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A Question of Ethics

3 min read

An important consideration in engineering is ethics. Whether it is a product or a manufacturing process, there are ethical decisions to be made. How many safeguards does the process need to have? How safe does the product need to be? Can the product contain a toxic material because it is cheaper than the alternative?

Many times, guidelines from powerful organizations, such as OSHA, are available that enforce ethical decisions and to what degree they are to be enforced. Without these powerful organizations there would be little incentive for companies to develop enhanced safety features, other than normal market competition. Certainly the market could use safety features as a competitive advantage, and that does exist, but without harsh protocols and penalties, it is hard to believe that safety features would be implemented as readily as they are today. The reason is simply this: developing and implementing safety features costs money and creates many engineering problems that require solving, such as what feature is to be made, where to install it, and how effective it is. A company has little incentive to self-impose higher costs. Business decisions are made based on needs and profits; if there is no “need” for a feature and it costs more to implement, then there is no reason for it to exist. Safety protocols and laws provide the need in many cases.
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Lean Way to the Danger Zone

3 min read

Looking for motivation on industry topics, I searched around various sites and stumbled across an article on lloyds.com called Building Supply Chain Resilience. The article brought up something that I hadn’t written about yet; lean manufacturing, like most engineering decisions, has risks. This article specifically refers to the natural disasters in 2011 that left large businesses crippled and the negative effects that lean principles have in such cases.

The crippled, or even destroyed, businesses were suppliers for other businesses and manufacturing facilities, which then sell their finished goods to retailers. The effects of disasters reach deeply into the affected industries. Lean manufacturing principles, specifically just-in-time (JIT) production, emphasizes low inventory levels of raw materials, work-in-process, and finished goods so as to minimize costs. For companies that are in the affected disaster area, JIT is ideal because it means losses were minimized. However, if you practice JIT production, what happens when your supplier unexpectedly shuts down or is destroyed by a natural disaster? (more…)

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Customer Satisfaction Guaranteed

3 min read

I recently discovered an article by Beau Groover that outlines his less-than-ideal experience in a government office process. He notes that at one point he was “almost three hours into this process and had accomplished absolutely nothing.” While Groover is clearly experienced in process improvement and has a trained eye for seeing that his experience wasn’t favorable, the general populous would also find this experience distasteful. It doesn’t take an expert to know that you are unhappily accomplishing nothing and wasting time. At the end of the article, he correctly concludes that the customer should be kept in mind when process development and improvement. It’s true, the customer is the most important part of business. The customer is the driving force behind why your business exists and the goal of your business should be to please the customer and improve ways of doing so.
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“No Problem” is a Problem

2 min read

Most people don’t like problems and will make an effort to avoid them. More importantly, if there is a problem, nobody really enjoys admitting it, especially if that person is directly responsible for it. Managers may feel this way about the processes that they supervise. Managers shouldn’t shun problems. Shunning problems leads problems to be hidden and remain unsolved. It is a false conception that they are better off if there aren’t any problems. In this case, the only problems that are solved are the ones that can’t be hidden, such as (more…)

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Building Lean Muscle

2 min read

While I was in school I remember hearing a story from a fellow student who had an internship with a company overseas. She helped them start to implement a variety of lean processes, but wasn’t able to stay long enough to see it through. A few months later, she checked in with the company to see how things went. They told her that everything went great and all of the time they were saving in their improved processes allowed them to save a bunch of money in wages. Well, that is just a way of saying that they (more…)

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The “Lean Pill” Side Effects

3 min read

I stumbled across an article called Lean and Sick by Praveen Gupta. Gupta points out his gripes with lean systems, “Lean has become more of displaying numbers, reorganizing the floor and such, but still most businesses shrink as there is little focus on customers and not much impact on growth.” He has a good point. Lean does in fact help display (more…)

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Failure to Explore Failure

3 min read

Did you hear about the forest fire in South Washington caused by a diesel particulate filter (DPF) in late 2011, but was still under investigation? Well, it turns out that the DPF was indeed the culprit and actually adds danger to already hazardous situations.

An article by DieselNet on October 7, 2011 outlines the situation and its massive damage: “The fire started on September 7, 2011, and burned southeast through forested canyons and flat areas with dry grasses. The fire—mapped to cover an area of 3,600 acres (1,460 ha)—destroyed more than 100 structures, including (more…)

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