News, trends & tactics in the August 2011 issue of Industrial Engineer
Will you stay or will you go?
Report gives manufacturers, logisticians data on best, worst states
In a world of continual change and recovery from economic crisis, many manufacturers and logistics operators don’t know where to go.
But a new report from Ball State University that grades the 50 U.S. states in several areas of the economy could be a big help. Michael Hicks, director of the university’s Center for Business and Economic Research, said the metrics chosen for the 2011 Manufacturing and Logistics Report Card target the critical areas that underlie the success of manufacturing and logistics for a grade on each state’s manufacturing health, logistics health, human capital, benefit costs, global reach, productivity/innovation, tax climate, diversification and venture capital.
Hicks said U.S. manufacturing has rebounded, and production almost certainly will reach records this year and next. But the improvements and future employment will vary by state. The report targets the state level because that’s what affects manufacturing and logistics companies the most, Hicks said.
Most major businesses that look at expansion and relocation have site selection assistance. The fourth annual report allows them to test that assistance or go through a lower-cost site selection process up front, he said.
“You don’t have to get into the nuts and bolts of tax policy and what the availability of labor is and what benefit costs will be because you can see that in this report,” Hicks said. “And we use some 30 different metrics to grade things in these areas.”
Businesses often get deluged by recruiting information from governments and business communities. The report gives companies data, not opinion and marketing, Hicks said.
“Every community says we’re the best,” Hicks said. “I’ve never seen a website yet that says, ‘You know, our schools are really the bottom of the barrel. And these graduates aren’t going to pass your math or your drug tests.’”
Even businesses that don’t plan on moving can benefit, Hicks said. Most manufacturing and logistics jobs require a solid foundation in math. So widget-makers that deal with poor employee performance because of education problems can use the report card to prove their case to policymakers. After all, the people in power likely want the businesses to stay. Hicks said Indiana realized it was in trouble a decade ago. Since then, the state has reformed its tax code, tackled unfunded liabilities and reworked its technical and community college program to match the demands of business.
The state earned four out of a possible nine A’s on the latest report card. Human capital, which 20 years ago would have scored a D according to Hicks, now rates a C. Venture capital and benefit costs are the only categories rated below average, each with a C-.
Tag. You're full
Edible RFID chips could track food supply from start to finish
“Waiter, there’s an extra RFID tag on my burger.”
That complaint might not be so far-fetched in the future. Hannes Harms, a design engineering student at the Royal College of Art in London, has developed NutriSmart — a food tracking system that revolves around edible RFID tags. The markers would let consumers trace the entire supply chain behind every item in their cupboard, all while alerting dieters or people with dangerous food allergies, reported Engadget.com.
NutriSmart refrigerators could help with food management as the tags could warn people when foods are about to pass their expiration date. The system also can hook up with a smart plate. Put your food on the plate and an embedded reader can analyze the feast, tell you where it came from and transmit its history, nutritional and caloric data to your phone.
The website didn’t report what happens to the tags after digestion, or how difficult it would be to convince patrons scared of genetically modified “Frankenfoods” to start ingesting technology.
Train and advance
Success comes from pairing professional development with career opportunities
Companies who invest in employee training might want to make sure their workers have a chance to advance. Otherwise, they may lose their investment.
“Only those employees who can see a way forward in their careers will stay with an employer,” said Scott Seibert, associate professor of management and organizations in the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business. “Otherwise, professional development opportunities might simply make their workers more employable by other firms.”
Seibert and fellow professor Maria Kraimer surveyed 246 matched employee and supervisor pairs at a Fortune 500 firm. They asked about professional development programs and whether the workers believed their companies offered interesting future career opportunities. The study found that employees with professional development opportunities were more likely to stay with their employer only if they saw attractive career possibilities. Absent such prospects, few felt a responsibility to stay with their current employer.
The good news? The survey found that promotions and raises weren’t the only things interpreted as career advancement by employees. Programs like mentoring and job rotations as well as good relationships with their immediate boss can create the feeling that career opportunities are available.
“Career opportunities are perceptual in nature, so raising perceived career opportunities for employees may be largely a matter of letting employees know more about the range of possibilities that are already available within the organization,” they wrote.
Their study will be published later this year in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
New leadership, new horizons
Former IIE president Jane Ammons takes chair at Georgia Tech’s ISyE school
Professor Jane Ammons recently was named chair of the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is the first woman to serve as chair of a school in Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering.
Ammons, a Georgia Tech alum who was president of the Institute of Industrial Engineers in 2009-2010, took over the position on July 1. She was formerly the College of Engineering’s associate dean for faculty affairs.
“Georgia Tech’s ISyE has been such an important part my academic life, and it is an honor to be named ISyE’s new school chair,” said Ammons. “I look forward to continuing my work in this new capacity with ISyE’s renowned faculty, students, peers and community as we continue to strengthen and influence what industrial engineers do today and will do in the future. There are many global opportunities for industrial and systems engineers, and the grand challenges in the field are strategic imperatives for our efforts and impact.”
Ammons has authored or co-authored more than 100 refereed and technical publications. Her research has received funding from industry and federal agencies. She also has chaired the National Science Foundation Engineering Advisory Committee; is a member of the Technical Committee for the Uganda: Millennium Science Initiative Project co-financed by the World Bank; and serves as a program evaluator for ABET, the engineering education accreditation organization.
STEMming energy costs
Feds offer $30 million to train industrial efficiency experts
The U.S. Department of Energy — and taxpayers — are stepping in to upgrade the nation’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.
The department has set aside $30 million to help 20 to 30 universities with DOE-sponsored, university-based Industrial Assessment Centers. The centers will train students to become the next generation of industrial energy efficiency experts. Undergraduate- and graduate-level engineering students will get practical training and skills so they can conduct energy assessments in a broad range of manufacturing facilities. The student engineers will help companies and factories reduce energy waste, save money and become more economically competitive.
The centers will offer students extensive hands-on training in industrial processes, energy assessment procedures and energy management principles. Each Industrial Assessment Center will be expected to train at least 10 to 15 students per year, conduct approximately 20 energy assessments annually, and perform extensive follow-up reporting, tracking, implementation and management-improvement activities.
The universities chosen will receive $200,000 to $300,000 per year for up to five years for the training and energy audits.
No ice, please
Better coatings could make turbines more efficient, airplanes safer
A National Science Foundation grant could yield products that better prevent icing on turbine blades and aircraft wings.
The $320,000 grant will help a team at the University of Illinois at Chicago research “icophobic behavior,” said mechanical and industrial engineering professor Constantine Megaridis.
The researchers use coatings with tunable properties such as controlled micro-to-nanoscale texture that repels water — a property called superhydrophobicity — or the ability to self-clean. After promising results, the lab wants to see if it can add conductivity to the self-cleaning surfaces.
“The main idea is to be able to provide a skin that’s both phobic and electrically conducting — the latter meaning you can heat it up,” Megaridis said. “Imagine you have a chunk of ice anchored in a rough, cold surface. Trying to remove it is challenging because the ice is stuck. But if you add heat locally and melt the contact area between the ice and the surface skin, you create a thin lubricating layer for the ice to slip off.”
Megaridis hopes the team’s research improves upon the current products that repel water, snow and ice.
“When ice deposits on turbine blades, it can rob a big portion of the turbine’s output,” he said. “Aircraft wing icing is another long-term problem we’d like to work on.”
Numerous airplane crashes have been traced to the phenomenon of icing, where wings covered in snow and ice lose their aerodynamic properties.
BOOK OF THE MONTH: Lean means lean and nothing else
Fieldbook aims to provide structure, method for the journey
“Don’t blame lean for failure when you’re not doing lean” could be the motto of Stephen A. Ruffa’s latest book.
Ruffa recently completed The Going Lean Fieldbook: A Practical Guide to Lean Transformation and Sustainable Success. Because as the Shingo Prize winner for excellence in manufacturing research discovered on a previous book tour, lean manufacturing’s poor reputation often comes from the term being misused to justify a multitude of cost-cutting measures and layoffs. It wasn’t popular with middle management or the workforce.
Ruffa knew it was necessary to provide a method that showed companies how to go lean and prosper, all while receiving support and understanding from employees. Managers need such a structure to sort through the complexities involved in a business environment that continually changes and is often chaotic.
The Going Lean Fieldbook provides that structure. It uses case studies and practical examples to show the levels an organization goes through while transforming itself into a lean enterprise.
Companies can use the book to construct a strategy for their lean journey, a necessary precursor often ignored in today’s fast-paced world.
The Going Lean Fieldbook: A Practical Guide to Lean Transformation and Sustainable Success, is published by Amacom ($27.95).
SITE TO SEE: Out of this world
Industrial engineering is a very grounded profession — in more ways than one.
IEs observe, measure, gather data, report and develop systems to improve manufacturers, healthcare delivery, supply chains and numerous other facets here on Earth. But like the rest of humanity, IEs often look to the stars for dreams and inspiration, with a sense of wonder about what’s out there.
Now you can take a look at the Eyes on the Solar System website (www.solarsystem.nasa.gov/eyes), which gives viewers the opportunity to look at photos and reams of data from a wide variety of space explorations.
Find out how fast Voyager 2 is flying. See where the EPOXI Mission to Comet Hartley 2 is in relation to its target. Visit an asteroid or watch the entire solar system moving in real time. You can rotate views and examine NASA missions dating all the way back to the Pioneer program of the 1970s.
Talk about a universal system.
Uncommon IE: Relief and sales manager
THE TASK AT HAND: Kenneth Shukstor is a relief manager for three Midas car repair shops in metro Atlanta and a remarketing sales manager for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. At Midas, he handles daily operations for managers on their days off: taking orders, compiling estimates and explaining them to customers, coordinating customer needs with the shop, and handling accounting and paperwork. At Enterprise, he handles car sales, manages drivers and organizes the whereabouts of up to 400 cars at a time.
EVER THE IE: Shukstor got his training at Industrial Engineering College in Chicago. He has been an industrial engineer for Peter Eckrich Meats, Bell Fiber, Reynolds and Land O’Frost. His last job as a plant industrial engineer, at Culinary Foods in Chicago, ended in 1996.
Since then, he has worked in sales, service and management. His IE skills have helped along every step, he said. When he sold chemicals, he supplemented discussions with top brass by walking the plants at night to find out what workers on the line really needed. Capital authorization and quality analysis frequently came to the fore. Now, he uses data and people management skills, failure mode and effects analysis, scheduling, logistics, cost estimating and random sampling on a regular basis.
“In my personal and business life I use the same things that I learned way back then,” Shukstor said. “I wouldn’t trade that background for anything.”
Manufacturing hopes rise
Survey shows more spending, sales expected
A recent survey showed that most U.S. industrial professionals think the future looks brighter.
GlobalSpec, a marketer for companies that target engineering, technical and manufacturing communities, queried more than 1,000 engineering, technical, manufacturing and industrial professionals. Fifty-five percent of industrial companies expect better sales this year, while only 24 percent expect sales to decline. Departmental budgets also are increasing, with 30 percent of engineers and technical professionals reporting that their departments plan to increase budgets in 2011, compared to only 18 percent last year.
Other highlights from the 2011 Economic Outlook Survey results include the following:
- From 2010 to 2011, the percentage of companies spending more has increased in 24 of 28 industries. The top industries spending more are manufacturing equipment, test and measurement equipment, fabrication services, building and construction, process equipment and electronic components.
- Engineers are devoting more time to projects to save energy (45 percent), reduce waste and scrap (43 percent) and increase production capacity of existing lines (43 percent).
- The majority of engineers and technical professionals (51 percent) are working on more projects in 2011 than they did in 2010, up 9 percentage points from last year.