“Everything’s computerized now. The backyard mechanic is a thing of the past!”, I recall my father declaring more than 20 years ago while leaning over the open hood of my mother’s Ford Windstar. He was referring to the relative simplicity of repairing the largely mechanical systems in automobiles from the 1950’s and 60’s versus those of the early 2000’s that were equipped with digital sensors and a central processor. Of course, today’s plug-in EV’s, advanced driver assist systems, 360-degree cameras, and “guardians” like General Motors’ OnStar make my mom’s old minivan look like an Anglia in comparison.[Read more…]
The Manufacturing Academy Article Series
This article series by Ray Harkins explores the tools essential for quality or reliability engineers and managers. Topics include statistical process control, reliability engineering, root cause analysis, and business finance.
Manufacturing companies are struggling with the persistent and growing problem of finding employees with the skills needed to sustain and grow their businesses. This problem is commonly called the “skills gap.” Other sectors like construction are also affected by this skills gap. But at the macroeconomic level, the skills gap in manufacturing is particularly profound because of the growth in other sectors that manufacturing influences.[Read more…]
Imagine riding your motor scooter one sunny afternoon to your auntie’s home who lives near the sea, 20 miles from your home. On your trip there, the wind is at your back and the terrain slopes downward, resulting in an average speed of 25 mph. On the way home however, you’re motoring on a slight upward slope and into the wind, resulting in an average speed of 15 mph.[Read more…]
The Tragedy of the Commons
Imagine you were a rancher with a herd of cattle and a small field in which to graze them. One of your primary concerns include determining how many cattle the field could support. With too few cattle, you give up potential earnings that the field could readily sustain. But too many cattle consume the grass faster than the field could replenish it, resulting in malnourished cattle and degraded land quality.
Therefore, as a rancher with long-term prospects, inspecting and maintaining the field, planting new grass, and limiting the number of new cattle in the field all become a cornerstone of your business model. [Read more…]
Andragogy – How Adults Learn to Learn
This strange word andragogy was popularized in the early 1970’s by educational researcher, Malcolm Knowles. It is etymologically rooted in the Greek language from two words “aner”, which means “man” and “agogos”, which means “to lead”. Fused together, andragogy means “leading men”, or to paraphrase, leading or educating adults. Andragogy is often contrasted with pedagogy, typically referring to the education of children. [Read more…]
Measuring Quality Control Effectiveness
Aside from meeting specific requirements within quality standards such as ISO 9001 and ISO 13485, well-designed quality system metrics can also serve as meaningful indicators of the strengths and weaknesses of your organization’s processes. As a quality manager, I often consider how precisely our quality system objectives and other metrics describe the effectiveness of our quality processes. Certain metrics such as customer-reported DPPM and customer survey results usually serve to indicate your customers’ satisfaction related to quality. As metrics such as these are tracked over time, managers get a general sense of improvement or decline. Composite measures such as these, however, do not discriminate between quality assurance (preventive) and quality control activities. [Read more…]
The Observer Effect Unveiled
Researchers in psychology and other social sciences have long been aware of the observer effect—a phenomenon that occurs when the subject of a study alters their behavior because they are aware of the observer’s presence. Researchers typically design their experiments to reduce or eliminate this effect to avoid skewing the results of the study. Beyond the realm of research, though, an understanding of the observer effect and its applications is valuable wherever people’s actions are being evaluated. [Read more…]
Sharpening the Axe
Abraham Lincoln taught the value of adequate preparation when he said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” By nature and training, quality inspectors are focused on verifying the correctness of a product. A traditional inspector at the Lincoln Timber Company might have dutifully marked in her audit log the date and time, the type and size of tree, followed by the comment, “Cut down.”
But Honest Abe would have advised her to take a closer look at the tools and process used to complete the job. [Read more…]
Emerging Trends in Facilities Management
Manufacturing companies are struggling with the persistent and growing problem of finding employees with the skills needed to sustain and grow their businesses. This problem is commonly called the “skills gap.” Experts estimate that this skills gap may leave 2.4 million manufacturing positions unfilled through 2028, with a potential economic impact of $2.5 trillion (Deloitte 2018).
One of the key drivers of this gap is the rapid influx of technology into every aspect of manufacturing. New technology of course, requires new skills. In a 2019 article published by McKinsey, analysts identified six emerging trends in facilities management, each requiring new skills and each offering opportunities for career growth. (Adhikari, 2019) [Read more…]
Converting A Capability Index to PPM Defective
One of the most common questions I get from students in my Process Capability Class is, how can I use the capability index from my process to approximate a defect level for my process? [Read more…]
Profit, Profit, and More Profit
One of the common misunderstandings about business profit among non-finance professionals is that it there is more than one way to define it.
At its core, profit is calculated as Revenue minus Costs. If you bought a bicycle at a yard sale for $50, then sold it a week later on Craigslist for $80, your profit is $30. In a simple transaction, profit is easily understood. But within an organization, different types of profits have to be defined to better understand the flow of money through it. [Read more…]
The Value of Transferrable Skills
Several times during my career, as I’ve listened across the interview table to an eager and aspiring job candidate, I’ve realized this person has very few skills that will readily transfer into the position I’m offering. They spent years working at their previous company. But how much work will immediately apply to our open position. And conversely, how much work will be required to get them up to speed? And in that moment, I mentally moved them to the bottom of my “viable candidates” list. Why? Because that candidate has too few transferrable skills. [Read more…]
Risk-Based Analysis of Random Variables
Business today is more competitive than ever. As a result, successful business leaders often need to make quick decisions with less than complete data. The wrong decision could result in significant losses, layoffs, or worse. This is where quality professionals and other data-savvy specialists can offer some assistance: by making the best analysis possible given the available data. [Read more…]
Common Mistakes in a Capital Equipment Justification
Return on Investment Analysis (ROIA), sometimes referred to as Capital Equipment Justification, is the process of building and analyzing a financial model for the purpose of determining the net financial contribution of obtaining a major investment like a factory building or piece of production equipment.
ROIA is the link that connect the brilliant ideas of makers–the engineers, designers and builders—to the goals of the managers who hold organization’s purse strings. When thoroughly conducted, ROIA aligns the best estimates of the revenues and expenses related to a potential purchase with the years in which they will occur.
What are the Best Reference Books for Quality Engineers?
In this age of infinite information at our fingertips, it seems that fewer people are finding reference books and investing in their own libraries. After all, googling whatever’s on your mind is free and easy. But books, especially reference books and textbooks, still have a necessary place in our information age. [Read more…]