Sep 03 2014

The Smart Way to Manage Operations Across Multiple Sites

multi-site_manufacturing_managementIn manufacturing, location gives you an edge. For that reason, many manufacturers operate multiple facilities in different hubs. However, managing multiple worksites comes with its own set of challenges. You run the risk of inconsistency and miscommunication. Mismanagement over multiple sites can damage relationships with your customers and wipe out any advantage you might have enjoyed by going big.

Below are seven ways you can effectively manage operations across multiple sites.


1. Keep Lines of Communication Open
Good communication is crucial in any work environment, but it’s even more so when manufacturing operations are scattered across multiple locations. What can you do on your end to ensure lines of communication stay open?

  • Visit each facility as often as you can. Use it as an opportunity to give updates and to get employee feedback.
  • Conduct regular one-on-one conference calls with each facility. If you operate more than two, host a global conference call every month.
  • Invite employee feedback by email. Even if you can’t be there in person, you want them to know that you are listening.


2. Take Advantage of Technology
The reason it’s increasingly easy to operate multiple facilities is that we now have the technology to do so efficiently.

  • An email sent to a manager within your own facility packs the same punch as one sent two states over. If picking up the phone is tiresome (and many managers will argue that it is) then keep the email flowing.
  • Remote communications don’t have to be impersonal. Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts — you have multiple options for a video conference that keeps communications personal.
  • Management software allows you to track progress from anywhere. And it allows you to keep operations uniform across multiple sites. Have your workforce track tasks and time online so you can keep better tabs.
  • Operations processes can now be effectively managed with several readily available software solutions; these programs can help manage continuous improvement across sites, to help reap further gains to Lean and other performance improvement initiatives


3. Keep Decision-Making Inclusive

It’s one thing to give orders from afar, and it’s another to seek input on important company decisions. It’s good for morale and encourages cohesiveness over distance.

  • Give management at each facility a say as you make company-wide decisions, such as policy changes, changes in production and other important issues.
  • Give workers the opportunity to weigh in from time to time. At the very least, make use of a company wide “suggestion box” and address each suggestion either during conference calls or by email so that employees know they are being heard, even if they aren’t at your company’s central location.


4. Assign On-Site Leadership Roles

You have to be able to trust your managers, especially when you can’t see them.

  • Have on-site managers report to you even more regularly than they would if they were in the same building — whether by email or daily phone call.
  • Empower managers to make local decisions. But be sure they understand where their authority ends and when they must answer to you.


5. Establish Company Best Practices

It’s not enough to have strong local management if they don’t have a universal company policy to which they can refer. Establish clear, consistent best practices, and be sure employees from every office understand them.


6. Do Inter-Facility Team Building

Workers at each of your manufacturing facilities have the same goals, which are to be productive and see the business as a whole succeed. They can accomplish those goals best as a team.

  • Many facilities find it useful to do yearly team-building exercises within each facility — during which workers become better acquainted with one another and understand individual roles throughout the facility or plant. You can do this across the entire company as well, either as a yearly gathering or by having workers participate in online exercises.
  • Similarly, conference-call-style team-building can at the very least allow employees to put a name with a face so that when they have to interact remotely, they are more comfortable doing so.


7. Recognize that Each Facility is Different

As much as you stress uniform policy and management styles, understand that each of your manufacturing facilities has different local needs.

  • Cultures vary internationally and domestically. Be sensitive to different holidays or customs that could affect routines.
  • Likewise, regulations differ across borders. What works in the Asia or Mexico might not be applicable in the United States.


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Aug 28 2014

Could Drones Play a Role in Manufacturing?

drone_in_manufacturingIn my last post, I offered an update on how serious Amazon is with getting FAA approval for the use of drones as a delivery option. For this post, I will expand upon this topic to explore if other opportunities might exist for manufacturers.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) suggests that one of the most promising industries for drone use is agriculture. Drone use could include the creation of aerial maps to optimize water and fertilizer distribution, fertilizer application and delivery of spare parts to farmers for equipment emergencies. According to this Farmweek, in this video, 40% of Japan’s rice fields are already being crop dusted with drones. So, in effect, drones have already become a part of a food and beverage manufacturer’s supply chain.

Professor D. Ken Giles concurs. As a member of the department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at the University of California, Davis, professor Giles explains in this video the benefits of using drones to address agriculture management tasks.


Quoting from issue #5 – 2014 of Dassault Systèmes’ Compass Magazine, in the article Disruptive Drones, “The first unmanned, remote-controlled helicopter for crop dusting was invested in 1987 by Yamaha Motor Company of Iwata, Japan. Today, approximately 2,400 Yamaha RMAX helicopters spray Japanese rice fields with pesticides or are used for planting, managing weeds and fertilizing.” Clearly, these RMAX units are effectively drones, and are already performing important agriculture management tasks.

Continuing from the article, both Google and Facebook have invested in drone technology to progress their mutual goal to enable Internet connectivity in underserved areas. In March 2014, Facebook acquired UK drone manufacturer Ascenta, whose aerospace engineers joined Facebook’s Connectivity Lab to focus on connectivity aircraft. A month later, Google acquired Titan Aerospace, a US startup founded in 2012 that makes high-altitude, solar-powered drones. Manufacturers could follow similar strategies as ways to connect remote warehouses or plant locations in areas where Internet access is limited. Time will tell.

An Indoor Drone

Drones are not limited to outdoor use. Qimarox, a material-handling company based in the Netherlands, is studying the use of drones for picking goods off shelves and assembling them into pallet loads – inside a warehouse. The company envisions manufacturers of consumer products using drones to design a compact, flexible and scalable palletizing process.

“Because of capacity and ergonomic limitations, using people to stack goods on pallets is no longer an option for most manufacturers of fast-moving consumer goods,” said Jaco Hooijer, Qimarox’s operational manager. “Using drones, they can fully automate the palletizing process while retaining the much greater level of flexibility and scalability entailed when using people.”

Until safety regulations are in place, commercial applications of drones are all but grounded in the US. Meanwhile, the FAA is setting up six drone research and test sites from Alaska to Virginia, the first of which should now be operational.

“Initially, we see the commercial use of drones limited to visual line-of-sight in daytime operations only, so they can be landed quickly in case of emergency,” said Ben Gielow of AUVSI. “Amazon’s parcel delivery concept not only requires a drone that operates autonomously via GPS, but one with the proper sensing technology to avoid collision with another drone or other aircraft, and that is all still very much in the research stage.”

This constraint sounds similar to what manufactures must consider when automating picking processes within their warehouses – a task that can be effectively planned and optimized for.

In conclusion, it isn’t likely we’ll see any drones in 2014 becoming an integral part of the production process or value chain, other than their current role within the Food & Beverage industry. However, with the incredible technology breakthroughs and the focus of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see some interesting developments in the years to come.


Gordon can be found on Google+ .

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Aug 26 2014

Keeping up with the Connections: Uptime and the Network Architecture

network_uptime_comes_down_to_wire_in_manufacturingIn manufacturing, downtime is to be avoided—at all costs. In some industries, like life sciences, the failure to produce product for even 10 minutes can mean losing millions of dollars per batch. As a result, companies immediately look to IT applications, automation technologies, and operational processes to ensure there will be no glitch on the production line. That’s why we see manufacturers in every industry investing in asset management software, manufacturing execution systems, virus protection software, predictive analytics, quality control, backup plans, and people who have the right skill set to keep operations humming.

All of these things are needed—required, even. But the industry may be missing a critical component in the uptime puzzle. The network.

Ethernet has made its way onto the factory floor, displacing the proprietary networks of the past that were closed and somewhat protected. Today, Ethernet is faster than the Token Ring infrastructure manufacturers swore by in the 1980s and 90s. In fact, Ethernet / IP, the combination of traditional Ethernet TCP / IP and the Control and Information Protocol (CIP), is a highly reliable communication protocol for transferring data between devices. Ethernet/IP is not the problem. The real culprit of costly downtime may have more to do with the physical infrastructure that keeps the data flowing.

According to industry experts, the majority of network failures are result of a loss of network connectivity.

Protecting the wired and wireless connections between machines is just as important as protecting the data that flows over the communication infrastructure. Media, in its basic form, matters.

There are many ways a network connection could be disrupted or cut. Consider things such as mechanical, ingress, chemical and electromagnetic conditions (MICE)—that is, vibration, dust, water, electrical shorts, climate, or in some rare cases even critters. According to a Network World article, Google is now wrapping its underwater fiber cables in Kevlar-like material to protect the submerged wires from shark attacks. Here’s the video of a shark with a taste for cable:

While that is not a typical scenario for manufacturers, the shark footage serves as evidence that stuff happens. That means companies must design a network from the ground-up keeping mission critical production lines in mind as well as environmental factors.  Resiliency must be built into everything – within the infrastructure design.

To that end, here are three factors to consider:

  1. Think about copper wire vs. fiber. For the enterprise LAN, copper or CAT 5e/6, is just fine. But when it comes to the factory floor, fiber cables can run longer distances and are immune to electrical interference.
  2. Think of the overall layout of the network being the physical topology. Consider if a central server will be attached directly to every workstation in a star configuration, for example, or perhaps everything should be connected to the main cable. Every last detail, down to the protective covering on the cable (do you need Kevlar?) is part of the planning.
  3. Consider how the wired and wireless architectures will interplay to create a cohesive data exchange experience.

Many companies have embraced a mobile / tablet strategy that effectively leverages the wired/wireless factory floor network. For example, here is a link to a video showing how Alstom Transport has embraced a manufacturing mobility strategy for each of its shop floor workers.

Bringing in an expert team to design and deploy the network is a valuable investment. Remember, the network will be around for decades, so you don’t want to have to rip and replace it anytime soon. Do it right the first time to avoid costly down time.


Stephanie can be found on Google+.

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Aug 20 2014

Will Drones be in your Future Value Chain?

You likely saw the announcement last December about Amazon wanting to deploy drones to deliver packages. While this would likely be a premium delivery option, dubbed “Prime Air,” this service would get customers their products in just 30 minutes after clicking the “buy” button. Here is a whole new spin to leveraging a “cloud-based” technology from a mobile app! According to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, his “optimistic” estimate is that Prime Air will be available to customers within 4 to 5 years.

For those of you who haven’t yet seen this video, it is worth spending a minute to watch. It shows how drones could be used to deliver packages from an Amazon warehouse to the end user:


Just in case you were thinking that this is still science fiction … I wouldn’t be too quick to bet against Bezos. According to a recent article from last week, Amazon purchased the Washington Post, they have retained the powerful lobbying firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, and the continue to poach influential new hires in the D.C. area, most recently Cisco aide Steve Hartell. Steve will direct Amazon’s congressional relations – specifically with regards to FAA policy. Clearly, this is a company that is ready to invest the money necessary to make their vision come true.

According to issue #5 – 2014 of Dassault Systèmes’ Compass Magazine, in the article Disruptive Drones, “The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 was the first bill that included language requiring the FAA to integrate unmanned aircraft with manned aircraft into the national airspace system,” said Ben Gielow, General Council and Senior Government Relations Manager for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems international (AUVSI) in Arlington, Virginia.

In 2013, AUVSI projected that the expansion of commercial drone technology could create more than 100,000 US jobs by 2025, with an overall nationwide economic impact of more than $82B in the first decade of operation. These are pretty big numbers, so it would appear there might be a few possible uses for this technology to drive such a significant economic impact.

Until the FAA issues guidelines, however, drone enthusiasts will have to keep their enthusiasm in check. Today, the commercial use of drones without proper authorization is illegal.

The FAA recently halted a Minnesota brewery from testing a drone to deliver beer to ice fisherman. (What a great idea!) Inspired by Amazon’s drone project, Lakemaid Beer posted an online video showing a 12-pack of beer taking flight under a six-propeller drone. Lakemaid’s President, Jack Supple, said he doesn’t plan to give up hope on his brewery’s idea, and plans to be ready when the FAA gives the approval.

This video is also worth the minute to watch it – under this scenario I might just be tempted to try ice fishing myself!


So, if there is forecast to be a significant economic upside from commercializing this technology, where might that lift come from? I’ll continue this discussion in my next post.

Anyone for ice fishing?


Gordon can be found on Google+ .

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Aug 19 2014

Supply Chain Brief to Feature MT Blog

supply_chain_briefOne of the topics discussed on Manufacturing Transformation is the education and research that must be done to stay current with manufacturing trends. Topics requiring update might come from technology innovation, manufacturing trends, or industry consolidation, just to name a few.

Hopefully some of the concepts presented on Manufacturing Transformation can help in this regard.

We would now like to introduce you to another great resource for keeping up on today’s manufacturing and supply chain news: Supply Chain Brief.

Launched as a combined effort between The Logistics and Supply Chain Management Society and The Logistics of Logistics, Supply Chain Brief is a new site that was just launched to bring together content from the “best bloggers and thought-leaders in supply chain management, operations, logistics, and warehousing.”

Supply Chain Brief is an “aggregator” or “hub” site, so it allows you to search for articles tailored to the specific topics you seek. This way you can easily find stories that actually matter to you, and stay informed, so you’re in the best position to help your business continue to succeed.

Manufacturing Transformation is pleased to have been selected as a contributing source for this news site, with content related to the transformation impacting global manufacturing.

You can access Supply Chain Brief by clicking on the widget / icon in the right margin – choose a topic to refine your search.

Manufacturing Transformation hopes you find this hub site to be a useful resource!


Gordon can be found on Google+ .

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