Archive for August, 2011

Most Popular Posts of 2011

This week marks two years of blog posts, delivered every Wednesday night (or Thursday morning for those that sleep in), whether you want it or not.  I’m proud to say I have not missed one in two years.

Here are the top 5 posts over the last 12 months (for direct visits to my website):

  1. The Most Popular Posts of 2010 – seems circular, doesn’t it?
  2. Upcoming Workshop on Systematic DFMA Deployment – a great time in Providence, RI – June 2011.
  3. Obsolete Your Best Work – lot’s of great feedback on this one, and a great photo of a guy smashing a Lambo.
  4. The Obligation of Knowing Your Shit – written after reading a great passage from Post Captain Jack Aubrey standing on the quarterdeck of HMS Surprise (from Patric O’Brian’s famed 21 volume Aubrey–Maturin series on early 19th century British Navy).
  5. Improve the US Economy, One Company at a Time – I’m part way there.

For those that subscribe to my blog posts, you have different tastes.  Here are your top 5:

  1. Learning Through Disagreement – written after a physics-based discussion with two talented colleges. A great photo of Tip and Reagan – two masters of working across the aisle.
  2. Pushing on Engineering – how to influence an engineer, written by an engineer.
  3. Improve the US Economy, One Company at a Time – the only overlap between the lists. I’m still only part way there.
  4. It’s All About Judgement – innovation is 90% judgement and the other half perspiration.  Good luck trying to manage it like a manufacturing process.
  5. Voice of Technology – who knew listening to Technology could be so sexy.

You thought these posts were important – you voted with your mouse.  So, please retweet, email, or send this post to those that matter to you. Pay it forward.

I look forward to another great year.  Thanks for reading.


How to help engineers do new.

Creating new products that provide a useful function is hard, and insuring they function day-in and day-out is harder.  Plain and simple, engineering is hard.

Planes must fly, cars must steer, and Velcro must stick. But, at every turn, there are risks, reasons why a new design won’t work, and it’s the engineer’s job to make the design insensitive to these risks. (Called reducing signal to noise ratio in some circles.) At a fundamental level engineering is about safety, and at a higher level it’s about sales – no function, no sales.

That’s why at every opportunity engineers reduce risk . (And thank goodness we do.) It makes sense that we’re the ones that think things through to the smallest detail, that can’t move on until we have the answer, that ask odd questions that seem irrelevant. It all makes sense since we’re the ones responsible if the risks become reality. We’re the ones that bear ultimate responsibility for product function and safety, and, thankfully, it shapes us.

But there’s a dark side to this risk reduction mindset – where we block our thinking, where we don’t try something new because  of problems we think we may have, problems we don’t have yet. The cause of this innovation-limiting behavior: problem broadening, where we apply a thick layer of problem over the entirety of a new concept, and declare it unworkable. Truth is, we don’t understand things well enough to make that declaration, but, in a knee-jerk way, we misapply our natural risk reduction mindset. Clearly, problems exist when doing new, but real problems are not broad, real problems are not like peanut butter and jelly spread evenly across the whole sandwich. Real problems are narrow; real problems are localized, like getting a drip of jelly on your new shirt.

How to get the best of both worlds? How to embrace the risk reduction mindset so products are safe and help engineering folks to try something radically new? To innovate?

We’ve got the risk reduction world covered, so it’s all about enhancing the try-something-new side. To do this we need to combat problem broadening; we need a process for problem narrowing. With problem narrowing, engineers drill down until the problem is defined as the interaction of two elements (the jelly and your shirt), defined in space (the front of your shirt) and time (when the knife drops a dollop on your shirt). Where problem broadening tells us to avoid making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches altogether (those sandwiches will always dirty our shirts), problem narrowing tells use to put something between the knife and the front of your shirt, or to put on your new shirt after you make your sandwich, or to do something creative to keep the jelly away from our shirt.

Problems narrow as knowledge deepens. Work through your fears, try something new, and advance your knowledge. Then define your problems narrowly, and solve them.


Engineering’s Contribution to the Profit Equation

We all want to increase profits, but sometimes we get caught in the details and miss the big picture:

Profit = (Price – Cost) x Volume.

It’s a simple formula, but it provides a framework to focus on fundamentals. While all parts of the organization contribute to profit in their own way, engineering’s work has a surprisingly broad impact on the equation.

The market sets price, but engineering creates function, and improved function increases the price the market will pay. Design the product to do more, and do it better, and customers will pay more. What’s missing for engineering is an objective measure of what is good to the customer.

To read the complete article, click this link.

Want to be green? Look to your product.

We’re starting to come to terms with the green revolution; we’re staring to realize that green is good for our planet and even better for our business. But how do we put greenwashing behind us and truly make a difference?

To improve recyling, find the non-recyclable stuff in your product and design it out.  Make a Pareto chart of non-recyclable stuff (by weight) by major subassembly, and focus the design effort on the biggest brown bars of the Pareto. (Consider packaging a major subassembly and give it its own bar.)

To improve carbon footprint of logistics, find the weight and volume of your product and design out the biggest and heaviest.  Make a Pareto chart of weight by major subassembly, and focus the design effort on the heaviest brown bars. Make a Pareto chart of volume by major subassembly, (Make cube around the subassembly and calculate volume in mm3.) and focus the design effort on the biggest bars. (Don’t forget the packaging.)

To improve energy efficiency of your factory, find electricity consumption and design it out.  Make a Pareto chart of electricity consumption by major process step then map it to the product – to the element of the product that creates the need for electricity, and focus the design effort on the biggest bars.

Going forward, here are some thoughts to help grow your business with green (and save the planet):

  • It’s easier to design out brown than to design in green.
  • To design out brown, you’ve got to know where it is.
  • The product creates brown – look to the product to eliminate it.

The Abundance Mindset

We’re too busy. All of us. Too busy. And we better get used to it: too busy is the rule. But how to make too busy feel good? How to make yourself feel good? How to make the work better?

Pretend there is abundance; plenty for all; assume an abundance mindset.

There’s a subtle but powerful shift with the abundance mindset. Here’s the transition:

me to we

talk to listen

verify to trust

fear to confidence

comply to embrace

compete to collaborate

next month to next week

can’t to could, could to can

no to maybe, maybe to how

The abundance mindset is not about doing more; it’s about what we do and how we do. With the abundance mindset everyone feels better, our choices are better, and our work is better.

Lincoln said “Happiness is a choice.” I think it’s the same with abundance. We’ll always be too busy, but, if we choose, there will always be an abundance of thoughtfulness, caring, and mutual respect.

Secret Sauce that Doubles Profits

Last month a group of engineers met secretly to reinvent the US economy one company at a time.  Here are some of the players, maybe you’ve heard of them:

Alcoa, BAE, Boeing, Bose, Covidien, EMC, GE Medical, GE Transportation, Grundfos, ITT, Medrad, Medtronic, Microsoft, Motorola, Pratt & Whitney, Raytheon, Samsung, Schneider Electric, Siemens, United Technologies, Westinghouse, Whirlpool.

Presenter after presenter the themes were the same: double profits, faster time to market, and better products – the triple crown of product development. Magic in a bottle, and still the best kept secret of the product development community. (No sense sharing the secret sauce when you can have it all for yourself.)

Microsoft used the secret sauce to increase profits of their hardware business by $75 million; Boeing recently elevated the secret methodology to the level of lean. Yet it’s still a secret.

What is this sauce that doubles profits without increasing sales?  (That’s right, doubles.) What is this magic that decreases time to market? That reduces engineering documentation? That reduces design work itself? What is this growth strategy?

When trying to spread it on your company there are some obstacles, but the benefits should be enough to carry the day.  First off, the secret sauce isn’t new, but double the profits should be enough to take a first bite.  Second, its name doesn’t roll off the tongue (there’s no sizzle), but decreased time to market should justify a taste test. Last, design engineering must change its behavior (we don’t like to do that), but improved product functionality should be enough to convince engineering to swallow.

There are also two mapping problems: First, the sauce has been mapped to the wrong organization – instead of engineering it’s mapped to manufacturing, a group that, by definition, cannot do the work. (Only engineering can change the design.) Second, the sauce is mapped to the wrong word – instead of profit it’s mapped to cost.  Engineering is praised for increased profits (higher function generates higher profits) and manufacturing is responsible for cost – those are the rules.

With double profits, reduced time to market, and improved product function, the name shouldn’t matter. But if you must know, its name is Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DFMA), though I prefer to call it the secret sauce that doubles profits, reduces time to market, and improves product function.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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