By now, you are well aware of my belief that the best way to find out what is going on in a particular industry is to attend conferences and summits. I just returned from my second summit in as many weeks, this time in order to discover the latest trends in the manufacturing industry. The European Manufacturing Strategies Summit was celebrating its 10 year anniversary, and the event organizers provided attendees with a wide array of informative presentations, workshops and networking opportunities.
In his opening remarks, the event chairman, Dr. Patrick McLaughlin from Cranfield University, identified the top four issues facing the manufacturing industry in 2014:
- Exponential change
- Industry 4.0
- Re-shoring (particularly in the U.S.)
- Disruptive technologies (3D printing, data analytics, big data)
It was concluded that strategy development in this exponentially changing environment is difficult. Moreover, it is often the case that the soft side of these strategy adjustments is forgotten. Having the lean, six sigma, world class manufacturing, VPS, TPS and OD manufacturing strategy framework in place is useless if the people on the shop floor, and throughout the organization, are not on-board.
I was able to attend 21 workshops and presentations that addressed both the idea of getting back to the basics (the soft side of change) as well as the implementation of available technologies to achieve operations excellence. There was also no getting around the topic of industry 4.0 and its potential impact on the manufacturing environment. But let’s now begin with the basics.
I certainly enjoyed the fact that the topic of change management was widely discussed at this summit as it was one of the concentrations in my master degree program. The importance of understanding “the basics” and having a solid foundation of best practice change management, when implementing an operations excellence and continuous improvement strategy, was highlighted by Patrick Browne from Kepner-Tregoe. He started off by noting the five classical failures of strategy implementation:
- Believing there is only one best way
- Rushing into high-tech, high-cost, high-profile solutions when a simple solution would suffice
- Misusing data and cherry-picking KPIs
- Seeking more complex ways to describe simple principles
- Overemphasizing the skills and tools and disregarding the soft side of change.
Mr. Browne did not let his audience leave without describing the five prerequisites for a successful change process:
- Vision – without this there will be confusion
- Skills – without the appropriate skill level there will be anxiety
- Motivation – a lack of motivation will lead to slow change
- Resources – lacking resources will lead to frustration
- Action Plan – without a plan there will be false starts
A successful change process is also very dependent on good leadership. Martin van Zanten, operations and deputy site manager at Valsper, emphasized the importance of becoming a leader that people follow because they want to, not because they have to. Mr. van Zanten referred to a Ted Talk from Simon Sinek that addresses the importance of promoting and understanding the why behind what is being done before addressing the how and what. In talking with Mr. van Zanten, he also mentioned the importance of being on the shop floor as a manager and earning the respect of the employees. With regards to getting back to the basics, van Zanten reflected on his experience with Ohno’s Circle. This method encourages factory site managers to take a break from fire-fighting and observe where improvements can be made on the factory floor.
I cannot conclude “the basics” section without mentioning teamwork and the presentation from Jas Hawker from the Royal Air Force Red Arrows. This video shows how important teamwork is to the Red Arrows, where one wrong move can lead to a catastrophe, and even death:
The main takeaway from this presentation was the idea of debriefing as a team after a shift/project without hierarchical constraints. The leader should be the first to say where he made his mistakes in order to encourage an open discussion and discourage a culture of blame.
In talking with some of the attendees, I found that one of the main reasons for attending the event was to find out more about Industry 4.0. This can be confirmed by the large number of participants in the various Industry 4.0 workshops:
With all of the media hype (especially in Germany) surrounding smart factories and Industry 4.0, I was certainly interested in hearing first hand where manufacturers currently stand on this topic. The phrase that stood out the most to me was delivered by Prof. Dr. Detlef Zühlke: “Industry 4.0 is currently a vision, not a reality.” Yes, there are machines out there talking with each other, and there are products capable of talking with these machines. However, we are still at least ten years away from realizing the full potential of Industry 4.0. Taking the vision to reality will require lots of research and industrial demonstrations. Additionally, worldwide standards will need to be created and the topics of safety and security will need to be addressed. That being said, it is important for companies to take these upcoming changes into consideration when making capital and infrastructure investments.
Another topic that drew a lot of attention throughout the summit was quality management and the importance of having an enterprise quality management system in place to help drive continuous improvement. Quality is of utmost importance at Bucher Emhart Glass. The company provides glass forming and inspection machinery to the glass container industry. In his presentation, David Brown mentioned that if one single failure is found in a glass bottle produced by their machinery, a complete batch of 2 million bottles will be sent back to the manufacturer. This has led to the company mantra: “View the quality of what you deliver from your customers – customers’ perspective.” This level of quality has been reached by Emhart Glass thanks in part to their enterprise quality management system.
Other buzz words surrounding the topic of technology included Google glass or wearable technology in general, additive manufacturing and paperless manufacturing, all technologies identified as important for reaching operational excellence.
A thought-provoking keynote address was delivered by Dominic Muren from The Humblefactory which showed how the use of technology and an understanding of the basics could lead to manufacturing excellence. Mr. Muren displayed how the emerging “maker culture” and the resulting hacker communities are impacting manufacturing. The concepts of boutique and open manufacturing were presented as Muren encouraged the interested audience to think small, nimble, cooperative and open-source in this new maker culture. He provided several examples of how small motivated teams with little to no hierarchy are using technology to reach operational excellence. This video will provide you with the thought process behind The Humblefactory:
This article would not be complete without mentioning the topics of sustainability and green manufacturing. Companies are constantly under pressure to improve their environmental footprints, and as Adrian Wycisk from Henkel demonstrated, manufacturing is an area where this can be achieved. Using one of their products as an example, the Persil Megacaps laundry detergent, Wycisk showed how innovative compaction and easy dosage packaging can have a positive impact on the environment. The benefits include:
- 50% less dosage per washload
- Enabled by 100% more performance per volume
- Potential for more than 380,000 tons less water
- More than 70% reduction of packaging material
- Easy to dose with 100% emptying of package
Over the last ten years, Henkel has been able to reduce its waste by 47% through implementing sustainability initiatives in its packaging and manufacturing processes.
WTG Events provided attendees with an excellent platform to exchange thoughts on industry trends, developments and innovations. At the end of the summit, it can be concluded that having an engaged workforce, creating a team with a leader that people want to follow, and implementing available technologies is key to operational excellence. On the structural side, there is no one-size-fits all strategy for manufacturers. What is important is that the entire workforce, from the shop floor to the executive office, buy-in to the strategy and create a culture that everyone wants to be a part of.
As I was unable to visit all the workshops (21 out of 31 is not bad though), I encourage you to write about your experience and main takeaways in the comment field below.
Looking forward to seeing you in 2015!