December, 2012

A publication brought to you by the Manufacturers Alliance

Subscribe | Join MA
MA Announcements

Manufacturer of the Year
The Manufacturers Alliance annual Manufacturer of the Year awards ceremony brings local manufacturers together to celebrate and recognize companies that share information and experiences to strengthen the Minnesota manufacturing community.

You may nominate your own company or another manufacturer. Learn More


New and Renewing Companies
The Manufacturers Alliance would like to recognize all of the new and renewing members in the last 30 days.

ADO Products
Amesbury Group Inc.
Analog Technologies
Banner Engineering Corp
Big Ink Display Graphics
Bose Corporation ESG
Coloplast
D W Johnson Associates
Dane Technologies
Dean Mitchell
Denarius Human Resources
Dynamic Sealing Technologies,
EHS Strategies Inc
Fishbowl Solutions Inc
Foldcraft Company
Graco Inc
Greatbatch Medical
Instigate, Inc.
Integris Group
JB Group
Johnson Screens Inc
Juno Inc
Lexington Brainerd
Liberty Diversified Ind
Lundgren & Associates Inc
Lynn Burwell
M&A Executive Search
Marvin Lutz
Michael Foods- Gaylord
Nonin Medical Inc
Nortech Systems
Orange Tree Employment Screening
Pentair Technical Products
ProtoLabs Company Inc.
Quali Tech, Inc.
Red Cat Manufacturing
RMS Co
Robinson Rubber Products Company
Sifco Minneapolis
Spectrum Plastics Group
Standard Iron & Wire Works
Tech Logic Corporation
The Toro Company Shakopee
Thorud Incorporated
TSI Incorporated
Turck Inc
UMC Inc
Upsher-Smith Labs Inc
Vascular Solutions Inc
Viking Engineering & Dev
Visions
Wagner Spray Tech Corp
Water Gremlin Company
Water Works Manufacturing


LinkedIn
Connect with over 1,400 peers online through the Manufacturers Alliance LinkedIn group. Learn More

Leaders Alliance
If you want to look beyond your four walls for best practices and leverage the experience of your peers as your own, consider joining a Leaders Alliance peer group.

Upcoming Events

November 28th 2017 08:00 am
- Design of Experiments (DOE)

November 29th 2017 08:00 am
- Mistake Proofing.

November 30th 2017 08:00 am
- Employee Performance Management and Coaching

December 4th 2017 08:00 am
- Continuous Improvement Idea Systems

December 5th 2017 08:00 am
- Supply Chain Negotiation Strategies

December 6th 2017 08:00 am
- Standard Work

December 7th 2017 07:30 am
- Make to Order Lean

December 7th 2017 08:00 am
- Setup Reduction

December 8th 2017 08:00 am
- Leading and Training Improvement Teams

December 12th 2017 08:00 am
- Root Cause Analysis

Article Index

Eric chadwick small Striangle A New Year, a New Law: Patent Rights Under a First-to-File Regime
Article by: Eric Chadwick

At a Manufacturer’s Alliance event earlier in the year, we heard details about one company’s new product development process and how intellectual property considerations were taken into account.  While concerns over protecting intellectual property rights were not the primary driver in the process, they were important nonetheless. 


Jill kelby small Striangle The Positive Impact Of Ergonomics On Productivity—From The Shop Floor To The Office
Article by: Jill Kelby

Ergonomics is often thought of by companies as something to do to improve safety and reduce workers’ compensation costs.  While ergonomics can definitely play a role in safety, it is much more effective and profitable for companies to incorporate ergonomics in their everyday operations and quality departments. 


Drernestgoss small Striangle MN Economic Outlook
Article by: Dr. Ernest Goss

For a fifth straight month, the Minnesota Business Conditions Index slumped below growth neutral. The index, based on a survey of supply managers in the state, climbed to 48.4 from 47.1 in October.


John hehre 3 small Striangle Book Review: Vested Outsourcing*
Article by: John Hehre

Outsourcing agreements can provide benefits for both sides if they are structured well. The key is to avoid the “zero sum game” mentality so prevalent today.


ADVERTISEMENT
Striangle A New Year, a New Law: Patent Rights Under a First-to-File Regime

At a Manufacturer’s Alliance event earlier in the year, we heard details about one company’s new product development process and how intellectual property considerations were taken into account.  While concerns over protecting intellectual property rights were not the primary driver in the process, they were important nonetheless. 

Of course, it will come as no surprise that manufacturers try to exploit inventions to gain an edge over competitors.  What might come as a surprise, though, are recent changes in United States patent laws that make early attention to protecting inventions all the more imperative.

Beginning in March of next year (2013), the United States patent system will join the rest of the world by moving from a first-to-invent to a first-to-file process.  In the past, an inventor could receive a patent for being first with an idea, even if another was first to file an application at the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO).  But next year, a premium will be placed on getting an application filed as soon as possible after envisioning the invention. 

President Abraham Lincoln once remarked that the incentive-based patent system “adds the flame of interest to the light of creativity.”  By definition, those involved in manufacturing rely on their creative skills to develop and improve products to provide for the best interests of the company.  That won’t change.  But what will change are the methods by which smart companies will minimize risk and maximize their competitive edge through utilization of the new patent system.  A few methods that deserve special attention are set out below:

 

  • File patent applications promptly

Whether they be provisional or utility applications, getting something on file with the USPTO as soon as possible is a low-risk, high reward option.  The emphasis under the new regime is on being the first to file an application.  This approach is particularly true if the innovation has application outside the U.S. borders, where obtaining patent rights can be compromised or destroyed by inadvertent disclosures before an application is filed.

 

  • Use strategic public disclosures as a placeholder

The new provisions of the law allow inventors who publicly disclose their inventions a one-year grace period in which to file an application.  If utilized, such disclosures can actually prevent others from obtaining patent rights.  Moreover, an application that is accompanied by a public disclosure provides an exception that allows the disclosing company to get patent rights even if they file their application after someone else.  Great care should be exercised in using this approach, however, because such disclosures can have a serious negative impact on potential foreign patent rights. 

 

  • Maintain accurate records of commercial activities

Good records are a must on many fronts and the same is true on the defensive front of patent infringement.  Business records that demonstrate a prior public use by or sale to another can provide a defense to a later charge of infringement.  Likewise, being able to show that your company used a patented invention (even if the use was non-public) can also provide a shield with which to fend off costly litigation.

Obviously, the full legal reach of the new patent laws is a topic too complex for a short article.  Thus, efforts must be made to reach out to one’s legal advisor for assistance in developing a plan for the coming year and the changes it will bring.  By doing so, smart companies will ensure that the “flame of interest” will continue to burn bright.

Eric chadwick small Eric Chadwick is a partner and chair of the litigation practice at Patterson Thuente IP. Patterson Thuente IP is a full-service intellectual property law firm, dedicated to helping technology-based companies protect, and profit from, their ideas. Learn more about the firm at www.ptslaw.com or contact Eric at 612.349-5778/chadwick@ptslaw.com.

Back to Top

ADVERTISEMENT
Striangle The Positive Impact Of Ergonomics On Productivity—From The Shop Floor To The Office

Ergonomics is often thought of by companies as something to do to improve safety and reduce workers’ compensation costs.  While ergonomics can definitely play a role in safety, it is much more effective and profitable for companies to incorporate ergonomics in their everyday operations and quality departments. 

Ergonomics is best viewed as an integral part of a systems approach to continuous improvement rather than just a tool to improve safety.  In manufacturing as well as in the office, the lean concepts of waste and flow; the quality concept of continuous improvement; and the ergonomics concept of how work design directly affects human performance are a part of the same drive for competitive advantage in cost and service excellence.  These tools and their applications are synergistic, not independent strategies.

The biggest impact ergonomics has on productivity is on human performance.  There are several different human performance variables that directly affect the quality of products and services (2).    When the demands exceed the physical, mental, and sensory abilities of an individual, it results in the deterioration of human performance and a resultant decline in quality. 

Shop Floor

In manufacturing there are many opportunities to utilize ergonomics in the production process from the design of the individual workstations and layout of individual lines to the design of the overall production workspace and workflow.  This is where the synergy and simultaneous usage of lean, ergonomics, Six Sigma and systems thinking becomes vital to production optimization.

For example, consider a material handler whose job it is to stack boxes on a pallet positioned on the floor.  This task involves him having to lift, carry, and reach in a wide range of heights and distances.  Think about the effect this job design is having on this worker’s performance and the company’s production rate.  There is significant wasted motion and time involved with many of those motions being in the moderate-high risk level for injury.  Now add in some common work factors such as 12 hour shift; 4-5 days per week; and a seasoned worker, (i.e. 55 years old) and what do you think the impact on productivity will be?  Quite likely the worker will experience fatigue and discomfort which will result in him giving less effort in performing the task correctly, and he may also be content with slightly imperfect results to avoid more fatigue/discomfort.  The simple, cost effective solution in this case would be to have a scissor lift/turn table that would eliminate the time wasting/poor motions.  The result would be increased productivity, improved worker morale, less absenteeism and injury risk elimination. 

Let’s consider another example involving machine operators at a circuit board manufacturer whose job involves visual inspection and quality control of the inserted components. The workers had a less than stellar performance for detecting faulty items. Upon evaluation it was found that the illumination levels were inadequate for visual inspection.  Lighting changes were implemented and as a result, the detection rate of faulty items improved, and the process yield also improved dramatically. Operator productivity and process yield improved by 23% and 18%, respectively, while the injury rate was reduced by 19%.

Office

The same principles that are used on the shop floor can be equally applied to the office.  Again the goal is to maximize human performance—this time in front of a computer.  Providing workstations that have adjustable furniture and equipment so that each worker can make adjustments to fit themselves to the workstation plays a significant role in worker productivity, comfort and well-being. 

One example of the ROI of adjustable workstations was seen at American Express (1).  Their injury surveillance showed:

  • Minnesota facility: All user-adjustable workstations + proactive ergonomics program had the lowest injury/workers compensation rates
  • New York facility:  Only 10% of users in non-adjustable workstations; however, had 20% of all ergo issues
  • Florida facility:  90% of users in non-adjustable workstations; had the highest injury/workers compensation rates

They concluded that employees in non-adjustable workstations had:

  • 3x the cost (work comp + personal healthcare)
  • 20x direct injury MSD expenses

They also noted two additional benefits of user-adjustable workstations:

  1. No additional EHS or Facilities staff time to make adjustments with routine office moves
  2. Enabled desk sharing among multiple staff/different shifts

 

One of the most popular trends in the office, for both ergonomic and wellness reasons, is the sit-stand office desk.  The ability for workers to alter their posture between sitting and standing has shown several benefits including:

  • Combat “sitting disease” (4) (a term that is commonly used when referring to metabolic syndrome and the ill-effects of an overly sedentary lifestyle)
  • Helps to reduce stress levels much like that in exercise
  • Helps to reduce obesity by allowing for frequent movement which burns more calories
  • Moving often reduces the amount of strain put on the back and neck resulting in less discomfort
  • Increases productivity

Deciding to change a workstation to a sit/stand desk could provide your company a great number of benefits that includes increasing your bottom line. The investment is well worth the money and will be repaid by the increased productivity and reduced healthcare costs.

Conclusion

Ergonomics has several benefits beyond safety.  The impact on productivity and the bottom line can be significant, especially when integrated with operations and quality. Ergonomics plays a significant role in achieving the goals of lean thinking by reducing costs and improving productivity through eliminating waste (e.g., unnecessary motions) and reducing mistakes (improving quality).  By optimizing human and system performance a company will save time and money.

 

References:

  1. Evidence: Investing in Adjustable Workstations Produces Healthy ROI by Gene Kay, www.ergoweb.com, http://www.ergoweb.com/news/detail.cfm?id=2618
  2. Govindaraju, M., et. al., Quality Improvement in Manufacturing Through Human Performance Enhancement, Intergrated Manufacturing Systems, 12/5/2001, pg 360-367.
  3. Walder, J., et. al., Integrated Lean Thinking and Ergonomics, Material Handling Industry of America, 2007.
  4. www.juststand.org
Jill kelby small Jill Kelby, PT, CEA, is the president of Kelby Ergo Design, LLC., an ergonomics, lean and six sigma consulting firm specializing in human and system performance in the manufacturing industry. She can be contacted at www.kelbyergodesign.com, jill@kelbyergodesign.com.

Back to Top

ADVERTISEMENT
Striangle MN Economic Outlook

For a fifth straight month, the Minnesota Business Conditions Index slumped below growth neutral. The index, based on a survey of supply managers in the state, climbed to 48.4 from 47.1 in October.

This is the first time since the recession that the overall index has been below 50.0 for five straight months. Components of the index from the November survey were new orders at 36.9, production or sales at 40.5, delivery lead time at 63.6, inventories at 48.2, and employment at 52.8. “For 2012, Minnesota nondurable goods losses more than offset gains among durable goods manufacturers.  However over the last several months we have been recording losses, albeit small, across the manufacturing sector. Businesses linked to construction are reporting improving economic conditions. Our surveys point to slightly negative economic and job growth for the state over the next three to six months,” said Goss.

Drernestgoss small Dr. Ernest Goss of Creighton University, used the same methodology as The National Association of Purchasing Management to compile this information. An index number greater than 50 percent indicates an expansionary economy, and an index under 50 percent forecast a sluggish economy, for the next three to six months.

Back to Top

ADVERTISEMENT
Striangle Book Review: Vested Outsourcing*

Outsourcing agreements can provide benefits for both sides if they are structured well. The key is to avoid the “zero sum game” mentality so prevalent today.

Unfortunately, according to the author, many outsourcing agreements encourage counterproductive behavior that actually increases costs for the outsourcing company.   Although the subtitle of this book, “Five Rules That Will Transform Outsourcing” might be a bit of an overstatement, there are a lot of very solid ideas, processes and practices that provide excellent ideas for developing mutually beneficial agreements where both sides can maximize profits.

The book is divided into three sections. The first describes the benefits of well-established outsourcing agreements and describes typical pitfalls when those agreements are not well done. One of the most useful chapters in this section covers ten “ailments of traditional outsource relationships.” Chances are good that you’ll recognize quite a few of them. One of the common themes throughout the list is agreements where the organization providing a service has an incentive to raise revenue at the expense of the contracting organization. Agreements based on a fee per activity are the best example. The provider realizes higher revenue and profits by providing more than the contracting company may need or want. Another example is excessively detailed agreements. We outsource a product or services to a company that is, in theory, better at something than we are, then prevent them from using their expertise by over-specifying the activity.

The second section of the book describes the concepts behind Vested Outsourcing. The five rules are explained in detail. “Focus on outcomes, not transactions” encourages firms to avoid a simple fee for activity model that would provide the contractor an incentive to increase the number of activities or transactions in order to increase their revenue and profits. A focus on transactions also encourages the buyer to negotiate aggressively to reduce costs, leading to frequent changes in suppliers in an attempt to constantly reduce costs without any real improvement. The second rule, “Focus on the what, not the how” encourages the buyer to allow the contractor freedom to improve the product or process. Naturally, the agreement should be structured so both firms benefit from the improved operations.  “Agree on clearly defined and measurable outcomes” encourages both sides to clearly define the outcomes desired. The fourth rule, “optimize pricing model incentives for cost/service tradeoffs” provides suggestions for crafting an agreement that allows both sides to benefit from improvements in operations. The last rule, “governance should provide insight, not merely oversight” speaks to the notion that the relationship should foster a continuous improvement attitude on both sides of the agreement, not strict control mechanisms. Naturally, not every outsourcing opportunity has the potential to yield returns for both parties. There is little value in structuring complex agreements for the purchase of office supplies. The section also provides a framework for determining the potential value of a vested outsourcing agreement. Section 2 concludes with a discussion of the economic principles that drive a successful agreement.

The last section of the book describes the implementation steps required to achieve vested outsourcing agreements, from laying the foundation to managing the contract. There is also a companion book, The Vested Outsourcing Manual, written by the same author that goes into much more detail on implementation.

The book focuses primarily on outsourcing of services although many of the ideas presented are applicable to the purchase of products as well. The book is practical with good examples. A good read for anyone responsible for establishing, maintaining or overseeing outsourcing agreements.

* Kate Vitasek: Vested Outsourcing. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010

John hehre 3 small John Hehre is a senior operations executive and provides interim management and project based consulting to mid-sized private companies in need of transformative change. He can be reached at jhehre@cprocess.com.

Back to Top


Copyright © 2011 Manufacturers Alliance. All rights reserved.
Thank you for reading the Manufacturers Alliance E-Newsletter.