Still Made in America

JUNE 30, 2013

paintbrushesChinese manufacturers long ago wreaked havoc on the U.S. textile, apparel, toy and electronics industries. But disruption has come more slowly to the brush business, writes The New York Times (June 18, 2013).  There are simply so many types of brushes for so many applications that many Chinese manufacturers thought the business wasn’t worth the hassle. Despite the recession, there are still more than 200 brush, broom and mop makers in the U.S. These companies have employed two strategies to stave off Chinese competition: 1) change everything all the time, or 2) don’t ever change a thing.

Kirschner Brushes hasn’t changed a thing. The Bronx, NY company makes brushes the very same way, employing many of the same machines it bought 50 years ago. Kirschner sticks with the old ways because, unlike with toys and T-shirts, a big chunk of the brush business caters to professionals who aren’t merely shopping for price but rather for quality.

At the other end of the business is Braun Brush, which is constantly creating innovative brushes so that it never has any competition. Bruan makes a beaver-hair brush that’s solely for putting a sheen on chocolate, an industrial croissant-buttering brush, a heat-resistant brush that can clean hot deep fryers, and a tiny brush that helped Mars rovers dust debris from drilling sites. When Braun sees other firms making one of it brushes, it often drops the product rather than enter a price war. Braun has grown at 15-20% annually for the past 5 years.

Despite all the doom-and-gloom US manufacturing stories, there are still more than 200,000 small factories, like Kirschner’s and Braun’s, that provide a solid, if rarely heralded, base line of American business. Very quickly though, the US is becoming a nation of Brauns–one in which a product faces extinction, or a rebooting, shortly after it is unveiled. This flexible economy has many advantages–and over time, it delivers more economic growth to the US.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

Cockpits Go Paperless

JUNE 29, 2013

United pilots use iPads in the cockpit

United pilots use iPads in the cockpit

Airline pilots, who fly some of the world’s most technologically advanced machines, have long relied on paper navigation charts and manuals, which clutter the cockpit and have to be lugged around in cases that can weigh as much as a small child. Now, however, airlines are catching up with the tablet era, reports The Wall Street Journal (June 27, 2013).

JetBlue Airways just received FAA clearance to provide its 2,500 pilots with Apple iPads that will store digital copies of the heavy paper manuals they refer to during flights. American Airlines said its 8,000 pilots had largely gone paperless now that the carrier has completed the rollout of its own iPad program. By storing manuals and navigation charts on iPads, American figures it has eliminated 3,000 pages of paper per pilot. In April, United started requiring its 10,000 pilots to carry iPads. Southwest started an iPad trial with 150 pilots this month and expects to expand it to an additional 550 pilots in the third quarter.

The volume of paper traditionally required by cockpit crews is almost overwhelming in the confines of a cockpit. American estimates that removing the bags from all its planes saves about 400,000 gallons of fuel annually, worth $1.2 million at current prices. One Alaska Airlines pilot said having the approach plates, arrival charts and runway diagrams available at the touch of a tablet is a lot quicker and more user-friendly. “It’s about information management, the human factors of managing charts,” he said. The change helps pilots be “safe and compliant” and helps the airline run a “better business.”

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

Wal-Mart vs. Amazon Logistics

JUNE 25, 2013

This Wal-Mart hub sends supplies out to physical stores

This Wal-Mart hub sends supplies out to physical stores

Few have done better than Wal-Mart when it comes to retail logistics—the art of ordering, transporting, stocking and tracking merchandise, writes The Wall Street Journal (June 19, 2013).Wal-Mart pioneered a sophisticated hub-and-spoke distribution network which uses warehouses to service stores less than a day’s truck drive away so it could remove middlemen, quickly replenish shelves and reduce costs. At its distribution centers, scanning technology tracks merchandise as it flows at 6 miles per hour on 12 miles of conveyor belts onto trucks. Some items spend less than 45 minutes in warehouses.

Supply trucks crisscross the country and arrive daily at Wal-Mart’s more than 4,000 U.S. stores. Shipments are based on real-time data of shopper purchases, transmitted by the second as employees scan items at store checkouts. But with its e-commerce operations, which began in the late 1990s, Wal-Mart has been less exacting, instead relying on makeshift spaces carved out of store-serving warehouses and third-party operators to handle the load. Electronics ordered from Walmart.com are often delivered by companies like Ingram Micro which transport Apple tablets or Samsung phones to shoppers without ever going through Wal-Mart’s warehouses.

By contrast, Amazon has spent 15 years building its e-commerce network, with more than 40 U.S. warehouses within 35 miles of major cities. “As Amazon’s bets on infrastructure pay off, it can sell products at lower costs and puts even more pressure on other retailers,” says one industry expert. Wal-Mart now plans to spend roughly $430 million this year on e-commerce investments, including a logistics system tailored for Web orders. It is building distribution centers, but also will use stores as mini distribution centers. While logistics costs account for 3% of the price of an average “shopping basket” in stores, they make up 15% of the price of online orders.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

Toyota Airbag Cuts Open Doors to Global Suppliers

JUNE 21, 2013

Cut-away of Toyota's Auris hybrid at Paris auto show

Cut-away of Toyota’s Auris hybrid at Paris auto show

Toyota has decided it no longer needs 50 kinds of airbags to protect drivers’ knees. Ten, the company says, ought to suffice. In one of Toyota’s biggest initiatives since 2009, reports Bloomberg (June 10, 2013), the carmaker is winnowing the number of parts it uses and increasing common components across models. The plan will cut both the time and cost for creating new models by as much as 30%. The automaker spent $9.6 billion in R&D last year.

In the past, Toyota focused on developing custom parts. It needed 50 types of knee-level airbags because seats for various models had different profiles. By standardizing “hip heights” across models, Toyota is reducing knee airbag variants by 80%. Last year, it had slashed radiators to 21 models from about 100. And it is reducing the number of cylinder sizes in its engines to 6 from more than 18. “From now on, Toyota will seek the compatibility of certain parts it uses with standard parts used by many automakers globally,” says the firm.

Toyota’s goal should make the company less vulnerable to supply disruptions by using parts from the largest manufacturers that can be substituted globally. The 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan forced Toyota to confront the complexity and risks of relying on thousands of suppliers, sub-contractors and sub-subcontractors making customized parts. The earthquake “really made us to look into our supply chain in great detail and see certain weaknesses there and look into things that needed to be fixed,” said Toyota’s spokesman.

International component makers such as Johnson Controls, Bosch GmbH and TRW Automotive are betting Toyota’s campaign will help them win contracts currently held by smaller Japanese companies. “This should mean more opportunities for global mega-suppliers with worldwide capacity and design expertise,” said one analyst.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

Jay Leno–The Advanced Manufacturer of the 21st Century

JUNE 18, 2013

jay lenoAlmost everyone knows Jay Leno, the comedian, host of NBC’s “Tonight Show” and avid classic-car and motorcycle collector. Far fewer know Jay Leno, the advanced manufacturer, writesThe Wall Street Journal (June 11, 2013).

Leno houses his more than 200 cars and motorcycles in solar-powered warehouse like buildings near LA that span 110,000 sq. ft. In one of the structures is an expansive shop equipped with an impressive array of 21st-century machines, including a Stratasys industrial-grade 3-D printer, a NextEngine scanner, a Fadal computer-controlled mill and a (very pricey) KMT Hammerhead water jet cutter that can slice through steel. Along with a battery of more-traditional metal machining equipment, the tools allow Leno and his small crew to fabricate just about any auto part that has been produced in the past 100 years.

“The days of going to a junkyard and trying to find an auto part that says Packard or Franklin on it are over,” Leno says. “We can make almost anything we need right here in the shop ourselves.” For his 1906 Stanley Steamer, “We took the worn piece and copied it with a scanner that can measure about 50,000 points per second. That created a digital file or image of the part, which we can modify in the computer if there are imperfections or defects in the part being scanned. Then you feed that data into the 3-D printer, and, presto, you have a mold that will allow you to cast a brand new part.”

For a modest investment by virtually any industrial measure, Leno has been able to extricate himself in a meaningful way from the globe’s vast network of producers, distributors and sellers. As he puts it, “We’ve sort of gone off the grid.” He agrees that the new tools will increasingly empower other individuals and entrepreneurial ventures to make increasingly sophisticated things themselves. “Manufacturing started out with craftsmen making stuff in small cottage industries. In many ways I think we’re going to go back to that cottage-industry model.”

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

The New Industrial Revolution

JUNE 16, 2013

The upper for Nike's Flyknit shoe

The upper for Nike’s Flyknit shoe

“Welcome to the New Industrial Revolution,” writes The Wall Street Journal (June 11, 2013)—a wave of technologies and ideas that are creating a computer-driven manufacturing environment that bears little resemblance to the gritty and grimy shop floors of the past. The revolution threatens to shatter long-standing business models, upend global trade patterns and revive American industry.

“Manufacturing is undergoing a change that is every bit as significant as the introduction of interchangeable parts or the production line,” says the head of GE’s global research lab. “The future is not going to be about stretched-out global supply chains connected to a web of distant giant factories. It’s about small, nimble manufacturing operations using highly sophisticated new tools and new materials.” The upheaval is accelerating thanks to the convergence of a number of trends: the low cost and accessibility of Big Data associated with cloud computing; the plummeting cost of electronic sensors and microprocessors that can be used to make machines more adept; and software advances that allow a whole new level of manufacturing precision.

To get an up-close look at how the new technologies are already disrupting the old ways of doing things, consider Nike’s Flyknit shoe. As high-tech as some sneakers may be in materials and appearance, almost all of them are still made on assembly lines that put heavy emphasis on human labor. Workers sit side by side in enormous facilities, cutting material and stitching and gluing shoe components together. But with new technology, Nike has begun to make a shoe with just a few parts instead of dozens– and with up to 80% less waste. Out of the blue, the reason for making shoes in low-wage countries begins to evaporate and the advantages of locating the machine closer to the customer—in part for faster delivery—begin to loom much larger.

Boston Consulting Group just published a report predicting that as much as 30% of America’s exports from China could be domestically produced by 2020.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

Jumping the Queue at Universal Studios

JUNE 13, 2013

Universal StudiosSince I live in Orlando, the theme park capital of the world, the recent New York Timesarticle (June 10, 2013) “At Theme Parks, A VIP Ticket to Ride”, caught my eye. Theme parks have traditionally been the ultimate melting pots. Tourists, retirees, rowdy teenagers, families and fathers who would rather be golfing are all thrown together in an egalitarian experience in which the queue for one is the queue for all, and cotton candy is the food of the masses. Not anymore.

As stratification becomes more pronounced in all corners of America, from air travel to Broadway shows to health care, theme parks in recent years have been adopting a similarly tiered model, with special access and perks for those willing to pay. Now Universal Studios has pushed the practice to a new level. It has introduced a $299 V.I.P. ticket (the regular admission is about $85), just in time for the summer high season, that comes with valet parking, breakfast in a luxury lounge, special access to Universal’s back lot, unlimited line-skipping and a fancy lunch.

Fearful of puncturing its utopian image, Disney has stuck to a single class of ticket. V.I.P. tour guides are available, but Disney charges an exorbitant price — $380 an hour, with a minimum of six hours — to limit demand. Business is good at both companies. Universal’s 3 theme parks in the U.S. attracted 20 million people last year, a 19% increase from 2010. The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World recently recorded the busiest day in its 41-year history.

The amusement park industry urgently wants to expand profits without introducing costly new rides every summer. Universal, which recorded $953 million in profit from its parks in 2012, has no major new attractions planned until next year; the V.I.P. Experience, in the meantime, is a relatively low-cost way to generate revenue and send a message of bigger and better into the marketplace.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.