Content By Thomas R. Cutler

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By: Thomas R. Cutler

Quality control and inventory control are equally important to the ongoing success of all manufacturing businesses. Both form the basis of an efficient organization that operates at high productivity levels, minimizes waste, and delivers quality products to meet or exceed consumers’ expectations.

Until a about decade ago, there were layers of quality assurance and quality control steps before products reached the end user. Along with production controls, these steps included quality controls related to warehouse operations, logistics, and inventory verification at retail stores, in order to double-check product quality and order fulfilment accuracy.

Today, more than a million small manufacturers worldwide have forgone any retail sales in favor of a D2C (direct to consumer) model, cutting out warehouse operations and retail stores. The reason is simple: margins. A jewelry manufacturer, for example, selling a bracelet for $20 online, with hard costs of $2, can realize huge profit margins by eliminating the wholesale middleman. That same bracelet would have wholesaled to retailers for $8. But now, while product quality is still a customer expectation, consumers also expect quality delivery and customer service.

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By: Thomas R. Cutler

Although automation has been successful in replacing repetitive, simple tasks, the human workforce still plays a critical role in manufacturing. Even the most sophisticated and automated manufacturing operations rely on human operators to configure, run, and properly maintain production equipment.

However, with low unemployment, talent retention in the manufacturing industry is particularly difficult, meaning manufacturers often spend a lot of time and money training employees, only to have them quit. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, 38 million people quit their jobs voluntarily. About 77 percent of those individuals quit for preventable reasons—like more structure around career development, better work/life balance, and manager behavior.

When a new employee gets hired at a manufacturing plant they often get little to no onboarding, or are treated poorly by a manager. Perhaps worst of all, more than half of all manufacturing employees report not having proper safety mechanisms in place to prevent an accident. With so many job openings currently unfilled, it is easy for an employee to find a new job where she can get a better experience from day one.

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By: Thomas R. Cutler

 

Flawless order fulfillment from a distribution center or warehouse to the customer’s door is the neglected leg of the supply chain. Ironically, without careful attention to the last mile, e-commerce customers are disappointed with the quality, accuracy, and condition of the products being delivered. Although tablets and mobile devices can provide the needed visibility, they are relatively new to the most important part of the supply chain: last-mile delivery.

Maximizing supply-chain visibility from raw materials to manufacturing is as essential as the picking and packing of the product.

Whether handled internally or relegated to third-party logistics (3PLs), customer orders can face an ugly journey on their last mile. Improved processes and decreased operational costs are driving the utilization of mobile tablets. Although radio frequency (RF) guns continue to collect data in the supply-chain process, tablets allow a better user interface with touch screens, connected bluetooth ring scanners, and a highly visual interface with pictures, colors, and more data fields. The RF gun is harder to train on, is usually handheld, and the screen interface is more cumbersome.

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By: Thomas R. Cutler

Two years ago, the marketing research division of Florida-based TR Cutler Inc. interviewed CEOs of privately held manufacturing operations in North America and reported that their top fear was a lack of communication with employees due to the inability to motivate or inspire the workforce. That research was recently replicated, and while communication breakdowns are still the No. 1 fear, the reasons and importance are quite different: It’s about communicating with a multicultural workforce.

In 2015, 20 percent of these CEOs identified communication challenges as being generated by multiculturalism, but by early 2017 that percent doubled to 40 percent. CEOs indicated that the communication problem was about creating a culture of quality in an increasingly multilingual workforce.


Figure 1: Reasons for communication breakdowns by privately held manufacturing CEOs (© 2017 TR Cutler, Inc.)

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By: Thomas R. Cutler

Two words no manufacturing organization wants to hear: product recalls. By their very nature, product recalls are unpredictable events.

The cost to a company transcends potentially expensive litigation and settlements. Product recalls and the effects that product failures have on companies that fail to conduct proper design analysis before, during, and after the manufacturing process are often unrecoverable.

The globalization of manufacturing has exacerbated this challenge. When manufacturers allocate necessary time and resources, product recalls should not happen. Recalls are not only costly for companies, but most often cause huge frustration and inconvenience for consumers.

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By: Thomas R. Cutler

Manufacturers’ waste-reduction initiatives are rarely as effective as they could be. When reducing waste, inventory is often the main target. But how do you right-size inventory in an environment of constant variability? In a word: kanban.

Electronic kanban signals keep product moving throughout the manufacturing organization and its extended supply chain. These systems operate in real time to optimize inventory levels by instantly tracking lead and replenishment times.

Dynisco, a Roper Industries company in the plastics industry, was on a mission to enhance performance. This manufacturer of materials-testing solutions and extrusion-control instrumentation was ready to embark on a continuous improvement journey that would address operations in its Franklin, Massachusetts, facility, as well as in its subsidiaries Viatran, Alpha Technologies, DJ Instruments, and DVI. The program would include related regional and international facilities.

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By: Thomas R. Cutler

It’s no surprise that multinational companies have complex global supply chains. What’s less obvious is how to simplify supply-chain processes and arrive at a lean, consistent, reliable, and cost-effective solution. One global leader, ITT Corp., has taken on this challenge with the help of Ultriva, a supply-chain solution by Upland Software, which supplies cloud-based manufacturing and supply-chain collaboration and execution solutions.

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By: Thomas R. Cutler

Quality professionals in most manufacturing plants still have safety under their area of responsibility. Safety has been a growing concern in the workplace for decades, and in warehouse operations, forklift safety is one of the biggest.

OSHA statistics report that more than 100 workers are killed from forklift accidents and 20,000 are injured annually in the United States. In cases of injury or death, a company is liable to pay considerable costs for damages, and injured workers can miss on average 61 days of work due to the injury.

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By: Thomas R. Cutler

Established in 1982, the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) is a nonprofit association with a diverse group of stakeholders—including retailers, suppliers of all sizes, automakers, manufacturers, service providers, academia, and the government—working collaboratively to streamline industry processes via global standards development and harmonized business practices.

Quality, product development, and customer satisfaction were on the agenda for the AIAG Quality Summit held last week in Novi, Michigan. Attendees from leading automotive manufacturers to tier 1 automotive suppliers discussed quality processes to design, develop, and launch new products and vehicles that will satisfy the immediate customer, and enhance the end-consumer experience. Proactive and preventive quality measures and systems were examined.

One topic discussed was layered process audits (LPA), which have become quite popular and are often a mandatory requirement for automotive suppliers. Developed by Chrysler, LPAs offer organizations a chance to lower their cost of quality.

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By: Thomas R. Cutler


As regulatory compliance expands with fast-changing, ever-growing requirements, safety and quality professionals are falling behind. Senior management, particularly among small and mid-sized manufacturers, delegates the function of safety and quality without fully comprehending the scope and rigor required to maintain compliance to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Short-staffing, tight budgets, and too much work make the deadlines, training, and documentation requirements mandated by OSHA a veritable nightmare for many quality assurance managers. They are tasked with avoiding noncompliance lawsuits and fines, but without the option of adding staff, many quality assurance managers are looking at hiring third-party experts to create a customized OSHA compliance program.