Nov 06 2015

Five Technologies to Make Difficult Distribution a Cinch

Five Technologies to Make Difficult Distribution a CinchYour company’s ability to satisfy clients is one of the key factors that will determine its overall success. Customer and client service makes your organization stand out from competitors, and helps to improve public image. One part of your customer service that should be analyzed and refined is your delivery of services and goods.  This activity has a big impact on what experience your customers have when consuming your product or service, and will have significant impact on whether or not there is desire to pursue further consumption. Without a prompt or timely system in place, you can be left behind. Use the best and newest technologies to make your process smoother and easier.

Cooling Devices

Instead of using ships to ferry goods for months, embrace aviation technologies. These services are often faster and offer new cooling devices for perishable goods. The use of up to date delivery cars with cooling technology and equipment is vital in counteracting the ever-increasing market competition and also offer a quality improvement strategy that will likely yield delivery of higher quality products. Any business that intends to remain relevant in the market must embrace fast moving delivery vehicles, but remember to keep things cost-effective.

GPS (Global Positioning System) Tracking

The use of Global Position System (GPS) on goods being shipped allows for tracking the location and current position of goods being ferried. It can also determine the real time location and plan for better timing, without having to waste time idling on the ports. A company that embraces GPS timing will have opportunities to overcome delivery risks, which may put you at a disadvantage with competitors.

Optimizer Logistics Software

This software is useful in making important decisions regarding the transport requirements of your goods. Optimizing your logistics creates every day cost-effective transport solutions and evaluates present shipping rates. The software part can also put into report, all the service levels existing for a transport process which will enable your business to make good decisions about goods deliveries.  For very complex logistics optimization, consider specialist firms that do this type of scenario planning for a living, such as Quintiq.

Antimicrobial Packaging

This new technology uses an anti-bacterial paper that kills bacteria in food. The creative innovation is important for food processing firms that want to ensure their products remains fresh for consumption. It’s a great investment that can put your company ahead and promise better shipping and packaging.

Secure Packaging

Don’t leave your products to the security of packing tape alone. Especially if you send sensitive information and goods, you should invest in more secure containers and custom packaging. Places like Phoenix Specialty can work with you to customize shims, spacers or other parts to ensure your products fit securely within your unique containers. This way you can be sure none of your gear will be compromised during transit.
If a client is satisfied with their goods delivery time and process, it is likely they will consider the company for more transactions and recommend to others as a viable consideration. On the other hand, poor deliveries will put the company at risk of losing clients. Use the technology you have available to create efficiency in production and delivery. This can become a positive step in your supply chain management and put you ahead of the competition.


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Nov 05 2015

Q&A with Ray Zinn, Co-Founder of Micrel, and Silicon Valley’s Longest Serving CEO

Blog_11-4-15This interview is with Ray Zinn, who has managed to beat the odds with determination and hard work, to become Silicon Valley’s Longest serving CEO (thus far). Obviously, Ray has seen considerable change over his career, crystalized during the founding and growth of Micrel.

Not one to go quickly into retirement, Ray has been busy writing a new book, Tough Things First: Leadership Lessons from Silicon Valley’s Longest Serving CEO, available November 3, 2015.

Below is a summary of a Q&A session I had with Ray, highlighting some of the lessons learned during his 37 year tenure at the helm of Micrel, through the acquisition by Microchip Technology. During this time he has seen a lot of change and transformation within the manufacturing industry.

What would you tell our readers was the best strategy that helped you navigate a path forward for Micrel during these changing times, specifically with regards to technological breakthroughs and a continually evolving set of possible IT systems infrastructures?

Even though I had been running Micrel, a semiconductor company, for 37 years, I have actually been in the semiconductor business since 1963. What I can relate to are the changes that I have seen to my industry over the past 52 years. When the industry started back in 1957, we were basically replacing vacuum tubes. There were no semiconductor equipment manufacturers, so we had to build all our own equipment.

It wasn’t until about 1965 that the industry had matured to a point where semiconductor equipment manufacturers came on the scene. There were only a handful of equipment manufacturing companies during the early 1960’s and, for that matter, there were only a handful of semiconductor companies. When I took Micrel public in 1994, there were less than 200 semiconductor companies in the world. Today, there are over a thousand. Most of these companies do not have their own manufacturing capability, but rather, out-source everything. Micrel, on the other hand, has had its own wafer fabrication manufacturing capability since 1981 in Silicon Valley.

Back in that time frame, there were probably 10-15 semiconductor manufacturers that had manufacturing capability in Silicon Valley. Micrel, like most of the other semiconductor companies, did out-source the assembly manufacturing portion. Up until August of this year, Micrel manufactured over 90 % of its wafers still in Silicon Valley. However, after the acquisition of Micrel by Microchip, it was deemed too costly to manufacture silicon wafers in the Silicon Valley.

More and more of the semiconductor companies are closing down their Silicon Valley manufacturing operations for two reasons: 1) the wafer facility expenses are more than double that in other U.S. states, and 2) California is not a friendly place to do business, because of government regulations. I believe you are going to have in California, and primarily in the Bay Area, software or non-manufacturing oriented companies. Micrel used to employee nearly a thousand people in Silicon Valley, but because we began moving our manufacturing to Asia, the head count dropped nearly in half. The big challenge for Micrel has been trying to keep its wafer fabrication facility cost effective in Silicon Valley. To do this, we have had to focus on unique manufacturing processes to differentiate ourselves.

Speaking from a CEO’s perspective, what were some of the toughest challenges you faced while at Micrel, and how did you overcome them?

As CEO, the most difficult challenge I had to face was remaining competitive while manufacturing in the Silicon Valley. We are one of the few semiconductor manufacturers that was left in Silicon Valley, and I consider that a success story. The advantage of manufacturing in here was the great talent pool. Trying to balance that benefit with higher costs has been the challenge.

Looking forward at the world of manufacturing, and the increasingly connected “Smart Manufacturing” initiatives that are being actively pursued (as one example), what are some of the challenges you see for manufacturers seeking to build the best possible products while being constrained by the incredible global competition that is now upon us? Where would you invest in today to make the biggest possible impact on future viability and competitive advantage?

I am a firm believer of the importance of maintaining manufacturing in your country – in my case, the U.S. – or risk losing a competitive advantage. When you outsource everything, there is a risk of losing your intellectual property, which might be too high a price to pay. Those suppliers or partners might ultimately become your competitor. Speaking from my experience in the semiconductor industry, the key is to continue to improve the automation of manufacturing processes, to the point where higher labor costs become a smaller part of your overall cost structure.

Robotics and smart factories will be the key to retaining a strong manufacturing presence in those countries where higher labor costs are the norm. It is also important that government policies and regulations are written and enforced in such a way to not be highly detrimental to overall business productivity. Governments have an important role to provide an environment that is conducive to investment into new technologies, as well as to encourage continued growth.


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Nov 03 2015

Overpaid! Mitigate Costs, Reveal Energy Efficiency Opportunities in Utility Bills

Blog_11-3-15Multi-site manufacturers with ten, twenty or more plant, warehouse and corporate office locations can generate a substantial volume of bills, which are likely paid both centrally and at specific sites. In aggregate, the bill paying process can be difficult for the accounts payable team to manage.

Chief among the invoices pouring in for processing are utility bills, which amount to the third largest expense many companies pay behind labor and materials. In most Accounts Payable departments, utility bills are processed and handled just like any other bill. That’s a mistake, and not just because of the sheer expense associated with them.

Utility bills aren’t just expensive; they’re also incredibly complex. Unlike many bills, utility bills typically lack purchase orders, they require manual general ledger mapping, and the general form and detail of the invoices varies significantly from one provider to the next. Because utility companies’ billing systems, billing periods, and levels of bill detail are all widely variable, accounts payable departments at multi-site organizations are subject to a time-consuming and resource-intensive exercise managing and processing their invoices. The complexity and inefficiency associated with utility bill processing is backed by the numbers:

  • According to Aberdeen, it typically takes enterprises anywhere from 17.4 to 29.8 days to internally process a single invoice
  • Ecova, a commercial & industrial expense management company, finds that it’s not uncommon for up to 6 percent of utility bills to require reissue due to error or revisions on previous bill estimates
  • Aberdeen also pegs the average cost to process and pay a bill at $21.43 per payment; multiply this cost by a high volume of payables, and it will become clear that paying expenses is rather expensive

But, while creating utility bill payment efficiencies presents most organizations with a clear savings opportunity, prospecting those savings can’t be predicated on processing speed alone. Careful attention to utility bill payments is a prerequisite for the identification of billing errors, such as those caused by estimated bills, overlapping service dates, and incorrect meter reads. Utility bill payment data is also a prime source of the data that drives energy efficiency and sustainability improvement initiatives. Paying utility bills and managing accurate utility bill pay data requires a delicate balance of efficiency and attention to detail.

The Bigger Picture – Energy Efficiency Management

There is another component to utility bill payment that is often missed. Today, manufacturers and others have new levels of options for energy consumption, which is predicted to increase in the future. How do you best assess if solar energy is a viable sustainability option for a facility? What about the “smart grid” where energy could be generated at a plant, and then re-sold back to the community? In order to best assess these types of energy consumption options, it is necessary to have a very strong understanding of exactly what your current energy consumption costs are, so as to provide a baseline for the necessary analytics to evaluate options. Here is where having visibility to utility bill details can really make an impact on future energy costs.

Your internal accounts payable team is no doubt fully capable of managing most payables in accurate and timely fashion. Utility bills, however, present a unique challenge; they’re characterized by a short payment cycle, but auditing and reconciling billing errors internally is an incredibly time-consuming exercise. What’s more, accurately collecting, analyzing and reporting on the detailed utility bill data that informs energy efficiency investment decisions and sustainability initiatives adds a step that’s typically foreign to accounts payable departments. In these cases, it might make sense to take advantage of a data management platform in order to best track, manage and really understand what energy costs are being paid, as a direct route to avoiding overpayment, and uncovering the value hidden in historical utility bill data.

If you are interested to learn more about an efficient, more accurate approach to utility bill payment and tracking, take this short interactive utility bill tracking assessment. The free quiz will help you calculate the cost of managing your utility bills in-house—and determine whether your organization is poised to harvest the hidden value of utility bill data.


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Oct 29 2015

How Hackers Are Targeting Manufacturing Businesses

10-29-15 ImageManufacturers now operate in an increasingly connected world. The Industrial Internet of Things promises to expand connectivity and access to
equipment, machines and processes to a level never seen before. However, there is an ugly side to this collaboration transformation that is being embraced by manufacturers across the world – the risk of a loss of data, or of control of the systems that are being run in an increasingly centralized manner.

Manufacturing businesses are seeing an increased level of cyber-attacks directed at them using a variety of attack methods. The cyber-attacks may come from individual hackers, organized crime rings or groups operating under the auspices of a foreign government. Reasons for the attacks vary, but often the purpose is to steal trade secrets and intellectual property from the business. The culprits today are less likely to be those interested in just bragging rights of what can be hacked – the motives today tend to be much more focused, deliberate and with cause to specifically inflict harm to a victim’s computer or network.

Attacks generally fall into one of four categories as described below.

1. Drive-by Downloads

As the result of a drive-by download, malware is loaded onto a computer or other device, often without the user’s knowledge. This type of attack derives its name from the fact that no one has to make a selection or click on a link for the malicious code to be downloaded. Simply opening or “driving by” a compromised page is enough to start the download process.

2. Cross-site Scripting

Cross-site scripting (XSS) differs from drive-by downloads in that it uses a script to steal confidential information such as login names and passwords. Obviously, this creates massive vulnerabilities in an entity’s operations. An IT consultant with a degree in security studies says firewalls and other protective measures may not provide an adequate level of protection from a XSS attack. This is typically because the attack usually comes in the form of an email suggesting that a user click on a specific link for more information. The best defense manufacturers can put up against XSS attacks is to educate employees—especially those with access to important data—on safe browsing practices.

3. Watering Hole Attacks

Watering hole attacks are especially insidious because they target trustworthy sites such as which suffered a watering hole attack in early 2015, allegedly from Chinese hackers. In this type of attack, the perpetrator hijacks the legitimate site, or watering hole, installing malicious code which subsequently allows the hacker to exploit the software of visitors to the site.

4. Wrappers

A wrapper is malware with legitimate software wrapped around it, shielding it from security programs. A wrapper may be encountered in a PDF document, a Word document, a utility tool or a computer game. The wrapper program shows the user only what they are looking for: however, unknown to the user, the wrapper program is simultaneously installing malicious code.


These four types of cyber-attacks are frequently used against manufacturing businesses. The best protection in each case is education, although there are certainly many types of firewalls, intrusion prevention and vulnerability assessment software programs that can help secure both data at rest and data in motion. Employees should learn to keep software current and install patches recommended by software suppliers. Security software should be implemented in addition to firewalls and other protective devices. Employees also should be educated to guard against the temptation to click on unknown links or visit pages that have not been verified as trustworthy.


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Oct 27 2015

Kenzo Takai

Global Traceability Part 3: Now is the Time to Act

Blog_10-27-15I’ve been writing recently about global traceability: why it is the perfect complement to enterprise MOM systems, and how manufacturers are starting to exploit the big data of global traceability to create significant new business value by moving beyond traditional applications.

To close this three-part series, I will now discuss why it’s important for manufacturers to act now on global traceability, before market leaders get too far ahead of the pack. The fact is that the key enablers to leverage global traceability across the enterprise are now in place, or soon will be.

How well prepared are you to take advantage of this important, possibly game-changing trend?  Here are five enablers that are now driving implementations of global traceability solutions today:

1. Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) has moved beyond the Plant

The days of isolated plant floor systems have now become a thing of the past. In its place, global manufacturers are deploying enterprise Manufacturing Execution Systems, which I refer to as Manufacturing Operations Management or MOM solutions, to coordinate and synchronize people, processing, equipment, tooling and materials across the enterprise. As I wrote in my first article in this series, this MOM foundation is a key element of global traceability, providing event data on a vast new scale. Manufacturers with MOM systems are not wasting any time in leveraging that data.

2. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is near

One of the main bottlenecks in the past has been the data collection mechanism—gathering accurate information at the right time in the most cost-effective way. This would include information from not only within the four walls, but also beyond to partners, suppliers and even end users. The IIoT is revolutionizing how and what data are collected, and how it is being shared. The boundaries between the digital and physical worlds have now blurred. Intelligent, interconnected systems now need to seamlessly support multiple activities, as industrial devices become more intelligent and connected. Global traceability provides the means to track and utilize this brave new world of interconnected everything.

3. Big Data and the Cloud are maturing technologies

As more industrial devices are connected to the digital world, they will be producing huge amounts of data in terms of volume, variety and velocity. Technologies to handle big data—such as MapReduce, schema-less and NoSQL databases, and in-memory processing—are maturing and are ready to support real-time enterprise-level applications. On top of that, the maturity of cloud-based technology offers the ability to scale and roll out to different partners with the robust architecture that is needed to make global traceability the enterprise’s single repository of all critical operational events.

4. Analytics can make all that data actionable

Advances in analytics have moved beyond traditional descriptive analytics, to more predictive and prescriptive applications in order to support decision-making processes in real-time fashion. Rather than trying to understand what and why things happened, the focus on today’s paradigm is leveraging insights in order to address what will happen and how things would change based upon a given decision. It is this actionable intelligence aspect of global traceability information that manufacturers can use to achieve business advantage that goes far beyond traceability itself.

5. Growing number of knowledge workers across the globe

While the technology advances above are critical enablers, ultimately these advances are important because they empower knowledge workers to take better actions and make better decisions. As the number of knowledge workers grows from advanced countries to developing countries, the information and insights generated from global traceability will be increasingly important—and transformational. Even though automation may increase, there will always be human interactions within key decision processes, and those interactions will depend on better, deeper, and timelier information. Global traceability provides exactly the kind of actionable information that knowledge workers will need.


In this series, we have seen that MOM systems provide important capabilities that can be significantly leveraged by adding global traceability. We’ve also seen that manufacturers are starting to use global traceability to go beyond traditional uses to create important new business value. And finally, we’ve seen how the enablers to make it happen are rapidly coming together, if they haven’t already.

Global traceability is one of the keys to competing as a global enterprise, and its importance will only grow. Manufacturers who plan on being successful in the future would be well advised to take action on this critical capability today, or they will surely be left behind.


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