Operational excellence, continuous improvement: Manufacturing is thriving, Aberdeen conference speakers say

Boston, MA – The keynote address at Aberdeen’s first annual Manufacturing in the 21st Century Executive Summit served as a stronger wake-up call for attendees than the free coffee. During this session, best-selling author Michael Treacy highlighted the dramatic evolution of workplaces during the past several decades and asked, “does manufacturing even matter anymore?”

By Control Engineering Staff December 6, 2007

Boston, MA – The keynote address at


’s first annual Manufacturing in the 21st Century Executive Summit served as a stronger wake-up call for attendees than the free coffee. During this session, best-selling

author Michael Treacy

highlighted the dramatic evolution of workplaces during the past several decades and asked the provocative question “does manufacturing even matter anymore?”

It may seem like an odd way to address a room of manufacturing executives, but Treacy’s associated commentary highlighted the changing nature of manufacturing today. Intense competition from offshore competitors, extreme price sensitivity and rapidly-changing consumer tastes combine to make this one of the most challenging and turbulent times to be a manufacturer. Clearly a greater emphasis on innovation and productivity is necessary to effectively compete in the global economy.

Subsequent presenters, however, demonstrated that manufacturing in North America is not only relevant, but thriving.

Innovation is indeed the engine which keeps our factories running, and the transformation of raw production data into actionable business information is central to improving the performance, productivity and ultimately the productivity of any industrial endeavor. Case in point: the transformation highlighted by Juan Carlos Sol, special projects manager of



Sigma/Q, a leading provider of custom packaging products in North and Central America, recognized a need to improve the performance and return of multi-million dollar equipment within their plants while simultaneously decreasing operational costs. To accomplish this, however, the organization needed to transition to an automated data collection process without creating significant downtime. Once in place, the data could then be used effectively to drive continuous improvement and facilitate better decision making in real-time.

“Without having access to real-time information, you’re asking workers to run the business using stale information,” commented Sol. “That’s like trusting your stock broker to your life savings and having him use yesterday’s financial data to make decisions today… only, in our case, the currency comes from the shareholders. We needed to do something.”

To address these challenges , Sol turned to real-time performance management (RPM) solution provider


. Via a hardware-based module called Plantnode, Sigma/Q was able to collect real-time data directly from their plant floor systems and, when combined with an LED display located directly above the equipment, provide that data to the operator so he or she could take immediate action. When the machine does experience downtime– planned or unplanned – that information can be captured and historized, with use of a simple wand and barcode system. This enables the operator to simply scan-in the appropriate code from a sheet of pre-defined causes located near the equipment, making it easy and intuitive to capture information for root cause analysis. Furthermore, Shoplogix can also share the resultant data and analysis with plant leadership via the Web. As a result, individuals across the enterprise can have access to, and, most importantly, act upon that information before small problems have an opportunity to escalate into major headaches.

For Sol and his team at Sigma/Q, the results have been impressive: Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) was increased by 40%, average run speed was increased by 23% and make-ready time was decreased by 36%. Performance improvements such as these clearly demonstrate the value of leveraging data sourced on the shop floor and using it to effect positive changes throughout the enterprise.

However, as the name implies, continuous improvement is a journey, not a destination. Even the most robust data is of little value unless that data is used to consistently measure the performance of the business. This point was reinforced by continuous improvement experts and co-presenters Richard Kunst, VP of continuous improvement for


Nestle Waters Canada


“A few years ago, a case of our water would sell for around $12 – $15,” said Castano-Kunst. “This week, one of our customers will be selling two cases for $5. Change happens rapidly and the business must be equipped to react.”

To maintain profitability and competitive advantage , manufacturers need to continually challenge themselves to seek new ways to work smarter, better, and more cost-effectively. Processes must be both repeatable and sustainable to deliver the desired results. Methodologies, such as lean, six-sigma, 5S, and others truly can create a positive effect. However, even with data-centric programs such as these, the most critical success factor is properly engaging the workforce and getting them to embrace the changes such programs enforce as part of their day-to-day activities.

Kunst described how success at La-Z-Boy begins and ends with trusting and empowering employees, providing the audience with insights on team dynamics and how to best mobilize a workforce to improve the chance of successful results.

“Every workforce or team, regardless of industry, tends to share a similar composition,” said Kunst. “Twenty percent of your workers will be positive leaders, 20% will be negative leaders and the remaining 60% will be neutral and can shift from one camp to another. It’s critical that you focus your attentions on the positive leaders and leverage their enthusiasm to sway the 60%.”

By adhering to the above model, companies can drive deeper cross-functional buy-in throughout the business. When individuals are personally and emotionally invested, manufacturers can ensure that continuous improvement truly becomes part of the culture.

For further reading :


Building Trustworthy Software / Control Engineering 07/01/2007

* PepsiAmericas Quenches Thirst for Plant-Floor Information / Control Engineering 06/01/2007
* From raw ideas to success

Marc Moschetto , editorial director
Control Engineering News Desk
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