Jun 16 2015

What we can learn from General Electric’s Streamlined Factories

GE-logoAs a freelance writer that doesn’t work for General Electric, I was intrigued by a recent article published in the Motley Fool. General Electric’s factories are becoming more streamlined in two ways, and both are creating quite a buzz in the business world. Many companies are starting to look into ways they can adapt these ideas into their own corporate practices. Streamlined factories help to lower costs and increase gross profit margins over time. It’s always a smart idea to make your own production more efficient, safe, and smart. While General Electric plans to invest a great deal of money into these projects, they should see a decent return on investment later on.

The Brilliant Factory Concept

The so-called Brilliant Factory that GE’s administrators have been talking about lately is based on Henry Ford’s assumption that complex tasks will always become easier when they’re broken down. GE is breaking down manufacturing processes into basic steps. These basic steps are then being encoded into computer code that specifically defines how each task has to be performed. The ultimate goal is to converge the physical and digital worlds together to build a factory that can improve itself over a long period of time.

The concept tightly integrates the engineering design teams with the manufacturing teams. This type of integration has been referred to as virtual manufacturing in a number of official GE publications. This also helps to get everyone on the same page when it comes time to tackle a problem. They leverage data from machines equipped with sensors so they can monitor every aspect of the manufacturing process.

Looking at the GE Store

Administrative heads at GE have also realized there’s a great deal of infrastructure that unifies the company’s different industrial segments together. The GE Store is a series of initiatives to let each of the company’s industrial segments explore how the other segments are using technology and streamlining manufacturing processes to build better products.

It also allows individuals from each of the different industry segments to take a better look at how the other ones develop products. This means someone from development is able to see where products are taken all the way to the pallet wrapping machines and gives employees a more overall picture. There wasn’t a great deal of communication between the different segments until recently, and this new initiative helps to ensure everyone knows about good ideas that would have previously gone unpublished.

How Other Companies Can Learn from these Initiatives

Most corporations lack the incredible human and financial resources that GE has, but that doesn’t mean they can’t adapt some of these practices to their own business. Allowing all segments of an industrial operation to come together and share ideas is something everyone should try. Basic industrial sensor packages can be applied in almost any workshop with suppliers like SIAT S.p.A. and businesses are quickly learning that there are many new ways to use information to streamline their own factories.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2015/06/what-we-can-learn-from-general-electrics-streamlined-factories/

Jun 11 2015

Packaging Innovation for the 21st Century

packaging-transformation2From shrink wrap to bottles and polyethylene supermarket bags, plastic packaging produced by the fast-moving consumer goods industry accounts for a large proportion of the waste produced worldwide each year. For example, statistics from 5 Gyres, a Santa Monica, California-based organization whose aim is to reduce plastics pollution, showed that only 5% of the plastics produced in the US are recovered, while 50% are buried in landfill sites and the rest washes into the ocean.

Consequently, many companies are looking for new materials, manufacturing methods and other end-of-life alternatives to source, produce and dispose of their products in a more environmentally responsible way.

Lynn Dyer, president of Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI), a Virginia-based trade association for companies operating in the foodservice industry in North America, explains that foodservice operators consider two key questions when designing packaging: “What is it made from?” and “What can be done with it after it has been used?”


Bioplastics, which are derived from renewable biomass sources that include vegetable fats, corn starch and agricultural byproducts, are gaining in popularity. Multi-national food and beverage brands, including Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Heinz, and packaging manufacturers such as Tetra Pak, have all launched or integrated bioplastic products into their portfolios. Ecover, a Belgium-based company that manufactures eco-friendly cleaning products, has developed Plantplastic packaging, which is made of plastic derived from sugarcane (75%) and recycled plastic (25%).

Currently, European trade association Plastics Europe, headquartered in Brussels, estimates that these materials represent less than 1% of the 300 million tons of plastics produced worldwide annually. But a study by European Bioplastics, an association based in Berlin, predicted that bioplastics production capacity will increase by 400%, from the 2013 level of 1.6 million tons to around 6.7 million tons by 2018. Almost 75% of the bioplastics will be produced in Asia. Europe, which is currently at the forefront of R&D, will have about 8% of the production capacity.

Using biomaterials also helps companies to reinforce their branding, according to John Perkins, vice president of Strategic Customer Partnerships at global paperboard and plastics packaging manufacturer MeadWestvaco (MWV), based in Richmond, Virginia.

Reinventing Traditional Methods

Packaging companies operating in the fast-moving consumer goods space are also using new manufacturing techniques to optimize packaging design and reduce their use of virgin materials.

“Many of FPI’s members use lightweighting techniques to reduce the amount of raw materials in their packaging, which involves altering the design, or replacing plastic resins with renewable materials such as calcium carbonate or talc,” Dyer said. “However, companies must ensure that lightweighting does not reduce the product’s functionality, a top priority for foodservice operators.”

MWV, for example, used lightweighting techniques to remove 18% of the plastic from the Shellpak medication packet it developed for discount retailer Wal-Mart in 2011. “Our key priority was to ensure that we reduced the amount of plastic, but created a child-resistant product that still could be easily opened by older patients,” Perkins said.

Extending the Product Lifecycle

Today, many companies recognize that to significantly reduce the environmental impact of packaging, they must take into account how the raw materials are sourced, transported and manufactured, but also how they are disposed of. Some companies have implemented a cradle-to-cradle (C2C) approach to ensure that their products contain materials that can be reused or recovered at their highest possible value multiple times after their first use. Designed to mimic natural processes, C2C aims to eliminate waste and develop products that actively benefit the environment.

As an example, Amcor uses an in-house Advanced Sustainability Stewardship Evaluation Tool (ASSET) to perform quick assessments and accurately calculate the environmental impact of different container types and designs throughout their lifecycles, before commercializing new packaging solutions.

Packaging for a Purpose

Eight years ago, Swiss company Nestlé adopted a lifecycle assessment approach and introduced the Packaging Impact Quick Evaluation Tool (PIQET) to better understand the end-to-end environmental impact of different packaging.

“PIQET was used for over 15,000 lifecycle assessments and helped us to optimize various products, including our Nescafé Dali pouches for the UK market and the Crunch and Galak chocolate packaging for Italian customers,” said Christian Detrois, group leader of the sustainability and novel packaging team at the Nestlé Research Centre. “It was replaced with our EcodEX tool, which covers the environmental impact of the complete product through its full lifecycle, to include the packaging and the ingredients of its contents.”

More than 30 of Nestlé’s R&D sites use EcodEX to help its brands develop the most eco-friendly products based on the agricultural and packaging materials, production processes and recovery schemes available in their target markets.

This article was reprinted with permission from the Compass Magazine, “Strategic Marketing in the Age of Experience,” Issue #7 – 2015, published by Dassault Systèmes.


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Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2015/06/packaging-innovation-for-the-21st-century/

Jun 09 2015

Manufacturing as a Service

MaaSPersonalized, customized, one-off – many consumers are gravitating to products they can personalize when purchasing cars, handbags and shoes. Armed with technology that makes customization more manageable, factories are positioning themselves to respond with an offer known as Manufacturing as a Service.


As consumers embrace the ability to personalize the goods they buy – from customized bras that fit the wearer’s unique proportions to shoes with mix-and-match fabrics that reflect the consumer’s specific taste – Manufacturing as a Service (MaaS) is being implemented worldwide, especially at factories that do manufacturing for hire.

For instance, Proto Labs, a provider of machined and molded parts based in Maple Plain, Minnesota, is taking credit card payments for one-off custom parts delivered direct to designers internationally. The service is enabled by fast Internet connections, inexpensive cloud storage and improved integration now possible with the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT), a technology now gaining media attention and now possible with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“What some are calling Industry 4.0, the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Smart Manufacturing, it is here today,” said Matthew Littlefield, president and principal analyst at LNS Research, a provider of advisory and benchmarking services based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“However, it’s not broadly adopted yet, and ‘revolution’ is a misnomer. It’s going to evolve over the next five to 20 years.”

As a pioneer of MaaS, companies in the Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) sector print electronic parts on demand, cutting out the need for companies to hold large inventories. “This represents investment in 3D printing on an industrial scale,” Littlefield said.

“The Technology suppliers are developing robust 3D Models, which can be quickly shared around the network and married to the production process.” – Matthew Littlefield, President & Principal Analyst, LNS Research

In aircraft manufacturing, Airbus has been 3D printing brackets for the A350 XWB since 2012, and Rolls- Royce has said it intends to test fly what it describes as the largest 3D printed aircraft part yet – a titanium front bearing housing containing 48 aerofoils – in 2015.

Globalization Breeds MaaS

MaaS has its roots in the late 20th century, when brand manufacturers outsourced manufacturing as part of globalization. “This kind of relationship will now develop from fulfilling a contract into genuine MaaS, with the ‘Industrial Internet of Things’ helping to provide real-time visibility to the product owner,” Littlefield predicted.

As MaaS evolves, manufacturers are beginning to sell the performance of their products rather than selling the products themselves, Littlefield said. For example, Rolls-Royce uses the Industrial IoT to measure and charge for the number of hours its engines operate, rather than selling the engines themselves. The proliferation of MaaS will make such pay-as-you- go services more widely available.

In Practice

MaaS provider Proto Labs combines global connectivity with regional manufacturing plants to provide seven different manufacturing processes to industrial designers everywhere.

“We are fully Internet-enabled, and software tracks each order, from the upload of a design to shipping,” said Rob Bodor, vice president and general manager of the Americas at Proto Labs. “Specializing in speed and end-to-end automation is the only way we can turn around parts in as little as one day and at scale.”

Proto Labs’ software also provides feedback to designers based on their “what if” questions. “We provide rich feedback on manufacturability,” Bodor said. “The designer receives a 3D rendering of the finished part, comparing the projection against the source CAD file and highlighting differences.”

Building the IT Platform

Government projects, universities and manufacturing technology vendors working on concepts for the fourth industrial revolution have defined the pillars of making MaaS work: cloud storage; the ability to deliver work instructions and digital assets wirelessly; and collaboration tools that make it easy to coordinate various teams working across time zones.

“A cloud-based manufacturing system is much harder to implement than many of the systems that currently exemplify the ‘as a service’ concept, because of the need to manipulate both virtual and physical 3D geometry,” said Jonathan Corney, a professor of design and manufacture at Scotland’s University of Strathclyde. The university collaborated on the European Union’s ManuCloud project, created to develop and prove out the IT environment required to support MaaS.

“However, the last missing part of the technology jigsaw is the definition of a Manufacturing Service Description (MSD) for each forming and cutting tool available on the network,” Corney said.

“This is difficult to encode in a way that gives the system the flexibility to support manufacturing of arbitrary components. Consequently, academic work is focused on MSDs and the creation of a language to support their definition.”

Business Changes

The first step for a manufacturer to exploit MaaS, Littlefield said, is to align its processes across locations, using IT to assert consistency and quality. European automotive manufacturers such as BMW, for example, are leaders in providing custom orders, he said, because they have real-time visibility of the production process.

Most automobile manufacturers already offer online or mobile-enabled configurators to help buyers mix and match available options, but MaaS will take this process another giant leap forward, Littlefield said, allowing consumers to work online with a manufacturer’s designers to try out options and ensure that the combinations they choose can be manufactured.

“The technology suppliers are developing robust 3D models, which can be quickly shared around the network and married to the production process,” Littlefield said.

This article was reprinted with permission from the Compass Magazine, “Strategic Marketing in the Age of Experience,” Issue #7 – 2015, published by Dassault Systèmes.


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Jun 04 2015

Case Study: VIBCO’s Lean Transformation Journey

VIBCO_introVIBCO was founded in 1962 by Theodore S. Wadensten, my father. Since then we have recorded over 25 U.S. Patents for our designs. The company is headquartered in Wyoming, RI, USA, with sales and warehouse locations in Toronto, Florida, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. We sell to a global audience, enabled by our global distribution partner network. VIBCO manufactures more than 1,800 unique SKUs, with 6,000+ manufactured components.

About 15 years ago I had a “tipping point” moment on a fateful afternoon, with an honest-to-goodness, real-life crying customer on the phone. We had a grown man on the phone, crying in fear for his job because we had let him down time-after-time on an order delivery date. That phone call was VIBCO Vibrators defining moment.

Something had to Change

It was at that moment I realized we were not on a winning path. We were not the type of organization I wanted to run. If we were going to be able to effectively compete in the global manufacturing “game”, we had to start with looking at ourselves and our own internal processes.

The first thing we did was to become reflective, ask ourselves the tough questions and to have Courageous Conversations:

  • What kind of leader/employee am I?
  • What do I need to change?
  • What kind of customer am I? What kind of supplier?
  • What are the strengths/values/core competencies of our organization?
  • How can I help the VIBCO team to make an emotional, sustainable connection to our business and our customers?

We articulated the mountaintop … our True North:  “Same Day, Next Day.” We got as many people moving in that direction as possible. We needed (and still need!) the whole team.

Look at the 10 desks closest to your own … and mentally fill in this chart:



Manufacturing Transformation Starts from Within

The truth is that MOST organizations are not even coming close to reaching their potential. (we certainly weren’t back then). It’s not because insufficient money, technology, time, data, intelligence, regulatory support, etc. It’s because the vast majority of the people in the organization don’t BELIEVE IN or HAVE PASSION FOR the work, the customers, or the leadership. They have no connection to purpose, or a feeling of being part of something greater than self.

Task #1 was to truly engage our team – to develop a sense of belonging and participating. In the words of Seth Godin, we began to build our tribe – the Vibration Nation.

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. “  – Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

Transforming our organization didn’t happen in the board room, it didn’t happen on paper, we couldn’t hire somebody to do it, and it certainly didn’t happen by mandating fancy charts, calling a suggestion box an “idea system”, or by managing from behind a desk. It took hand-to-hand combat in the trenches with our team – seeing what they see and sharing their pain and then coming up with ways to relieve the pain together. You can’t sing the blues if you haven’t lived the blues … that means you have to go WAY below the pseudo conversations where everything is “ok”, “fine”, and “good” to where you can authentically understand the problems your front-line employees (and your customers!) face every day.

The VIBCO Vibration Nation

• cares about our customers – what they want, what they need.

• cares about our happiness – what we want, what we need.

• cares about our community – what we can share, what we can learn.

• reads together, learns together, improves together, talks about problems.

• understands that Lean and manufacturing excellence is an authentic part of our brand – it’s the VIBCO Way!

One note about the reading together:  I feel very frustrated when people dismissively say, “oh we read that book…” or, “we did that exercise…” The difference is that we live (present tense) that book we live that exercise. Our learning becomes a part of our DNA. There’s a difference.

Transforming an organization is 100% reliant on how well you ENGAGE your team. This is really where true Lean Manufacturing/TPS programs get it right. Tools notwithstanding, the biggest gains you and your business will realize come directly from developing people.

Transformation Never Ends

Make no mistake … it will be a difficult at times – even maddening. But the breakthroughs are incredible, and the gift of true understanding is forever. Developing people is as much about developing yourself. One of my favorite friends and mentors, Meryl Renuion got it right, “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t be mean about it.” Use that mantra to mitigate the fear of having truthful conversations about difficult topics.

Thank God for that crying customer! He was the catalyst that changed VIBCO’s destiny and continues to inspire our Lean manufacturing journey today, with the true purpose of customer voice. Even today, 15+ years later, I hear that cry whenever we encounter a challenge and it pushes me to continue to raise the bar, to get to root cause, and to do better every day.

Not without struggles, Not without PROBLEMS … Manufacturing is hard work, so there are going to be setbacks. I believe that one key difference between good and great organizations is that good ones have solved all their problems – great ones love that there are endless problems to solve.

Walk this path with honesty, humility, customer-focus, belief and PASSION – and watch your team become your choir.

I personally extend an open offer to come to the GEMBA at VIBCO – contact us to request a tour. Tours are typically three hours, preferred Tues/Thursday, the only requirement is that top leader from the visiting organization be present.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2015/06/case-study-vibco-lean-transformation-journey/

Jun 02 2015

5 Market Pressures Driving Need for Real-time Operational Visibility

operational-visibilityManufacturers today are increasingly operating in a global industry. Competitors and customers can come seemingly from nearly anywhere. Production processes are typically accomplished via a widely dispersed set of loosely federated plants. Supply chains and assembly processes can operate anywhere.

Not too long ago, the focus was simply to keep plants and machinery running, regardless of what the market was actually saying. Today, this “build-to-stock” mentality is increasingly being replaced with a “build-to-order” strategy to help streamline operations, reduce idle inventory and avoid material obsolescence.

Combined, these two forces have created considerable complexity for manufacturers seeking to improve efficiency, performance and operational excellence. That pressure, in turn, has driven considerable investment in gaining greater visibility to shop floor operations, supplier activity as well as insights into future end-user demand patterns.

Consequently, the ability to adapt quickly, on demand, has become increasingly critical. Information is power. And, it becomes more valuable when delivered faster, cleaner, to any device.

IDC Manufacturing Insights wrote a whitepaper entitled: “Improve Decision Making with Enterprise Visibility – Executive Access to Global Manufacturing Intelligence is the Key” where this transformation was described. In this paper, IDC identifies five market forces driving the need for greater visibility into manufacturing operations, which are outlined below:


  1. Accelerated New Product Introduction: This is perhaps the single most important factor to achieve profitable growth. Reducing the time from approved design to volume production is a clear and measurable goal that every manufacturer is chasing – and can accomplish when better visibility between engineering design and manufacturing operations is achieved.
  2. Greater product localization: Despite the fact that production and supply chain networks are global, local cultures and preferences still very much exist. Products must be adapted to satisfy the requirements of local markets – key to this theme is an ability to shift product mixes and manufacturing approaches. That ability is dependent on visibility over demand, as well as manufacturers’ own production sequences.
  3. The need to improve quality: Everyone knows that production quality is a differentiator, but it is not always about having a superior product. Delivering consistency is often in fact more important, avoiding adverse events such as recalls, and building up trust with customers. To achieve this, visibility into very granular quality data at the plant is increasingly critical, helping to establish an early warning capability and a higher level of responsiveness to quality leaks.
  4. The productivity trap: Considerable success has been achieved from establishing and maintaining a culture of continuous improvement. What has resulted, often unintended, is that higher productivity means more factory capacity, translating into more aggressive pricing, raising the bar for even higher levels of productivity to sustain profitability. This “productivity vise” is further exacerbated by volatile raw material costs that must also be offset by higher productivity. Manufacturers need to set the right priorities for improvement, while at the same time not overextending them in the pursuit of a constantly moving target.
  5. Global compliance to regulations: Operating in a global environment means that regulatory compliance must be managed accordingly. The global, international networks most manufacturers face today bring many challenges. Dealing with compliance across multiple borders and territories is complex, and can no longer be left to individual plant management. Regulations regarding the environment, health, and safety monitoring need to be viewed in terms of the entire operational network, and managed holistically, driving a need for greater visibility across operations.


The manufacturing environment has come a long way in a short time, and is evolving all the time. Complex forces are driving agility. The pursuit of growth and innovation has never been more competitive. With improved real-time visibility on both micro and macro levels, manufacturers can embrace these challenges to gain efficiency and competitive advantage through more integrated, global production networks where visibility can help to improve decision support, agility and customer satisfaction.


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Permanent link to this article: http://www.apriso.com/blog/2015/06/5-market-pressures-driving-need-for-real-time-operational-visibility/

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