Georgia Institute of Technology’s picture

By: Georgia Institute of Technology

Unique three-dimensional solar cells that capture nearly all of the light that strikes them could boost the efficiency of photovoltaic systems while reducing their size, weight, and mechanical complexity. The new 3-D solar cells capture photons from sunlight using an array of miniature “tower” structures that resemble high-rise buildings in a city street grid. The cells could find near-term applications for powering spacecraft, and by enabling efficiency improvements in photovoltaic coating materials, could also change the way solar cells are designed for a broad range of applications. “Our goal is to harvest every last photon that is available to our cells,” says Jud Ready, a senior research engineer in the Electro-Optical Systems Laboratory at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. “By capturing more of the light in our 3-D structures, we can use much smaller photovoltaic arrays. On a satellite or other spacecraft, that would mean less weight and less space taken up with the PV system.”

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By: Peter A. Quinter

The recent rash of highly publicized recalls and alerts on Chinese-made toothpaste, tires, and toys has shaken confidence in the safety of Chinese imports, with the media calling for consumer boycotts and stricter trade regulations to discourage U.S. businesses from dealing with China.

The danger presented by Chinese imports has been highly exaggerated, however—recalled goods are estimated at less than one percent of total U.S. goods imported from China.

Contrary to what media reports have led consumers to believe, China is far from being the only country with a questionable product-safety record. On the Food and Drug Administration’s current list of “Import Alerts,” issued to prevent entry of certain products from certain countries, Mexico is currently in the lead with 20 alerts, followed by another next-door neighbor and prime trading partner, Canada, which is tied with China at 16 alerts.

Never mind that in the last few months the United States has seen numerous recalls for domestically manufactured products such as pet food, spinach, seafood, and dietary supplements. Earlier this year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled approximately 2.3 million dishwashers, 3.7 million candles, 620,000 pressure washers, and 72,000 air compressors—all made right in the United States.

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By: Terry Kaytor

Quality’s commonly accepted definition along the lines of “meeting or exceeding customer expectations” falls short. A more complete definition of quality should also consider achieving our potential, which can exist at a personal level or at a business level. Our ability to achieve both potentials is influenced by the relationship between personal ethics and business ethics. This ethical relationship has a direct bearing on craftsmanship, which, in turn, affects quality.

Personal ethics transcend our physiological needs and can be defined in terms of the choices we make to achieve our potential and fulfill our basic social and creative needs. These choices must also contribute to society. Sometimes we make good choices, sometimes not. Reaching the balance between achieving our potential and contributing to society is what it means to be ethical.

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By: Rudolf Melik

Our spherical world has been declared flat once again, and you’ve likely found that your old way of doing business fits about as well as the suit you wore 30 pounds ago. Many operations scattered to the four corners of the globe, and the attitudes of the workforce have undergone a similar shift. People no longer expect to follow a predictable, hierarchical career path. They now expect to take part in numerous quick-forming, quick-dissolving teams that implement a series of short-term projects that, together, make up their long-term career.

In short, everything has changed. If you’re trying to force yesterday’s rigid business practices to match up to today’s dynamic, project-based world, you’re doomed to failure. After all, talent is the biggest differentiator between businesses these days, and how you manage it will determine your destiny.

Our established ways of getting work done, of accounting for this work, of monitoring compliance, and of analyzing work-in-progress for intelligence that will help us do future work faster, better, cheaper, and smarter are through. They are no longer enough. Today’s companies will have to learn how to function in a short-term, project-based business world. Unfortunately for many companies this skill set is not yet their strong suit.

Quality Digest’s picture

By: Quality Digest

People in an organization usually move from one project to another, repeating the same mistakes, dealing with similar crises, despairing over underperforming team members, and more. Over and over. Some people learn informally what made one project successful and another unsuccessful, but knowledge is seldom formally captured.

The project management office research conducted by Business Improvement Architects of more than 750 global organizations reveals that two-thirds of the respondents are responsible for archiving documentation, although few organizations actually do so.

Archiving documentation at the completion of a project is the primary method of knowledge retention and transfer. More active approaches include knowledge-management systems and knowledge-sharing sessions.

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By: Juana Bordas

Not only is the world getting flatter, it’s becoming more colorful. As globalization becomes a reality, more and more companies will employ people of every race, nationality, religious background, and age group. These people will work side by side in the same office building, others a hemisphere away. That’s why if your company is still leading the old—white, male, authoritarian—way, you’re making a mistake. It would be great if you could magically fill your leadership ranks with men and women from different cultures, backgrounds, and traditions. But if that’s unrealistic, you can gain a lot by simply borrowing their techniques.

Today’s leadership models, although they may differ from person to person and method to method, generally have a common bias toward Western- or European-influenced ways of thinking. We’re leading as if our companies are filled with white men and that’s clearly no longer the case. Contemporary leadership theories exclude the enormous contributions, potential learning, and valuable insights that come from other communities.

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By: Stephen C. Welch

Many companies view production maintenance as a necessary evil, and through the years, manufacturers have simply accepted maintenance as-is and made little little or no effort to improve it. But some forward-thinking manufacturers, committed to lean processes, and their outsourced maintenance partners are proving that a well-executed maintenance strategy delivers a competitive advantage.

A look at the manufacturing marketplace shows why outsourcing manufacturing maintenance has become a viable option. During the last 20 years, manufacturers invested billions of dollars to become more competitive in the global marketplace. The focus of this investment was on reducing costs in the manufacturing processes, i.e., getting lean, with the ultimate goal to become the “low-cost producer” in their respective industries. From the executive offices to the front lines, corporations supported these lean initiatives, and significant improvements were achieved in manufacturing processes.

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By: Fred L. Eargle

It probably started when my favorite diner served my coffee cold three visits in a row. “Why can’t I get a hot cup of coffee?” I thought. “This is the Quality Diner.” After all, I always left a nice tip. In fact, I had become so accustomed to leaving the suggested tip, that I didn’t connect it with good service. My bad.

That event must have scrambled the synapses in my brain. Suddenly, I could not get quality off my mind. One quality thought led to another, and soon I realized I might be acting strangely to other people. So, I tried hiding my quality thoughts from others, but that only worked for a short time. I even had quality dreams.

At first, I applied my quality thoughts only at work. I asked my supervisor, “Why do we make six copies of the daily absentee report when only two are required? and “Why do we enter the date three times on an order form?” He didn’t have a satisfactory answer.

After a week of this, he suggested I spend more time concentrating on just doing my own work, and let the rest of the organization do theirs. I finally got a reason from one of the old-timers—“because we’ve always done it that way.” That did make some distorted sense, but it didn’t satisfy my appetite for quality.

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By: David Blanchard

Not long ago, the economic outlook for small- and medium-size manufacturers in the United States looked problematic. The latest China-U.S. trade talks had ended with little progress on the key issue of the undervalued Yuan, and slow economic growth had led to a decrease in optimism among manufacturing executives. Chinese currency, which is expected to remain intentionally undervalued, creates an immense competitive advantage for Chinese manufacturers, which perhaps feeds the pessimism among industry leaders in the United States.

Professor Peter Morici, who teaches at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, explains, “China’s undervalued Yuan provides a 24-percent subsidy to exports, as measured by Beijing’s purchases of dollars and other currencies in foreign exchange markets to maintain an undervalued Yuan.” This mercantile policy, coupled with cheap Asian labor, lowers costs because of less-stringent environmental regulations, and explicit government subsidies gravely challenge the future feasibility of U.S. manufacturing.

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By: Scott Deming

Today’s world is filled with savvy consumers. They know how to find the best deals. They’re up on all the latest trends. If there’s a hot new product on the market, they don’t want to miss it. (Remember those iPhone lines!). A remarkable blend of exuberance and skepticism leaves many business owners wondering, “How can I keep my customers’ attention no matter what product or service my competitor is putting on the market?” It takes more than great products to keep your customers coming back. You must create the ultimate customer experience.   

What does the ultimate customer experience look like? Maybe it’s an individual making a personal connection with a customer on behalf of the business. Perhaps it’s an employee going out of his way to make sure a customer has everything she needs and is more than satisfied with the transaction. Essentially, it’s keeping your promise—whether that promise is implied or stated outright.

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