March, 2006

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Article Index

2006 Manufacturer of the Year Winners
Article by: Justin Dorsey
Congratulations to three outstanding manufacturers who have just been named 2006 Manufacturer of the Year winners. Skyline Displays (large-company), Intek Plastics (medium-sized company), and Navy Island Plywood (small-sized company) will be presented awards at a banquet for all MA members on April 13 in Eden Prairie. For details, see
Do's and Don'ts of New Product Transitions to Manufacturing
Article by: Rod Greder
"You need us to do what and by when?"
Compliance News Notes
Article by: Vija Kelly
Clarifications on Forklift Training Rules
Manufacturers Alliance Orientation
Article by: Manufacturers Alliance
Did you know we conduct at least 24 events a month for Manufacturers Alliance and Leaders Alliance members? Even so, many members are unaware of all the services and resources available through our association. Similarly, we find many company members attending an event for the first time, and were unaware that their company is a member.
2006 Manufacturer of the Year Winners
Congratulations to three outstanding manufacturers who have just been named 2006 Manufacturer of the Year winners. Skyline Displays (large-company), Intek Plastics (medium-sized company), and Navy Island Plywood (small-sized company) will be presented awards at a banquet for all MA members on April 13 in Eden Prairie. For details, see

Large Company Winner: Skyline Displays, Inc.
Skyline Displays is an incredibly creative manufacturer. So creative, that it describes itself as a marketing company-e.g., helping its clients brand themselves-rather than as a manufacturer. But as you all know better than I, the nature of manufacturing is that one can never sit still. So to its credit, Skyline has not rested on its laurels. It has memorialized in its corporate "Vision Book" its goal to "provide flawless product quality, processes, and services."

According to Brian Rome, director of manufacturing, "We made a conscious and much debated decision to use the word 'flawless.' 'Best' was considered, but we decided it was relative. 'Flawless' is absolute. Are we flawless in everything that we do? Not yet. But we have found that it gives us a constant and nonsubjective goal to shoot for. We're starting to see it pay off. In the first two months of 2005, our on-time shipments were 95%. In the first two months of 2006, it was 99%. In our business, when you ship on time, you get the benefit of higher margins because you're not paying hefty shipping costs with upgraded shipments."

At the core of its flawless initiative lies lean enterprise. As Brian says, "Ask anyone who understands lean, and they will tell you that the lean process is initiated with the customer." To that end, Skyline has recently added two service centers at the largest trade-show venues, one in Las Vegas and one in Toronto. The idea behind them is that they give clients the opportunity to rent booths within the venue city. The service centers each have fully operational graphics departments that can customize the look and feel of these exhibits. Moreover, the assembly areas of the service centers are equipped with internet-connected overhead cameras that enable the clients to view work in progress. (This ingenious approach was first implemented in Skyline's home manufacturing facility.) With this new initiative, Skyline takes another step forward in its search to be a flawless manufacturer.

Skyline Displays, Inc.
3355 Discovery Rd, St. Paul

Medium-Sized Company Winner: Intek Plastics, Inc.
Having interviewed many manufacturers over the years, I've observed that the success of lean manufacturing depends on the buy-in from senior management. There is no question about Intek's senior management: they view lean manufacturing as the centerpiece of their manufacturing strategy.

Rob Tracy is Intek's CEO. When he joined Intek three years ago, he immediately began to lead the organization's lean efforts by meeting with all employees in small groups to explain lean principles and articulate his improvement expectations. Management staff and union leaders jointly attended lean training sessions at the University of Kentucky. Employees were engaged through focused kaizen events led by Rob or external consultants. Engineering resources were allocated to continuous improvement (CI) efforts, and a CI team was formed to help drive change. Small successes were celebrated weekly.

Kevin Lillo, one of two Intek plant managers, was recruited by Rob to help accelerate the transformation. Kevin's thoughts on lean manufacturing reflect his understanding and commitment. "Having a formal CI team has pros and cons," he says. "On the good side, it establishes legitimacy for the lean transformation. With it, there is an identifiable 'Center of Excellence' where training and support are readily available. The down side is that improvement ideas may be generated outside of production, and implementation and sustaining tend to lack ownership. The result can be the behavioral equivalent of push instead of pull."

A recent restructuring merged the CI team into the plant organizations and effectively resolved this dichotomy. The plant managers are undeniably responsible for both daily performance and continuous improvement. Mike Simons, the manager of Intek's North Plant, recognizes the impact that lean brings to the business. A veteran of over 30 years, Mike is blending his depth of experience with a new set of tools to lead his plant to the next level.

Rob is clear about his expectations when he says, "What we strive for is absolute ownership of our continuous improvement efforts throughout the enterprise-from the shop floor to accounting to engineering. Continuous improvement is not the job of a special group of experts-it's everyone's job. It sounds simple, but it's incredibly difficult to achieve."

With regard to winning the Manufacturer of the Year award, Rob credits the recognition to the results achieved through the involvement of all employees and to their commitment to continuous improvement. Rob says, "While the commitment of the senior leadership team is necessary to successfully implement lean, the real work is done in the trenches, and they deserve all the credit." Adds Kevin, "We appreciate this award especially because it comes from the MA. We've come to see them as an indispensable partner in our lean journey and highly value their praise."

Intek Plastics, Inc.
800 East 10th Street, Hastings

Small-Sized Company Winner: Navy Island Plywood
Navy Island Plywood, named after the island under the Wabasha bridge in St. Paul, manufactures hardwood plywood veneers for kitchen cabinets, store fixtures, and furniture, as well as commercial interior doors. Begun in 1983, it now employs forty in its own 56,000-square-foot facility in West St. Paul. (Having visited its Web site in preparation for this article, I want to mention how interesting and useful the site is; see

Founder and president Jeff Stone is an articulate spokesperson for what the Manufacturer of the Year award means to him and his company. "Most manufacturers are continuously trying to improve themselves," Jeff says, "but what I've discovered about the continuous improvement process in our own company is that the evidence of success can be a long time in coming. In that regard, it's an odd and stressful process, because not every improvement campaign is going to be successful. What I have found to be unique about the Manufacturers Alliance is that our peers can often see the value in what we're trying to do before we can. This award is a good example of that. I know what we're trying to do, but it's hard for me to predict with clarity where this path will take us. But to know that our peers give value to our efforts really sinks in. It means something."

With regard to peer sharing via the Leaders Alliance groups, Jeff says he thinks the company tours are particularly useful as both a source of ideas for continuous improvement and an affirmation of how Navy Island has advanced when they see others struggling with issues they have already overcome.

Today, Navy Island's focus on continuous improvement is to strive for a culture in which employees think of themselves as engineers rather than laborers. That focus on empowerment has already resulted this year in a 30% improvement in efficiency.

Navy Island Plywood, Inc.
275 Marie Ave E., West St. Paul

Be sure to come and hear from these three companies at the April 13 Manufacturers of the Year ceremony.
Justin Dorsey, Director of Sales & Marketing, Advanced Capital Group located at 50 South Sixth Street, #975 Minneapolis, MN 55402. call (612) 230-3009, email, or visit

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Do's and Don'ts of New Product Transitions to Manufacturing
"You need us to do what and by when?"
How many of you have asked or been asked that question when transferring products from development to manufacturing? If your production group is surprised at the time of transition, then you have fundamental problems in your new product development process that could be fatal or at least cause significant inefficiency.

Recently, the Leaders Alliance Product Development, Production Management, and Manufacturing Engineering groups met jointly to determine the root causes of failure and explore best practices for transitioning products from development to manufacturing. Their conclusions follow.

As humans, we change only when the pain of not changing exceeds the pain of changing. Leaders Alliance members described the pain associated with transitioning products across functions as "frustration," "pressured chaos," "lack of accountability," "fear of unrealistic expectations," "finger-pointing," "boomerang effect/rework," and "growing complexity." The motivation to change is present and passionate!

Root Causes
Leaders Alliance members identified many possible root causes for transition breakdowns. One cause is nonmanufacturable designs or late design changes. Another is lack of accountability for slippages in schedules. Decision making can be slow, and too many people with conflicting agendas may be involved. Unrealistic and uninformed expectations can be an issue, as can insufficient time to plan and execute. Information may be incomplete or late, and internal customer requirements misunderstood. Finally, ill-defined engineering change control processes and lack of process discipline can be root causes.

The group then came up with recommendations to lessen surprises, decrease costs, reduce manufacturing failure modes, and make transitions less traumatic. These include:

  • Use cross-functional teams throughout the process to ensure red flags are raised earlier.

  • Keep designers and engineers engaged in the manufacturing phase after the transition to create empathy and understanding for manufacturing's challenges.

  • Implement success metrics for what manufacturing needs, communicate them upstream, and measure design's and engineering's performance in meeting these internal customer needs.

  • Ensure that the need-to-know information that flows through the process is timely, accurate, complete, and organized (TACO).

  • Pay attention to design for manufacturability, assembly, reliability, serviceability, and cost during the project definition and design.

  • Make better use of the prototype/pilot phase to capture information to help plan and optimize manufacturing; i.e., conduct well-defined and statistically sound pilot tests.

  • Use a checklist early in development to ensure compliance with requirements of downstream customers; e.g., bill of materials, manufacturing process lead times, training needs, packaging plans, technical publications, etc.

  • Use solid project management protocols on all projects to manage resources and control scope creep.

  • Ensure that individuals and teams are held accountable for results through the company's performance management process.

Best Practices and Benchmarking
To wrap up the session, Leaders Alliance members added to the group's body of knowledge by reviewing a best practices article on product design and manufacturing integration from the Journal of Product Innovation and Management. Listed below are the activities and behaviors observed in seventy-four Fortune 500 companies that were positively correlated to reduced tooling and facilities development lead time and to manufacturing cost reduction. If you are interested in copies of this paper, please send an e-mail to the address listed below.

  • Use in-process design controls (design standards and documentation, templates, checklists, formal stage-gate processes).

  • Collocate and/or provide ample opportunities for formal and informal communication throughout the product development process.

  • Provide training on concurrent engineering, design for manufacturability, and cross-functional product development team process.

  • Use integrated CAD/CAM across functions.

  • Deploy team rewards to drive project-level and corporate-level results above individual and functional goals.

Implementing these best practices and proactively addressing the root causes of transition breakdowns should help you avoid the question stated in the first paragraph and drive you toward seamless and world-class product transitions.

Leaders Alliance groups meet monthly. For more information, consult or call 763-533-8239.
Rod Greder, Ph.D. founded Breakthrough Forum, an innovation dialogue and accountability group, for product developers and marketers to tap the collective intelligence of their peers who have been there and done that., (763)443-1531.

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Compliance News Notes
Clarifications on Forklift Training Rules
One of our clients recently had an OSHA inspection during which the inspector questioned the qualifications of the person doing in-house forklift training. According to the inspector, they needed a "certified trainer." She went on to say, "Just because a person is trained does not qualify them to be a trainer."

What the OSHA Rule Actually Says.
There is no such thing as OSHA certification for trainers. It is not necessary to have outside certification.

What OSHA requires may be found on their Web site under Compliance Assistance for Powered Industrial Truck training: "1910.178(1)(2)(iii) All operator training and evaluation shall be conducted by persons who have the knowledge, training, and experience to train powered industrial truck operators and evaluate their competence."

How Could an Employer Determine the Qualifications of Trainers?
Because this appears to be such an area of misunderstanding and confusion, we will review the forklift training standard and OSHA's interpretations here:

"An example of a qualified trainer would be a person who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing, or who by knowledge, training and experience, has demonstrated the ability to train and evaluate powered industrial truck operators."
<img src=""align="left">Hazard Management is a consulting and training firm specializing in occupational safety and hazardous waste management. Call Vija Kelly at 651-697-0422 for more information.

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Manufacturers Alliance Orientation
Did you know we conduct at least 24 events a month for Manufacturers Alliance and Leaders Alliance members? Even so, many members are unaware of all the services and resources available through our association. Similarly, we find many company members attending an event for the first time, and were unaware that their company is a member.

We recommend that our e-newsletter and flyers are posted, and our emails are forwarded to interested parties within your company. We are also offering a new service to improve communication even further.

We can send an association representative to your company to conduct an orientation. Often Art Sneen, President, will come and discuss with select employees how they may get the most value from your membership.

Whether you are a new or existing member company, get the most out of your membreship dollars through a first-hand orientation. Contact Kirby Sneen at 763.535.2326 or ask for him at the next Monthly Educational Program.
The mission of the Manufacturers Alliance is to provide peer-to-peer training, education, and resources which inspire manufacturing companies to continuously grow, improve, and stay competitive.

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