Archive for April, 2010

Ready, Fire, Aim.

Scylla and CharybdisPent up demand is everywhere.  After almost two years of cutting inventories and pushing out purchases, companies are ready to buy. And with credit coming back on line, they’re ready to buy in bulk.  Good news?  No, great news.  We’re back on our growth path. And that’s good because Wall Street now expects growth. But, together this wicked couple of pent up demand and Wall Street’s appetite for immediate growth has created a powder keg that’s ready to blow.

Companies want more new products to satisfy the pent up demand (and Wall Street).  Growth through new products is a theme heard around the globe; there’s a relentless push for more products – early and often. Resources be damned, best practices be damned, we’re going to launch more products. Were going to market and will fix it later. The battle cry – Don’t launch, don’t sell!. However, the real battle cry is more aptly – Ready, fire, aim!  We’re going too fast.

I’m all for productivity, but we’re heading for a cliff, a cliff some have already accelerated off of, albeit in an unintended way.


We’ve forgotten the golden rule – provide value to customers, or you’re hosed.


Customers value function, or “what it does”.  Function first. But in this need-for-speed environment that’s just what’s at risk. To reduce time to market, we eliminate tasks (best practices?) in our product development processes. All good unless we eliminate tasks that make the product function as intended.  All good unless we load our engineers so heavily they don’t have time to design in functionality.  We must be careful here.  If you’re first to market and your product doesn’t work, you should have waited.

I believe launching too early is worse than launching too late because a botched launch can damage your brand, the brand you’ve taken years to build. (Click this link to see a post on brand damaging.) As we know, word gets around when your product doesn’t work (or accelerates on its own).

Satisfying the siren of pent up demand can run you into the rocks if you’re not careful.  So block your ears to her song, and take the time to get your products right.

Custom Model, exploring customized manufacturing (Mechanical Engineering Magazine)

By reducing parts count and easing assembly, one plasma cutter maker explores customized manufacturing.

By Jean Thilmany, Associate Editor, Mechanical Engineering Magazine

Ask nearly any engineer or manufacturer about customized manufacturing and—to a person—they’ll all say the same thing: Have you heard the Dell story?

Dell is offered up again and again as the number one example of customized manufacturing done right and done successfully. Shortly after its founding in 1984, Dell began what it calls a configure-to-order approach to manufacturing. The computer company lets customers customize their own computers on the Dell Web site. Buyers select how much memory and disk space they desire and the resulting computer is manufactured and shipped to them.

The approach has helped the computer maker see skyrocket growth. Last year, it held the second-highest spot for desktops and laptops shipped, behind Hewlett Packard, according to market-share numbers from research firm International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass.

Manufacturers—particularly electronics manufacturers—have long been taking notice. Many of them are investigating how the configure-to-order model could be put to use at their own companies. And some of them have implemented the method—along with the necessary software to get the job done—with great success.

Take Hypertherm Inc. of Hanover, N.H., maker of plasma metal cutting equipment. The company has recently started allowing customers to choose online from ten CNC Edge Pro product configurations, up from three configurations in the former product line, said John Sobr, head designer on the project.

Hypertherm recently redesigned its plasma metal cutting equipment to reduce part count by 27 percent while doubling the number of inputs available. Customers can now choose from ten product configurations.

Link to full article

DFMA Won’t Work

Negative skepticAsk a company or team to do DFMA, and you get a great list of excuses on why DFMA is not applicable and won’t work. Product volumes are too low for DFMA, or too high; product costs are too low, or too high; production processes are too simple, or complex; production mix is too low, or too high.  That’s all crap – just excuses to get out of doing the work.  DFMA is applicable; it’s just a question of how to prioritize the work.

To prioritize the work, take a look at product volumes.  They’ll put you in the right ballpark. Here are three categories, low, medium, and high volume:

a Read the rest of this entry »

Our Misguided Focus on Patents

innovation walkwayIs it patented? Can we patent that? We need a @#!$%& patent and we need it now! You hear that a lot these days. Everyone wants to be part of the new economy, the thinking economy, and patents are the key, right? No.

Patents are the results of something – good, old-fashioned innovation. The big mistake companies make is to focus directly on patents instead of focusing on innovation which can then be patented. Sounds like a subtle difference, but it’s as subtle as the difference between lightning and lightning bug. (Stolen from Mark Twain.)

Patents are the currency of innovation, not the innovation itself, just as our paper money is the currency for wealth, and not the gold reserve itself. We use paper money to stand for the gold, but, implicitly, there’s wealth backing it up. Just as it’s misguided for a country to print money without something to back it up (strong gold reserves), it’s misguided for a company to create patents without something to back them up – innovative technologies, technologies that make a difference to the customer.

Innovation is the gold that backs up patents, the currency of innovation.

Would you rather have lots of paper money and no gold, or lots of gold that allows you to print lots of money? We get this one wrong when we focus on paper patents instead of golden innovation. Why do we mess it up? Because printing money and filing patents are easy, and digging gold and doing innovation are hard. Patents are fast and innovation is slow. Companies want the free lunch, there’s no such thing.

What to do when there are no patents? Do innovation. What to do when there is no time to do innovation? Do innovation. What to do when there is no money to do innovation? Do innovation.  What to do?  Do innovation.

The road to a full portfolio of innovative technologies is a long one, but it’s paved with gold.

The Innovation Edict

innovation-2_medThere is a groundswell of interest in innovation across the planet. As historians know, the interest in innovation is cyclic, and this year it’s surely in vogue. Everyone wants more of it, even if we don’t know what it is – we want it. And we want it because we want it; it’s an emotional want. Never mind that we don’t know how to do it, damn it, we’re going to do more innovation come hell or high water. Not knowing how to do innovation is an obstacle, but it can be overcome with the right tools, processes and a good training plan. Our people are capable and willing, so there’s no problem there. But there is a show-stopper out there: the innovation edict is incremental work – it’s another thick layer of work slopped onto our already full plates. Even before the innovation edict, we’re doing two or three jobs, we’ve extended the do-more-with-less mantra beyond the ridiculous, and we’re stretched to the breaking point with workloads that defy all tests of reason. How can we be expected to do more?

The truth of the matter is we cannot do more; we’re already diluted beyond all effectiveness. Any more dilution would be like watering down water with more water. It has no meaning. And what makes the innovation edict especially ludicrous is that innovation requires a lot of thinking time, quality thinking time, uninterrupted thinking time. It’s a thinking person’s sport. And not just mortal thinking, it requires novel thinking, thinking we’ve never done before. Do you have time to think with your current workload? I don’t think so.

Thinking? You’re crazy. We don’t have time to think, we need to do innovation!

As we know, managers have extreme difficulty discerning activity from progress, and not many think that thinking is progress. It sure doesn’t look like activity. If you want to aggravate a manager, sit at your desk and think. When they ask you what you’re doing, tell them you’re thinking. Then watch their face turn colors like a New England foliage.

What do we do about it? The answer comes from Jim Collins – create a stop doing list. We must create innovation bandwidth by stopping work on lower priority activities. Stop. Stop. Stop. And don’t just talk about stopping, actually stop doing things. It’s the only way. Of course this is difficult because it requires prioritization. It requires judgment and guts. And feelings will get hurt because some projects will stop. So be it. Actually, I think major disagreement, anger, and long, difficult meetings are objective evidence that activities are actually stopping. No anger, no difficult meetings, no freed up innovation bandwidth. Do you want to do innovation or just talk about doing innovation?

There’s no free lunch with innovation. Innovation requires our most precious resource – our time.

DFMA to Control Controller Design – Design2Part Magazine

Design for Manufacture and Assembly is reported to improve CNC performance, modularity, durability, and serviceability

When Hypertherm ( was getting ready to design its next generation of metal cutting CNCs, the engineering team’s goal was to make improvements. But the controllers, which automate the Hanover, New Hampshire-based company’s advanced cutting tools and systems, were already well-accepted in the marketplace and highly regarded in the industry. So why redesign? And how would they go about it?

See this link for the full article – Using DFMA to Control Controller Design

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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