Focusing on information waste

January 15, 2013
By: Tim Heston

Yesterday the Brookings Institution, along with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, proposed a program that would involve the federal government designating 20 “manufacturing universities” to prepare students for the sectors that need engineering help. Most intriguing, perhaps is its proposed Ph.D. program for engineers:

“Ph.D.s would be transformed into high-level apprenticeships (as they often are in Germany), where industrial experience is a requirement for graduation. Likewise, criteria for faculty tenure would be reformed to include professors’ work with industry and the connection of research with industrial applications, as much as their number of publications.”  According to the report, this would help bridge the wide divide between academia and industry.

The report cites Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts as a model institution that prepares students “to become exemplary engineering innovators who recognize needs, design solutions, and engage in creative enterprises for the good of the world.”

OK, admittedly, that statement’s a tad grandiose for this tell-it-like-it-is industry.  But the college does reach out to industry--and in unusual ways. Last year I spoke with Caitrin Lynch, who spent a year working alongside assembly workers at Vita Needle in Needham, Mass. She was studying what she calls “eldersourcing,” a concept that questions standard definitions of retirement, and promotes the value of what older workers can provide in the workplace.

I was especially glad to see she was focusing her research on a small, high-mix, low-volume manufacturer. These small businesses employ the most people in manufacturing, including metal fabrication.  Unfortunately, much of the industrial engineering work at universities has focused on the large factories of the world. The FABRICATOR has shined a spotlight on a few university programs that do focus on small companies, Olin being one of them. Others include Ohio State and the Center for Quick Response Manufacturing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

That said, I think Brookings’ concept couldn’t hurt, especially that “high-level-apprenticeship” program, but I’d add one wrinkle. I’d require these Ph.D. candidates to work not only at one company, but at a variety of companies of different sizes--ideally, in one supply chain.

This would give those in academia a taste of the entire manufacturing picture, including both large and small companies. Sure, large plants support hundreds of suppliers, so they must operate efficiently. But they couldn’t operate without suppliers.

Growing manufacturing stateside isn’t just about making large plants better. It’s about perfecting the entire supply chain and the information exchange that occurs at every link. As our columnist, Dick Kallage of KDC & Associates, has said many times, efficient and complete information exchange between different levels of the supply chain--and, for that matter, between different areas of one company--is vital. If he that communication to be inefficient, wrong, or incomplete, he calls it “information waste.”

Wouldn’t it be great if one person could be embedded at different companies within a supply chain, identify all the waste--from wrong part revisions to poor scheduling--and report on it all?
Tim Heston

Tim Heston

Senior Editor
FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-381-1314