemblies or other such events designed to make audiences' ears bleed. Nor am I student of science - particularly the science of sound psychoacoustics. But after reading a particularly interesting article from the brainiacs at The Aftermatter, I began to appreciate the parallels between music and innovation.

    The article helped me realise something very obvious. When two instruments play the same note, they still don't sound the same - I know my brain works slowly, but it does get there in the end! This, as explained in the article, has to do with harmonics and the sound vibrations produced by the instrument reacting in an infinite number of ways. The vibrations, emitted as sounds, are also affected by the musician's playing styles, the type of instrument and quite likely the number of drinks consumed.

    So there is this wonderful paradox of bringing together all these competing variables to generate the harmonious sound that is music.

    How is innovation dissimilar?

    Innovation has its composers, students and influencers. It can be generated by individuals, teams (bands) or groups and yet still has an infinite number of variables that can be fused together to produce the same, but different, 'sound', the appreciation of which is subject to criticism, awards and ambivalence. NB: It is also subject to rip-offs and piracy.

    But where are the conservatoriums of innovation? Universities are... arguably. The Fraunhofers of the world are closer to the ideal. For many hundreds of years the world has had institutions established throughout the world to perfect the art, and science, of music. Public and private sectors acknowledge the richness music bestows on us - how can we do the same to make the richness of innovation music to our ears?