July, 2014

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New and Renewing Companies

Elk River Machine 
Decimet Sales 
Blow Molded Spec
Design Ready Controls
Bauer Welding & Metal
Priority Envelope 
Plasti Dip Intl
Gemstar Mfg
Caltronics Design 
Hydro Engineering
Turfco Mfg Inc
HLT, Inc.
Tennant Co
BTD Manufacturing
Gyrus ACMI/Olympus
Laser Peripherals 
ICA Corporation
Precision Gasket
Packnet Ltd
MGS Machine Corp
Millerbernd Mfg
Goebel Fixture
General Dynamics
Pentair Flow Tech
Thomson Reuters
Crystal Distribution
Midwest Rubber 
Nystrom Inc
Liberty Diversified
Lifetouch Inc
Andersen Corp

Completed Certifications

Jonathan Dinh-Baxter
Ku Thao-Baxter
Terry Cherne- Baxter
Amy Lambert-Baxter
Leng Moua-Baxter
Dave Stauber- Minnetronix
Jeri Betsinger-Bilfinger Water 
Karla Dorr-Star Exhibits
James Betram-Starkey
Mark Meeks-Baxter
Nou Yang-Baxter
Brian Gracek-Baxter
Doug Trittabaugh-Starkey 
Tom Lego-Surmodics
Drew Pauly-Surmodics
Sean Stucke-Surmodics
Matt Magon-Surmodics
Rock Mehrkens-Surmodics
Jesse Aubart-Surmodics
Karl Gilbertson-Surmodics
Sean Ploeger-Surmodics
Lisa Roberts-Surmodics
Jim Nelson-Surmodics
Kim Lindsoe-Surmodics
Adriyn Torguson-Surmodics
Beau Johnson-Surmodics
Kent Taylor-Surmodics
Karl Peterson-Surmodics
Aaron Jacobs-Surmodics
Carrie Doberstein-Surmodics
Nick Abbott-Minnetronix


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Article Index

Lean Leader of the Month-Bob Whittenberger-Wilson Tool
Article by: Bob Whittenberger

Bob Whittenberger, Engineering and Continuous Improvement Manager with Wilson Tool International in White Bear Lake, has been with the company for 26 years.

The Game-Changer -- How and When Outsiders Can Help Create It
Article by: Erik Dove

Every business is looking for the “game-changer”-- the new approach, the new product, the new account.  Something that radically shifts the financial prospects of the Company.

Discovering and Protecting Innovation within Your Company, Part II
Article by: Tye Biasco

Many of the best ideas for new or improved products or services do not necessarily originate in the lab or come from those who work in the lab.More frequently ideas come from employees located throughout an organization with diverse job responsibilities.

Legal Changes in Minnesota Affecting Your Business
Article by: Kelly Rietow, P.H.R., MBA

The Minnesota Legislature had a very busy spring session.Below are some changes to be aware of that may require changes to your employee handbooks or other policies.

MN Economic Outlook
Article by: Dr. Ernest Goss

Minnesota: June’s survey results mark the 19th straight month Minnesota’s Business Conditions Index has remained above growth neutral.

Lean Leader of the Month-Bob Whittenberger-Wilson Tool

Bob Whittenberger, Engineering and Continuous Improvement Manager with Wilson Tool International in White Bear Lake, has been with the company for 26 years.

Brief description of companies product and service offering:
Wilson Tool manufactures punch press tooling, stamping tooling, and press brake for the sheet metal fabrication industry. We provide standard and special tooling, in many cases on the same or next day from when it was ordered.

Where did you receive your Lean training/experience?
We started with PDG consultants, now known as Lean Partners of Minnesota, after an initial recommendation from Art Sneen from the Manufacturers Alliance on what companies aligned with the Toyota principles. I also gained a lot of knowledge from the Leaders Alliance Operations Management peer group that I was involved with for about 3-4 years.  More recently we have been working with Bruce Hamilton and GBMP out of Boston that many people know from the Toast Kaizen video.

How, when, and why did you get introduced to lean and what fuels the passion for Continuous Improvement?
My boss Chris Lawless had recommended that we read the Toyota Way as a management group back in 2004. As the Manufacturing Manager of one of our largest divisions at the time, I felt it was critical to see how we could use lean as a way to help control costs and maintain profitability- especially with the rising health care and supply costs we are faced with year after year. To answer what fuels my passion for Continuous Improvement: I would have to say that I have always found a lot of satisfaction is finding ways to save money and reduce costs. Lean has helped me to understand how to apply the tools and methods used to do this as well as the critical culture needed to sustain it and keep it going.

What are your current Lean oriented activities?
Our current activities relate to creating a Lean basic training program for our newer employees, Lean practitioner training, and deep dive events to gain better long term sustainment from improvements.

What were the lessons learned in leading or training your team on a Lean project?
I think the key lessons we have learned along the way are:

  • Starting with a consultant really helps kick start your efforts
  • Any process can be improved over and over again
  • Go to Gemba or “Go See” to observe and understand what is really happening in the process
  • Commit resources to lead the efforts and learn the tools
  • Culture is the most critical factor in making and sustaining improvements

What are the next steps in the Lean journey for your company?
Creating a culture of continuous improvement by engaging everyone-everyday here at Wilson Tool, training to have facilitators in several areas of the company leading lean activities, and collaborating with customers and other local companies on improvement activities.

How would you describe peer-to-peer education & training to colleagues?
Peer to peer education has been very valuable to me in seeing how other companies apply and use tools within their processes, which allows me to learn from their experiences, and adapt them to our company. Since many companies have different processes, it typically takes some “Go See to understand” methods before you can understand how it may apply to what you are doing. The peer-to-peer education and training provided by the Manufacturers Alliance & Leaders Alliance has been a great way to learn how to apply the lean tools.

Bob Whittenberger is currently Engineering and Continuous Improvement Manager with Wilson Tool International in White Bear Lake. He has been with the company for 26 years and can be reached at bob.whittenberger@wilsontool.com.

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The Game-Changer -- How and When Outsiders Can Help Create It

Every business is looking for the “game-changer”-- the new approach, the new product, the new account.  Something that radically shifts the financial prospects of the Company.

At times, the “game-changer” occurs because a Company can “ride the wave”: 1) the Company establishes a relationship with a customer, who itself has supercharged growth, and carries its vendors along with it; 2) the Company is able to copy a competitor and the approach yields great results for the originator and a couple other “me-toos;” 3) the Company hires some inexperienced salesmen who turn out to be superstars; or 4) the Company, through viral marketing or word of mouth, develops a product that the public loves. Companies that can “ride the wave”, however, are relatively rare. To become stable, sustainable and grow, most companies have to do it the old fashioned way – hard work, sound management systems and processes, and making good decisions.

The “game-changer” rarely emerges from the “C” Suite. Those in the “C” Suite are ordinarily stretched and focused on day-to-day operations. The daily demands of customers do not give them the time to engage in out of the box thinking and testing innovative approaches.  The focus instead is on preservation.  The focus is on continuing to do what works, not on experimentation and risk. Management continues in lock-step to promote their story and approach.

Accordingly, the “game changer” invariably arises due to the insight and vision of an outsider.  That “outsider” can be, and is apt to be, someone inside the company - a mid-level manager or low level employee in the company who has no real influence on management responsibilities.  The outsider may be a customer.  The outsider maybe a Board member or Operating Partner. Or, the outsider may be a true outsider – a consultant unaffiliated with the Company.

The outsider can cause the “game change” because he is closest to the customer or because he is not enmeshed in historical or accepted thinking. He can provide a radically different view of how the product or service may be embraced by the marketplace. 

We are all familiar with the phenomenon of looking at the famous optical illusion in which half the people see a beautiful woman and the other half see a witch and get locked-in to that image. The persons who see the witch must guide the others to see the beautiful women and vice a versa – they can’t do it on their own. In short, innovation and alternative perspectives come from those who are not “locked in” to the tried and true. They are the ones who will guide your company to the “game changer”.

How do you get the “outsiders” or the alternative viewpoint and insight unleashed in your company?

It won’t happen by simply hiring a good consultant, and it won’t happen just because there are employees, customers or other constituencies who might have incredible, “game changing” insights.

It happens when the “C” Suite decides to team with the “outsiders” both from outside the company and from within the Company. It happens when a conscious effort is made to create a forum, either formal or informal, and to set aside time to enable and provoke innovative thinking, fresh insights, new ideas and a torrent of energy that can drive companies to the next level. It happens through a methodology that opens lines of communication, creates ownership of a plan geared to the uniqueness of the Company, and energizes and focuses employees on the improvement initiative. 

Erik Dove is Managing Partner of Cornerstone Advisory Solutions headquartered in Minnesota. He was a senior executive at US Bank, TCF and Associated Bank. He can be contacted at edove@cornerstone-as.com

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Discovering and Protecting Innovation within Your Company, Part II

Many of the best ideas for new or improved products or services do not necessarily originate in the lab or come from those who work in the lab.More frequently ideas come from employees located throughout an organization with diverse job responsibilities.

“Non-inventive” employees have unique expertise and perspectives, which can produce high-value ideas.   However, when a company opens its invention disclosure process to all of its employees, the sheer number of submissions can inundate decision makers and become counterproductive.   Therefore, it is essential to optimize your company’s innovation process with a patent disclosure and incentive program.

The main point of a disclosure program is to encourage employees to present ideas rather than just sitting on them or letting them get lost in company red tape.  With all but the smallest businesses, intellectual property is being created by several people at many points within the organization. You have to be systematic about identifying your company’s intellectual property or you will likely miss out on opportunities to decrease costs, increase market share, or broaden your offerings.

When it comes to patents, consider using an invention disclosure form. These forms can be made available to employees, especially those involved in the invention creation process, and are used to collect the data necessary for completing a patent application—name of inventor(s), the date the invention was created, a description of the invention (including drawings) and the location of records that memorialize the invention, such as a lab notebook or a specific computer.1

Collaborative innovation doesn't happen by accident, either.  It typically only occurs when managers encourage, and the whole company buys into, everyone being a contributor. The central tenet of this belief is straightforward—that innovation is so deeply ingrained in everyone's job that employees ask themselves the question every day: "Is there a better way to do what I/we do here? How can we improve our products?" It's a mind-set that makes people excited to share new ideas and to embrace the notion that you only win as an organization when everyone's brain is engaged.

Supervisors will see this way of thinking take hold as they reward it with raises and bonuses.  They will also see it take hold when they celebrate it by making role models of those who bring innovative ideas forward. But the innovation mind-set is most effective when it's coupled with an institutionalized process that draws together employees from different levels and functions with some form of a facilitator.  Facilitators are necessary to get a group discussing, questioning and problem-solving as a team.  These groups are sometimes known as “innovation councils” or “workouts.”   Their name is not important, but their purpose is the same—to bring an innovation debate to those closest to your company’s products, services and processes.  These are the employees that, collectively, often generate the very ideas that allow a company to hurdle competitors while the competitors are focused on a huge breakthrough.

Patent disclosure and incentive programs can be implemented without excessive cost.  Some companies may just offer certificates of recognition or commemorative plaques to acknowledge employee contributions.  Some companies do not offer any physical rewards, but recognize the contributing employee(s) by naming products or processes after them.  Some companies provide additional vacation time or special perks like reserved parking spaces instead of monetary awards.  The point of these programs is to encourage idea submissions through some form of incentive.

While providing incentives and encouraging disclosure of innovative ideas are the drivers of a patent disclosure and incentive program, an often overlooked aspect of such a program is providing feedback to employees when submitted ideas are not used.  Sometimes there are great ideas presented, but those ideas will not work for your company.  Letting employees know exactly why an idea was not implemented allows them to either develop modifications that will make the idea useful to your company or explore using the idea in another business.  Failure to provide a communication loop with your employees will stifle continued submissions of ideas.

Another overlooked aspect of patent disclosure and incentive programs is that employees must know that there are no negative consequences to idea submissions.  If employees are concerned that submitting ideas that do not work could negatively impact their careers, especially those ideas in which your company invests or implements, employees will be discouraged from submitting ideas.  That contradicts the entire reason for disclosure and incentive programs.

Along those same lines, employees should also be encouraged to notify your company when they become aware that a submission has a flaw or could have negative consequences for your company.  If employees are afraid to disclose that there is a flaw in the idea or that maybe that idea is already patented by another company, there could be expensive consequences down the road that will only escalate as time passes.

Patent disclosure and incentive programs are becoming an ever more important tool in bringing new products and services to customers to maintain or increase market share.  The simple suggestion box no longer works in today’s fast-paced world of development because innovative ideas can be lost in the shuffle.  Further, relying only upon your “inventive” employees can result in missing out on the smaller ideas that may not be the next big thing, but could greatly impact your company’s performance.  A patent disclosure and incentive program does not have to expensive to be useful.  However, optimizing your company’s innovation by having a defined structure will make sure you get the most from your employees.

1If you would like a complimentary sample form or ideas regarding what else to include on the form, please feel free to contact me.

Tye Biasco is a partner 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 Tye at 612.349-3010/biasco@ptslaw.com.

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Legal Changes in Minnesota Affecting Your Business

The Minnesota Legislature had a very busy spring session.Below are some changes to be aware of that may require changes to your employee handbooks or other policies.

1. Minimum Wage Increase. The state minimum wage will increase to $8.00 / hour effective August 1, 2014. It will increase to $9.00 as of 8/1/15 and $9.25 on 8/1/16.

2. Women’s Economic Security Act.
This is significant new legislation in Minnesota and an overview can be found here.Key provisions include:

a.  Parenting leave. The leave requirement increased from 6 to 12 weeks, and includes prenatal care. This now mirrors the federal FMLA law.
b.  Pregnancy accommodations. Employers must provide more frequent restroom, food and water breaks and the employee is not required to present a doctor’s note. The Act also clarified that seating and lifting limits to 20 pounds do not constitute an undue hardship for employers.
c.  Definition of employee: 12 consecutive months of employment is no longer required to qualify for leave. If someone has a total of 12 months employment and worked at least half time during the past 12 months, the employee would be eligible. Watch out for this if you have a rehires or seasonal staff that come and go throughout the year. Applies to employers with 21 or more employees.
d. Familial Status. “Familial status” is now a protected class and prohibits discrimination based on having (or not having) children or elder care responsibilities. There has been a 400% increase in litigation in this area in the past 10 years. This applies to both men and women due to increased Family Caregiver Responsibilities in the workplace. Note: state contractors must update their Affirmative Action Plan to include familial status as a protected class. The state has set aside $100,000 to enforce this law in 2015. You can learn more about the Minnesota Human Rights Act here.
e. Use of sick and safety leave. There are two key things to be aware of and require updates to company policies:

  • Since 2013 employees have been permitted to use sick leave to care for a child, adult child, spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent, or step parent. The most recent legislation added mother-in-law, father-in-law and grandchild to this list.
  • Safety leave. An employee may use sick leave in order to obtain assistance needed related to sexual assault, domestic abuse or stalking. Safety leave is required to be granted up to 160 hours in any 12-month period.

f. Unemployment Eligibility. An employee who resigned or whose employment is terminated related to conduct that is a consequence of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking may be eligible for unemployment benefits.
g. Equal Pay Certificate. If you have 40 or more employees and hold state contracts of $500,00 or more, you will need to obtain an equal pay certificate from the state. Employers are required to examine pay differences between men and women not just by job, but by EEO category of employment (e.g., all technician positions, all clerical positions).
h. Discussion of wages. As of July 1st, it is not legal for an employer to prohibit discussion of wages in the workplace.

Kelly Rietow specializes in creating practical systems and tools that fit the culture, engage the workforce and develop organizational capabilities. For details Contact Kelly at 763.228.8496 or roosolutions@comcast.net

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MN Economic Outlook

Minnesota: June’s survey results mark the 19th straight month Minnesota’s Business Conditions Index has remained above growth neutral.

The index expanded to a regional high of 70.1 from 67.3 in May.
Components of the index from the June survey of supply managers in the state were new orders at 80.0, production or sales at 80.8, delivery lead time at 57.7, inventories at 72.4, and employment at 59.6. “There are more workers on Minnesota companies’ payrolls than ever before. Our surveys indicate that this expansion will continue setting a new record each month.  However China’s recent decision to reject the importation of U.S. DDGs, due to concerns over bioengineered corn, is a risk to the state’s bioenergy sector especially if other nations follow suit.  China currently purchases a between one-fourth and one-third of the U.S. output of DDGs that is exported, and Minnesota is the nation’s fourth largest producer of DDGs. Contrary to other food producers in the region, Minnesota’s expanded for the month,” said Goss.

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.

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