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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Aug 13 2014

When Virtual Manufacturing Becomes Reality

digital_manufacturing_space_systemsIf you have any interest in the digitization and automation of manufacturing, you’ll be interested in an interview with a Lockheed Martin executive that I came across recently in the Manufacturing Leadership Journal.

The executive is Dennis Little, VP of production at Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems Division. Little is driving a project within the company called Digital Tapestry. It aims to combine the three key digital domains—virtual reality development environments, 3D printing, and digital processes—to, in the article’s words, “radically streamline its entire approach to creating complex products” from end-to-end.

There are two things to note in that last statement. First, Lockheed Martin Space Systems knows something about complex products—they’re in the business of producing missiles, orbital and exploration satellites, and manned space vehicles. Second, they really mean “end-to-end” digital operations.

The concept goes far beyond the typical digital development environments. What they’re aiming for is nothing less than a fully digital product lifecycle. Here’s how Little describes the project:

“The Digital Tapestry ties everything in our production operations together digitally, from concept to product realization. It’s an end-to-end digital ap­proach where everything is connected—from concept, design, simulation, manufacturing and assembly, to testing and getting the final product to the customer. Our goal is not to break a single thread in the digital process.”

One of their tools seems straight out of the Star Trek holodeck. Officially called the Collaborative Human Immersion Lab, but affectionately known as the Cave, it’s a physical room with special projectors where engineers, suppliers, customers—anyone in the Digital Tapestry—can wear virtual reality goggles and gloves that enable them to see, touch, and manipulate anything from a product part to a satellite as if it’s right there in front of them. (Note that Dassault Systèmes also has such a room, but ours is more for demonstrating the capabilities of our software.) Lockheed Martin’s Cave is tied to assembly and test operation bays, so it can link to manufacturing and vice versa. In other words, an actual working virtual room!

Clearly, Little is thinking big.

Most companies won’t go that far, at least not yet. But most manufacturers could benefit from an end-to-end digital production system of some kind. Such a system enables individuals from different disciplines to communicate with everyone else throughout the product lifecycle—and that transforms product development from a linear process into a collaborative one. “A technician can help a design engineer design their product to improve produceability, manufacturability, and testability,” says Little. “It’s also how we can reduce cost. We can hit the affordability piece head on by trying out new approaches.”

And of course, 3D printing can bring digitization to the actual production process. As Little says, “We can go from the simulation to producing a plastic part within hours, give it to the design engineer and the manufacturing engineer, get feedback, and plow that back upstream in the Digital Tapestry for the final manufacturing process.” Lockheed Martin already does more with 3D printing than just prototypes—they use it to create special tools and even some working aircraft parts.

Ultimately, Little believes the entire product lifecycle, from conception to retirement, will be digital and collaborative. There are hurdles to clear, however, before their fully digital process actually becomes reality. For example, there are significant investments to make in new technologies, and a new kind of skilled workforce will be needed. Still, Little believes the evolution to digital is inevitable.

“In the future,” he says, “everything in manufacturing needs to be digital.” I concur.

You can read the full interview here.

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Aug 07 2014

Social Networking in Manufacturing: Like or Unlike?

enterprise_social_networkingDo you take social networking seriously in your manufacturing enterprise, or is it just another fad?

Social networking used to be considered about as far from manufacturing concerns as one could get. But things are changing rapidly, and these days enterprises are starting to use a new group of social networking tools designed for implementation within enterprise environments to increase collaboration and, ultimately, competitiveness.

In June of this year, the Manufacturing Leadership Council partnered with Dassault Systèmes and Microsoft to present a Think Tank session on the topic of “Enterprise Social Networking: Fostering Corporate-Wide Collaboration.”

The session uncovered a lot of interesting facts, trends and ideas, so I thought I’d share some of them here.

  1. First, we heard about a research report by the Manufacturing Leadership Council on “The Collaborative Future: Driving Enterprise Social Networking in Manufacturing.” This report found that enterprise social networks are growing rapidly, and that manufacturers are increasing their investments in it, even while they struggle to understand it. The most common applications are messaging and meetings; the biggest users so far are sales, marketing and services groups.
  2. Next, a report called “Perspective on the Value of Social Networking for Manufacturers” was presented by Eric Green. He proposed that enterprise social networking would soon impact other areas of manufacturing such as product design and quality, where real-time market data can better allow manufacturers to be more proactive in resolving problems and seizing new opportunities. In particular, companies with high levels of product and supply chain complexity stand to benefit the most from these collaborative efforts.
  3. Finally, the session ended with an open discussion among Manufacturing Leadership Council members and attendees at the summit. Here are some of the most interesting ideas I heard:
    • Manufacturers are not measuring the effectiveness of social networking yet, but they’re increasing adoption of it anyway … nobody wants to be left behind
    • Executives are most excited about the potential for increasing the speed of idea generation and execution within their companies, as well as the promise of market influence and thought leadership
    • Monitoring and responding to customer experiences and comments in real time is seen as a major value
    • Not surprisingly, enterprise social networking is growing most rapidly where senior leaders not only support the technology, but have actively used it themselves
    • Manufacturers believe a new generation of younger employees will help drive accelerated adoption of enterprise social networking


I’ll end with what I think is one of the most important conclusions of the summit: adopting enterprise social networking will help attract a new high-performing, next-generation workforce. These future workers use these tools in their daily lives. They’ve grown up with them. They will expect them in their jobs.

Like it or not—it appears that manufacturers will need to adopt social networking if they intend to recruit the best people and remain competitive.

Interested to learn more and hear about a customer case study? Register for a free webinar featuring Frost & Sullivan and Manufacturing Leadership Council representatives and Tim Rowland, a vice president at Lexmark, in a deeper discussion on this topic. Register now.

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Aug 05 2014

The Biggest Obstacles to Making Manufacturing Leaner

pragmatic_lean_manufacturingBy reducing waste from operations, implementing Lean manufacturing steps into your business can improve your profitability. Unfortunately, there are issues that present obstacles that must be addressed to achieve this goal.


Tightening any manufacturing process takes time; it is not going to happen overnight. You must make a commitment to leaning your process and you must get everyone on board, working together. The actual amount of time required greatly depends on the number of problem areas a business is facing. The length of time can be reduced with the correct resources, the right systems, designated targets, adequate training and cooperation across all departments.


Without the right materials or resources, a manufacturer cannot make a product, and Lean manufacturing cannot be achieved. Resources include Six Sigma or Kaizen training, software and IT systems, and a budget to identify and embrace process improvement.

With regards to the software systems, there are many to choose from, each playing a different role. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is management software ideally suited for keeping a record of production as it relates to financial tracking, with individual applications that can be integrated to meet an industry’s needs. Manufacturing facilities can benefit greatly from Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP) and Supply Chain Management (SCM) systems. The variety of solutions is vast and ERP is no longer just for larger enterprises.

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) are designed to collect information from the factory to gain insights into operational performance and quality management. This program can also be integrated into an ERP solution.

Correct targets

Too often, time is lost by focusing on the wrong targets. Companies must be able to look at the entire manufacturing process – from initial order to product delivery – to identify each individual area that is impeding progress. If communication between departments presents an issue, the problem must be corrected. If communication is not an obstacle, the area can be marked as a function to watch.

Many manufacturers will find key areas in inventory, engineering and quality. Once a section of production has been identified, the cause of the failure needs to be analyzed. If duplicate or wrong materials are being purchased, the inventory control system must be updated. These issues require an in-depth evaluation. An inventory issue could be coming from outdated bills of materials or from old engineering designs being used for parts orders.

Rework or production that does not pass quality control is an expensive (and avoidable) cost of manufacturing. The company must determine where the quality is failing, which involves looking at each step of their production process. The problem may not be in the materials used or the skill of the production workers, the problem could be coming from machinery that is out of calibration.


A lack of knowledge of what Lean manufacturing means and how the objective is achieved is a large barrier to progress. Lean manufacturing is the elimination of waste in all production areas including production, material flows, quality, delivery and costs. From Just-in-Time systems to reduce inventory to the efficient use of energy, all aspects of production can be improved. In fact, so too can the management process as well.

Managers often present an obstacle in improving the production flow. This may be unconscious or conscious resistance. Many individuals in middle management positions do not want to release the control over operations and may even fear losing their positions.

Production workers can present several obstacles. A large portion of Lean manufacturing is more production in less time at the same or better quality. Employees can be resistant to change and feel that lean manufacturing will require them to work harder. This issue must be addressed by showing workers that the benefit is in streamlined production that is designed to make the work easier.

Without adequate training, employees cannot be expected to manufacture more products while retaining the desired quality level. An investment in training goes a long way toward increasing production and reducing the workload to decrease the resistance.

Follow through

Once your company begins to see the results of a Lean manufacturing program, you must continuously monitor the effectiveness. Backsliding into old habits will occur if no one is paying attention. Lean manufacturing is not a one-and-done function. Kaizen is directed toward waste elimination and continuous improvement — with the key being that must be continuous.

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