Thoughts from the Lean Ranger

June 3, 2013 by
Charles "Luke" Lukey aka "The Lean Ranger"

Charles “Luke” Lukey aka “The Lean Ranger”

As a first responder for the Small Manufacturer’s Connection, I visit a lot of machine shops. And I have learned there are many ways to do things.

Need to create a specific shape from a sheet of 1/4″ steel? How complex is the shape? Are we talking triangular gusset or dead accurate 1/24th scale outline of a helicopter?

The gusset can be realized with a simple plasma cutter and a steady hand. The helicopter will require a bit more finesse, something like a Flow waterjet cutter.

Machinists everywhere want three things:

These things are desirable because they work so well.

But I frequently go into shops where the CNCs and Waterjets are sitting idle. “Not enough work for ‘em today,” the supervisor explains, “Sales is working on it.”

The Flow Waterjet at Shop A sits idle while designers and engineers at Shop B make their build decisions: “It makes sense to have this piece water jetted, but since we don’t have one, and I don’t know anyone who does…”

“…and I don’t know anyone who does…”

There is demand, but there is no awareness of capacity. The Sales team at Shop A might work the phones to their melting point and not connect with Shop B and their need for water jet cutting.

Veteran Lean practitioners suggest we look outward for answers, for actions applicable to industrial challenges based on our observations of the natural world. Since my meditation skills need work, let’s look at that other world, the Internet.

The Webby Awards reviews new and interesting web sites. One of their recent favorites is called ‘Working Not Working.’

Say you are a freelance artist. You have skills, you have a solid gallery of work, and you’re looking for work. You register (free) at WNW, upload your resume and gallery of work and note your status: ‘Working’ or ‘Available’ or ‘Available Soon.’

Firms that need artists register ($) at WNW, then scan the ranks of available freelancers. If a suitable candidate is found and their status is “Not Working” or “Available Soon,” an email is sent to the artist, and negotiations can begin.

How is a freelance artist different from a CNC machine?  Both have skills, both have galleries of work, one has a resume and the other a specification sheet. Each tool, pencil or cutting bit is guided by a skilled operator.

“Working Not Working” could be expanded to embrace this situation. Call it ” Running Not Running.” It’s the same concept. You’re a manufacturer and you need water jet cutting? A CNC vertical mill? Precision grinding? Go to RNR and see what’s available nearby.  You are an underutilized piece of equipment. You have skilled operators, you have a solid gallery of work, and you’re looking for work. You register, upload your resume’ and gallery of work and note your status: “Running” or “Available” or “Available Soon.”

My ship has come in.

Government Economic Intervention Made America Great

August 6, 2012 by

Recently, the “Rebuild America Act” was introduced in the Senate by Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).  This a comprehensive bill that aims to help American manufacturers compete and help young people get the education they need.  It calls for rebuilding roads and bridges, improving schools and job training, and protecting U.S. companies from predatory trade practices.

In his article in U.S. News and World Report, David Brodwin takes on the question of whether or not it is the government’s role to intervene in economic issues at all.  According to many, “government should play no role. It should simply stand aside.”  Those who believe this think government intervention of any kind makes matters worse.

But according to Brodwin in his article, this belief “flies in the face of principles that have made America strong throughout its history.”  From the early 1800′s, when the government taxed manufactured imports and put policies in place to protect America’s new manufacturers until they could compete on a broader scale, to targeted investments in selected industries to help them get off the ground, the U.S. has implemented many policies over the years that have helped grow our industrial base that sustained us through two world wars.

Read Brodwin’s entire article here.

It used to be that providing funds to build roads, bridges and infrastructure, as well as providing money for education, were strategies both parties agreed upon as a necessary function of government to help provide a framework for industry to succeed. Such policies in the past helped make America great.  According to Brodwin, “government must create and maintain the conditions in which competition can flourish.”  We need to get back to a less ideological and more common sense approach to government economic intervention in helping to rebuild our economy.

Hundreds Expected to Learn ABout National Manufacturing Program

June 26, 2012 by

Reprinted with permission from June 15 Manufacturing & Technology News

Companies and organizations wanting to learn about the proposed $1 billion federal National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) will have an opportunity on July 9, 2012 in Cleveland. NASA and a dozen other federal agencies involved in the program will describe the concepts behind the government’s desire to create 15 new centers aimed at revitalizing the U.S. manufacturing sector.

NNMI is the first manufacturing program in decades that has generated active participation and enthusiasm among so many federal agencies. Those who are organizing NNMI have concluded that increased manufacturing productivity is not the reason for the loss of so many manufacturing jobs. They also say that research is no longer being scaled to commercial production, and the country is losing the benefits of its investment in R&D.

A number of new agencies have joined the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office recently, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Patent and Trademark Office, EPA, the Department of Labor, Department of  Education and the Small Business Administration. The core partner agencies are the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, National Institute of Standards and Technology (MEP), NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Those who are involved from the government say they are determined to create the network and make it a sustainable enterprise. They are looking for ideas from the private sector on how to structure the centers so that they are self-perpetuating. The government held a similar meeting in Rochester, NY, on April 25, 2012, and it was a sell out, with about 250 people in attendance. The July 9 workshop will be held at the Cuyahoga Community College and includes speakers such as Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). Organizers say as many as 800 people could attend.

Information on the event is located at http://manufacturing.gov/amp/event_070912.html.

“Locavesting” and How It Can Shift Power from Wall Street to Main Street

May 30, 2012 by

Charles “Luke” Lukey aka “The Lean Ranger”

The phrase Think Globally, Act Locally has been a fixture of bumper stickers for years…but what does it mean? For some “locavores,” it means purchasing food and drink created within a set area, say 50-100 miles. This supports local farmers and ranchers, and it tends to pull the production of food closer to population areas.

Before the invention of road and rail transport, everybody was a locavore.

A new practice called “locavesting” also recalls an earlier time, when businesses were founded and funded by local people. Few of us know exactly where our retirement dollars are at a given moment. Electronic trading and global markets has increased the complexity of investing to the point where even the computers have a hard time following the action.

Locavesting introduces small business owners to each other at informal gatherings. Business plans are examined, financial needs are discussed and deals are made.  Now, instead of purchasing timber stocks, where all of the action takes place over the horizon, the locavestor has a small stake in the town lumberyard. The benefit works both ways – the business gets needed capital at a reasonable rate and the investor realizes gains that may be greater than what could be made in the larger market.

A local example of locavesting can be found in Port Townsend, where a group called LION (Local Investment Opportunity Network) is bringing small businesses and small investors together.

As explained by Michael Shuman, author of “Local Dollars, Local Sense,” in this talk (link below), small changes in investing patterns done across the U.S. could shift the balance of economic power from Wall Street to Main Street.

Click here to watch Michael Shuman talk locavesting.

Impact Washington Staff Connects with Colleagues Nationwide and Cutting Edge Technologies at Manufacturing Innovations 2012

May 14, 2012 by

One of the strengths Impact Washington brings to Washington manufacturers is the ability to reach out to a nationwide network of experts through the MEP system to find solutions to sustain and grow US manufacturing.  As a member of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership network, Impact Washington is one of over 50 centers located around the U.S. that help manufacturers become globally competitive.

Each year, we all gather in Orlando for the Manufacturing Innovations conference to learn about the latest and greatest in manufacturing, looking to what the future holds for manufacturers, sharing best practices, and bringing back solutions for Washington’s manufacturers that will help them be globally competitive.  Two years ago, MEP expanded the conference to include manufacturers, who now attend alongside over 800 MEP experts and industry partners to learn together how to move US manufacturing forward in the 21st century.

This year’s event had over 825 people in attendance and included keynote speeches from leading speakers on innovation and manufacturing, including Rowan Gibson, regarded as one of the world’s best innovation speakers, Jim Carroll , one of the world’s leading global futurists, and John Ratzenberger, best known as Cliff Clavin on the 80′s sitcom Cheers and now a vocal advocate for American manufacturing.

Another big aspect of the conference is sharing new technologies and best practices.  Attendees were able to participate in over 85 breakout sessions that brought the latest information on how manufacturers can grow their profits through export, how to sustain change in an organization through Toyota Kata, and the latest tools available to manufacturers on implementing innovation systems into their business practices.

One of the highlights of this year’s event was the Make it in America lounge, which featured products of MEP clients from all over the United States.  Check out our Facebook page here to see photos of products in the lounge as well as other shots from the national conference.

And if you are interested in connecting with over 800 manufacturing experts next year, save the date for Manufacturing Innovations 2013, to be held at the Orlando World Marriott April 27-May 1, 2013.  Visit www.mepevents.com for more information.

Eureka! Moment with Client Leads to Better Understanding of A Product’s Potential

April 23, 2012 by

Patric Sazama, Regional Project Director; Central/Eastern Washington and Innovation Engineering Growth Coach

I had an “ah ha” moment with a client recently that is worth sharing.

I was stepping in for a colleague who was on medical leave, and he had asked that I go through a client’s “Merwyn Report” with him.  (Note: The Merwyn Report, generated from the Merwyn Business Simulation is an early-stage Innovation Sales Forecasting tool (www.merwyn.com) and is part of the Eureka! Ranch innovation program) .  I did not know this client at all and knew only a little about what his innovation was that he was running through Merwyn.  The client’s overall score was not high, but that is not unusual.  The national average for a Merwyn score is “29” out of 100…and this client had a 36.  But every Merwyn report is graded either GREEN (great…go!), YELLOW (caution…think about it), and RED (issues exist) on three main areas: Overt Benefit, Reason to Believe, and Dramatic Difference.  Let’s go through these one at a time

  • Overt Benefit- This would be the benefit (WOW benefit) this product will bring to a potential client’s problem.  And what is interesting is different potential clients can each have different needs
  • Reason to Believe- This evaluates why we should believe you can do or deliver on what you say you can.  This is where third-party testing, expert input or such come into play.
  • Dramatic Difference is just that.  An Innovation must be different to be successful.  So this area is graded on how well the dramatic difference is explained in the report.

Our client had a RED in OVERT BENEFIT; a RED in Reason to Believe and a YELLOW in Dramatic Difference.  Yet even with those scores, the sales forecasts were quite encouraging.  I discussed these  elements with the inventor…and HE GOT IT.  At first, he was questioning the value of the Merwyn report.  What was it really telling him?  He had an overall score of 36 (out of 100), the projected sales numbers for his invention were not bad (depending on how strong of a marketing effort he has behind his product), and in his final score, he had two REDS and one YELLOW.

But here is what our client realized:

  • He thought it obvious to everyone what the overt benefit was.  But as we talked about it, the only group that would truly get it was a very small subsection of all the potential customers for this product.  Not only that, he realized that his product could have several different target groups for initial sales.  And every one of those groups had a different overt benefit that this product would address.  It was like a light went on with our client as he started telling me his product “pitch” is going to have to be very different from one potential customer group to another.  He got it.
  • Then we moved down to his RED score on Reason to Believe.  I shared that he was the only one saying that his product will do what he says it will.  But….why should I care just because you say it will do this and this and this?  If his product is that good, he will be able to find experts to give their opinions on his product, third parties to evaluate the product and give credence to the claims he was making.
  • Our client’s Dramatic Difference was only a yellow even though our client shared “this is the only product available that will do these things”.  As we discussed his product’s dramatic difference, it became clear to him that there was much more he could report that would truly verify his product’s dramatic difference.  He just thought it was so obvious…”anyone who knows anything about X will understand how different this new product is.”

So in a matter of 45 minutes, our discussion when from one of being disappointed in his overall Merwyn score to one of being excited about all that he had learned and now understood much better.

A Strong National Manufacturing Policy is Necessary for Long-Term Sustainable Economic Growth in the U.S.

March 23, 2012 by

It seems as if there is starting to be a backlash against the renewed focus on building a strong U.S. manufacturing industry.  Among the arguments against a national manufacturing policy is the belief that manufacturing alone won’t solve our unemployment crisis.  True, manufacturing alone won’t put everyone back to work.  But if we as a country are looking for a sustainable way to rebuild our economy, manufacturing is our best bet.

Manufacturing jobs have a 3 to 1 multiplier effect in the economy.  For every manufacturing job, there are three jobs in the local service sector created.  Not to mention the ripple effect throughout a supply chain.  In addition, manufacturing jobs produce tangible goods, which can be sold around the globe.  As the article points out, “haircuts and healthcare are hard to export.”  There is a reason that third-world countries that strive not to be third-world turn to manufacturing to grow their economies.  Finally, as the article points out, “companies and countries that make things also tend to do better at inventing new things.”  Most new commercial innovations come from small and mid-sized manufacturers.

Read the entire article here.

What is your opinion?  Is a national manufacturing policy necessary to grow the U.S. economy?  Or are we now a service economy and should we focus our efforts there?

Obama Unveils $1-Billion Mfg. Innovation Initiative

March 15, 2012 by

Reprinted from the February 28 Manufacturing & Technology News

Tucked deep – very deep – within the Obama administration’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget submission to Congress is a proposal to create a new $1 billion private-public partnership program aimed at commercializing and manufacturing U.S. developed technologies. The National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), modeled after the German Fraunhofer Institutes, would be a joint effort between the Departments of Defense and Energy, the National Science Foundation, the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. Its goal would be to “revitalize U.S. manufacturing…through a network of institutes where researchers, companies and entrepreneurs can come together to develop new manufacturing technologies with broad applications,” according to the budget submission.

Each of the institutes “would have a unique technology focus.” They would support the ecosystem of local manufacturers, develop skilled workers and focus on technology commercialization “by helping to bridge the gap from the laboratory to the market and address core gaps in scaling manufacturing process technologies,” according to page 236 of the NIST budget request.

The proposal springs from this past summer’s President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology’s (PCAST) recommendation that the United States launch an advanced manufacturing initiative that would be a “whole-of-government effort.” The program would focus on partnerships “to support academia and industry on applied research on new technologies and design methodologies through precompetitive consortia that tackle major cross-cutting challenges.” It was the first policy recommendation in PCAST’s “Report to the President on Ensuring American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing.” It called for a program of between $500 million and $1 billion over four years. President Obama unveiled the program last week.

The growing inability of the United States to transfer new technologies developed with federal R&D funds into commercial production that generates new innovation, jobs and wealth (taxes) is a growing and pressing concern.

The Department of Defense’s involvement is also an essential part of the initiative, say those involved, since many of the most important advanced military technologies are no longer produced in the United States. A study released on February 22 by President Obama’s National Science and Technology Council describes major gaps in U.S. military industrial capabilities. The study, “A National Strategic Plan for Advanced Manufacturing,” lists a “sampling” of important defense technologies the U.S. is vulnerable to losing, including aircraft landing gear, large rotor disks for turbines, rocket engine parts, missile launch systems, unmanned aerial and ground vehicles, nuclear power components, fuselages, orbital vehicles, network routing and switching, optical data transport, advanced power electronics, composites and transmission conductors. The U.S. military is now completely dependent on foreign production for every phone, laptop and computer that it buys.

NNMI sponsors are considering whether to structure the program with incentives for companies to manufacture in the United States products that are generated from publicly funded R&D. High royalties or fees could be assessed on companies that move the manufacturing of such products offshore. There is also interest in making sure the program has active support from the Departments of Defense and Energy in order to build a strong management structure and have the political clout to get the program approved by Congress.

NIST spokeswoman Gail Porter said the program “would be hosted at NIST and would be a collaboration with NSF, DOD and DOE.” The appropriation would be “a one-time investment crucial to revitalizing manufacturing. The idea is to establish a program of sufficient size that it can have real impact but not require ongoing appropriations in the way discretionary programs generally do,” Porter added.

The budget request notes that other countries are “increasingly adept at technology transfer and scaling to production. They have focused on creating a more structured technology development process by partnering with industry. Partnerships that bring diverse organizations together to accelerate innovation for advanced manufacturing create a stronger innovation system and link those innovations more directly to domestic production capabilities.”

The United States is suffering from a “market failure” in advanced manufacturing, according to the budget submission. “U.S. manufacturers individually are challenged to fund these technology development functions, and small manufacturers especially struggle with individually investing in prototyping and scale up of new technologies and potential products. This initiative would help provide the critical mass and knowledge base necessary to address these challenges.”

Another Approach to the 5 Whys

February 13, 2012 by

Charles "Luke" Lukey aka "The Lean Ranger"

When we teach Lean, we always include a segment on a Toyota technique called “The 5 Whys.”  You may be familiar with the practice.  If not, here is the definition from Wikipedia:  The 5 Whys is a questions-asking method used to explore the cause/effect relationships underlying a particular problem, with the goal of determining a root cause of a defect or problem.

This video link from our friends over at the Harvard Business Review takes the concept a step further.  Set aside three minutes and check it out:

http://blogs.hbr.org/video/2012/02/the-5-whys.html#.TzVQfuPtnuI.email

I’m sure you’ll find value.

How to Cheat at Value Stream Mapping

February 2, 2012 by

by Luke Lukey

Value Stream Mapping is a good starting point for any Lean effort. Like a road map, a VSM will show you where you are and where you’re going.

If your build sequence is quick and can be easily observed, you can create an accurate VSM just by watching what’s going on.

Let’s say you build mousetraps, the old fashioned kind. You cut wire, you bend wire, you attach bent wire to a printed board, then package and ship.

Just watching the processes a few times will give you the data you want – how long it takes to cut wire, bend wire, attach bent wire to board, package and ship. Just a few minutes and you’re done.

But what if you’re building bear traps?  Cut from heavy spring steel, bent around a mandrel, sent out for heat treating, received back in again for tooth cutting, sent out for sharpening, received back in again for final assembly, then tested in-house before shipping to the customer.  These processes can take weeks.

In those cases, you can’t collect data; you have to recollect it. Which means you ask a machine operator, “Do you recollect how long it takes to cut the initial batch of bear trap jaws?”

Since following one bear trap in real time can really rack up the billable hours, you have to interview the people who work the steps to find out how long it takes. Here’s where ‘recollection’ begins to fall apart.

Recently my partner Sarah Stuart and I were at a client site, recollecting data for a Value Stream Map. The product requires 44 steps from Raw Material to Finished Goods. To keep the story manageable, let’s focus on three adjacent steps in the process – Cut, Weld and Paint.

Cutting takes 10 minutes. Welding takes 10 minutes. Painting takes 10 minutes. When we asked what size batches were in play, the operators replied, “Three. We always do batches of three.”

So…the product is run in batches of three, and the movement between the cells takes one minute. Therefore, a batch takes 30 minutes to cut, 30 minutes to weld, and 30 minutes to paint, with 3 minutes of movement, for a total of 93 minutes.

This number, based on the recollection of the machine operators,  seemed reasonable, and I calmly added it to our notes.

But Sarah noticed the quantity of Work in Process (WIP) between the stations was much larger than any number recently offered. “What’s all that work in between the stations?” Sarah asked. The operator said, “Oh, that’s work that’s been expedited through the system. This pile is the regular work, and this stuff is hot and has to be done first.”

So the stated “batch of three” is really just a goal. The amount of WIP piled up in front of Welding and Painting was 17 and 21 pieces respectively. On paper, the work was flowing in batches of three. In reality, some of it was moving, but most of it wasn’t, and the whole process was taking far too long.

So here’s how to cheat at Value Stream Mapping – don’t count up the reality, just write down what fits the narrative.

Reality says that if you performed the work as it appeared, you would figure in 170 minutes to weld and 210 minutes to paint, adding 380 minutes to your lead time.

By the time we’d tallied up the ‘real’ real numbers, the full-on 44 step Value Stream Map reported a total of six days to build a five-day product – and that was after frantic expediting, line jumping and, in one instance, swapping Work Order numbers with a nearly completed product to instantly remove processing time and get product to the customer.

And after all that, they still delivered a day late.

Making sense out of this was not easy for the client, or us.  Standard amounts of Work in Process makes the math work a lot better in the end, but if the standards are being fudged by expediting, marking down the best case scenario is cheating.

Solution?  Mappers, count all the pieces.  Production managers, get comfortable with the phrase “in a perfect world…”


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