Jun 12, 2011

Small successes in manufacturing showing up

My daily sweep of manufacturing news brought in quite a few signs of  strength in smaller companies in the U.S. Many of you know that I feel we need manufacturing everywhere in the world for the greatest potential for prosperity. At the same time, I'm especially happy to see good things happening to my neighbors.

A hearty appetite: The local food and beverage industry grows despite the recession
Lane County, Oregon -- where my sister Diane lives, by the way, is holding onto jobs because of innovative food manufacturers, seeing opportunities in changing consumer needs such as lactose-free frozen desserts and chocolate.

Bloom's price and reliability questioned: Fuel-cell maker promises up to 1,500 jobs
I have lots of family in Delaware. It was a blow when Chrysler shuttered its plant in Newark but Bloom Energy has promised they will add back 1,500 jobs to make fuel cell boxes. Realistically, we know that jobs like that take a long time to materialize, and sometimes fail to appear at all. This article shares good news, tempered with some skepticism.

Indiana an island of growth
Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, has studied the data and feels good about Indiana. He says, "In the two years since the recession, the U.S. economy has lost 2 percent of its manufacturing employment. Indiana has not merely bucked the job loss trend, but added 4.6 percent more jobs in manufacturing. This is astonishing because the sectors of manufacturing that Indiana is most concentrated in have continued to lag nationally." And, yes, I have cousins living outside Indianapolis.

DE wants energy industry jobs;
CT has them
Made in Torrington: The face of the city's manufacturing community
Since the 18th century, Connecticut has been a manufacturing center. While its history-making machine tool industry has been slammed in the last couple of decades, don't count the New Englanders out.  Local companies are turning out furniture, chains, fuel cells, wind turbines, brushless motors and industrial adhesives. Rick Thomason's interviews with leaders of these companies show why manufacturing is an exciting business.

(when you click the following link, scroll down the page a ways to see the whole article...)
Pasco business fosters reputation for innovation
It's not all about the advanced energy industry. I like this story of one guy in Washington State starting with one machine in a garage, and now running a company making thousands of hydraulic jacks a year.

Companies Spend on Equipment, Not Workers
One reason why better business isn't pushing up job numbers is that manufacturers are finding lots of reasons to make capital investments with that extra cash we've been hearing about. Some people point to the mismatch between workers and job requirements I've discussed before, and some point to really good deals on automation and software. It's good news for someone (maybe elsewhere in the world) manufacturing that equipment or writing that software, not as much here where people are hurting. [As an aside, Mr. Dunkelberg's statement about having no unemployed farmers is just silly. We had them and still do ... where does he think industrial workers have come from ever since the first agricultural equipment was put to work?]

How will you live your manufacturing story this week? How will you make your company worth writing about tomorrow?

Jun 10, 2011

Blaming lean for closing sausage factories

A food producer and restaurant chain released its financial statement yesterday explaining a couple of items that cut into profits. Here is a quote:

"$2.8 million in restructuring charges [mostly severance payments] related to lean manufacturing productivity initiatives in the food products segment during the second quarter, including the discontinuation of fresh sausage operations at two facilities."

Leaving aside joking about lean sausage and lean manufacturing, it's obvious that lean initiatives in remaining facilities will face more employee resistance. Workers have seen what will happen if their facilities get too productive.

Is this a case of a difference in understanding between the manufacturing function, human resources function, and finance? Or the company's complete lack of understanding of what lean is about?

Jun 8, 2011

President Obama Shines Spotlight on Skills for America's Future

visit to GE 01/2011
http://scottwykoff.wbal.com/2011_01_01_archive.html
As I wrote a few days ago a manufacturing workforce shortfall is already hampering recovery of some companies. Among the solutions is the Manufacturing Skills Certification, a portable credential which brings standardization of curriculum and measurement to training. Much of what follows comes from a White House press release, and you may hear it on the radio or see it in the news.

Seeing the light
Jan 2011 visit to Orion Energy Systems
Today at Northern Virginia Community College, President Obama will announce expansion of Skills for America’s Future, based on industry partnerships with community colleges, with a nation-wide emphasis on workforce development, job training, and job placements.

The President's speech says, “Last year, we launched Skills for America’s Future to bring together companies and community colleges around a simple idea: making it easier for workers to gain new skills will make America more competitive in the global economy.  Today, we are announcing a number of partnerships that will help us make this a reality, by opening doors to new jobs for workers, and helping employers find the trained people they need to compete against companies around the world.”

The President's remarks boost the importance of manufacturing, in words that will sound familiar to many readers of Lean Reflections:

While the manufacturing sector has faced real challenges in recent years, it continues to be the lifeblood of the American economy. The manufacturing sector currently employs over 11 million Americans, and by itself it would be one of the 10th largest economies in the world. Manufacturing is also critical for our continued innovation; manufacturing companies account for two-thirds of private sector research and development and roughly 90% of all registered patents.  Most importantly, manufacturing has long provided good-paying jobs for millions of families and serves as the anchor employer in communities across America.
For that reason, our ability to win the future will depend in large part on our ability to train the most productive manufacturing workers in the world. This effort is especially important at a time when 2.7 million manufacturing employees are 55 years of age or older and likely to leave the labor force in the next 10 years.

One of the challenges in today’s manufacturing sector is the lack of a standardized credentialing system that manufacturing firms recognize as useful preparation for their unfilled jobs.  Students can spend time and money on training of little value while employers are unsure which credentials should influence hiring and promotions.

The Manufacturing Skills Certification System, developed with manufacturing firms at the table, is portable and valued by a range of employers. Partners include the Manufacturing Institute, manufacturing firms, the Gates Foundation, and the Lumina Foundation, ACT, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, the American Welding Society, the National Institute of Metalworking Skills, and the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council. The last-named have been developing and improving their certifications and bodies of knowledge for decades and its high time that work is recognized.

The manufacturing credentials and pathways will be available in community colleges in 30 states as a for-credit program of study.

People on the Skills for America's Future board, include Greg Brown, chairman and CEO, Motorola Solutions; William D. Green, chairman, Accenture; Penny Pritzker, chairman and CEO, Pritzker Realty Group (Chair); Brad Keywell, co-founder and director of Groupon, Inc.; Nick Pinchuk, chairman and CEO of Snap-on Incorporated; David Zaslav, president and CEO of Discovery Communications; Ellen Alberding, president, The Joyce Foundation; and Walter Bumphus, president and CEO, American Association of Community Colleges. Learn more about Skills for America’s future at www.skillsforamericasfuture.org.

The Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) will jump in and promote a curriculum based on NAM’s advanced manufacturing skills certification system. The 60 centers will educate local manufacturers about the value of the skills certification system so they use it in recruitment and hiring efforts. The MEP also feed back skill needs of manufacturers in their local areas and industries.

High schools: Global manufacturer Air Products is partnering with SkillsUSA to encourage 3,500 member high schools and 200 colleges to adopt these credentials.

Finally, the excitement and opportunity of manufacturing for students will be reinfoced by “Discover Your Skills,” a Discovery Communications initiative designed to raise awareness of career opportunities including PSAs, on-air talent, their media properties and Discovery Education.

Jobs for America’s Graduates’ is adopting a five-year goal of helping 30,000 high-risk youth obtain professional credentials for careers that include manufacturing.  Archer Daniels Midland Company is JAG’s National Business Partner.

All-important mentorships will help 5,000 young people with the aid of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), the SME Education Foundation and the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering and the National Academy Foundation.

The Department of Labor has already released an updated advanced manufacturing competency model outlining necessary the skills identified by industry groups.


Speeches can be just air, and programs can start with high hopes and fade into obscurity. Let's hope that these take root and support the learning we need in industry, and provide models for more.

Buried inside some of the skills and credentials we would hope to find plenty of problem-solving and continuous improvement skills. They have been proclaimed as needs even where lean thinking has not taken hold.


In addition, if you are a leader in a manufacturing company and near one of the community colleges taking part in the high-profile programs, it is a perfect time for you to get together with their manufacturing departments and contribute with internships and the revival of apprenticeship programs. If you are not there at the end of the pipeline, none of the training will do much to solve manufacturing's problems. Being involved will also help you influence programs tailored to your industry if it is not traditional metalworking, which gets most of the attention.

Jun 2, 2011

Inventory - need I say more?

Threadless is a T-shirt design, production, and marketing community sort of company. I found a photo on their blog but you'll have to research the company yourself if you want to know more. Obviously they have just learned something about inventory:

Here's what they say:

Threadless inventory complete - hidden tees revealed
"We've spent the last few days exploring the rarely seen depths of the Threadless warehouse. In our exploration we discovered tees long since thought gone. Here's your chance to score these tees if your brave and clever enough to find them. Good luck to you all and beware the cursed tee of Warehouse Manager Eddie Gobbo."
 Although they discovered a problem, they did act quickly with a way to unload the excess in exchange for cash.
Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm