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How Manufacturers Are Innovating in 2021

As they do every week on Twitter from 2-3pm EST, the great people behind #USAManufacturingHour (@DCSCInc, @CvtPlastics, and @SocialSMktg) lead powerful and informative discussions about the latest topics in manufacturing. This blog is sourced from discussions from the inaugural #MfgHour Virtual Networking Mixer. 

Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes—this is especially true in the manufacturing industry. While the manufacturing industry contributes a whopping 11% to the overall United States GDP, 75.3% of American manufacturers have fewer than 20 employees.

In short, the small business manufacturers of America continue to carry the weight of the economy on their backs.

This is no small feat, especially considering some of the staffing challenges that have plagued manufacturers of late. Despite 8.6% of the United States workforce being employed in the manufacturing industry, 89% of manufacturers report they are having trouble finding qualified workers. 

There are many factors that have contributed to the recent growth of this issue. This is a dilemma that demands industry-wide attention—and in some cases—a fundamental rethinking of business operations.

The future of manufacturing will demand a lot from businesses both big and small. While every manufacturer is unique in terms of their product and service offerings, one theme holds true—innovation is necessary. 

Small Change, Big Result

One of the most curious elements of innovation is that change often starts small. 

Let’s take a step back from manufacturing for a second—this is a theme that holds true across society at large. For example, the average person does not contribute an alarming amount of greenhouse gas emissions. The effect, however, is cumulative—while a single person’s actions don’t dictate the fate of our environment, the aggregate sum of every individual’s actions do in fact help dictate it.

Sure, this is a relatively moribund example, but it does effectively illustrate the point that small actions often have big consequences.

lightbulb idea graphic

In manufacturing, finding innovative and creative ways to increase the frugality of your production while upholding the standard of excellence that your customers and clients have come to expect is certainly no easy task.

Cathy Beck of Grey Sky Films has seen this play out firsthand. Videography had been disrupted by the pandemic—without the ability to have frequent site visits, it was time to think outside the box.

Cathy and her team worked hard to create custom content databases for her clients to access virtually. This not only satisfied her existing client base, but this methodology functioned so smoothly that it led to additional clients coming on board.

In the Beck household, finding innovative solutions is a family affair. Years ago, her husband helped a snack food manufacturer save a significant amount of money and resources with one, small change in product packaging:

“They realized that by minimizing waste by 1/10th of an inch would save them a ridiculous amount of money by the end of the year. Think about that, how tiny that was but how effective it was.” 

Not every innovation has to be a novel invention or a reality-shattering epiphany. Sometimes, all it takes is taking a more detailed and organized approach to the things your business already does well. And as the oft-quoted cliché goes, good things come in small packages. 

Lean Manufacturing Processes

Most of us have found ourselves in a position like this before: we are so hyper-focused—some may say “obsessed”—on the end result of a professional goal that we lose sight of what’s directly in front of us.

In other words, sometimes we put the cart before the horse.

Task management is vital in nearly every industry. In manufacturing, it takes on an elevated level of importance.

People have a tendency to keep their blinders on, especially when it comes to over-focusing on the final outcome of the product. That’s not a bad thing on its own—it’s obviously important to have a clear picture of your end-stage product.

Having only the end result in mind may cause someone to overlook various, crucial aspects of the production process—utilizing more fuel efficient machinery, finding more durable materials, and even assessing how your equipment is arranged on the production floor.

Lermit Diaz, CEO of SCTools, knows a thing or two about how important it is to focus on every detail of the lean manufacturing process. His approach: the size of the change is not as important as the consistency and dedication to every detail that serves the overarching goal:

“The small steps will encourage you to get that objective and you move to the next one and the next one.”

Gina Tabasso from Dar-Tech, Inc shares a similar perspective when it comes to keeping projects and production in scope. As we mentioned earlier, the vast majority of American manufacturers have less than 20 employees. In other words, not every company’s eyes need to be locked in on the jaw-dropping figures that companies like Apple and Volkswagen produce:

“You don’t need to be innovative on a global scale with your company or a process or project – it can be in your individual jobs.”

At the end of the day, make sure that you know what your end goal is—but don’t get lost in chasing it. Take your manufacturing process one granular step at a time. 

Adapting to Modern Manufacturing Methods

Every year brings industry wide change to manufacturing processes and the manufacturing industry as a whole. In 2020, we all experienced just how quickly change could be ushered in. 

For many in the manufacturing industry, it was time to upgrade their online presence. This meant seizing the opportunity for change in a way they hadn’t before.

When asked if anything changed in his marketing efforts, Noah from ArtusCorp summed it up succinctly:

‘”Absolutely. Yes, it changed. I would not be sitting here talking to you guys without that.” 

Sometimes the speed of change is overwhelming. In modern manufacturing—especially small business manufacturers—this is often the norm.

life cycle concept

Sometimes the speed of change is overwhelming. In modern manufacturing—especially small business manufacturers—this is often the norm.

Many who were not privy to the digital marketing landscape prior to 2020 found themselves entering 2021 much more knowledgeable on the various mediums that can be used to connect with customers and clients alike. 

One medium, Instagram, has been a boon for manufacturers as of late—some manufacturers have been able to utilize Instagram for making connections, showcasing products, and even making sales. Jen Wegman of Insight Information Solutions has seen firsthand the benefits that Instagram has to offer:

“I would target fabricators and woodworkers who needed castors for their stuff and we would get consistent leads on Instagram and you’d think, ‘why is a manufacturer on Instagram?’ You’d be surprised.”

Forming connections and fostering relationships with sales goals in mind is nothing new. But this year, many manufacturers have discovered new and creative ways to accomplish this goal.

Wrapping Up

Modern manufacturing innovation comes in many forms. More often than not, it’s new technologies that drive innovation by finding novel ways to increase efficiency. Other times, it’s repurposing existing technologies to better fit the needs of a growing business.

Beyond technological advancements, manufacturing innovation also arrives in the form of new methodologies and processes. Your end goal remains the same—the path you take to get there, however, has shifted.

No matter the size or the shape of innovation, it is always just around the corner.

How to Gather Requirements for ERP Implementation

When choosing an ERP for your organization, don’t make the decision based on another business’s experience. Often, the same system could be both super-efficient and non-efficient depending on the specific needs of the business. 

The best way to thoroughly implement an ERP? Involve your employees in the process.

Where To Start

As you assess the requirements that an ERP will need to functionally support your business, you should evaluate the status quo. 

Every organization has bogged down, bottlenecked processes that hinder progress—

analyzing your organization’s bottlenecks is the first step in determining the reasons your business will benefit from implementing an ERP. As you do this, define the main goals that you’re hoping to achieve by implementing a new software solution. 

Invite your team to collaborate—you’ll need as many insights as you can to develop a clear picture of what your business needs in terms of an ERP solution. Don’t limit your collaboration to the C-suite. Everyone in your organization—from the CEO to the newest intern—will be able to give you valuable insight into the different requirements different members of your organization require. You can also include a third-party ERP consultant to get an outside perspective. 

Prioritize The Processes You Need

cloud computing graphic

The selection of ERP software mainly depends on your business’s specific areas of need. For example, if you’re looking to manage your projects more efficiently, you should enlist the services of a software system focusing on project & portfolio management

Together with your team, understand which processes your business places a priority on. 

Your first task: gather feedback from as many members of your organization as possible. A good way to optimize the process is to send each employee a questionnaire to collect as many independent opinions as you can. 

The next step: sit down with your employees that deal with the most frustrating bottlenecks your business has. They deal with them directly, so they’ll be able to give you the clearest picture in terms of what part of the process needs to be adjusted. 

Brainstorm with your team to define the specific pain points that your employees identified. This list of needed features and improvements will guide you in choosing an ERP. 

List Your Requirements 

After you have collected enough data to analyze, it’s time to make a list of the specific ERP functionalities that your organization needs. 

Your Requirements Should Be:

Avoid high-level descriptions and turn the pain points that your employees voiced into specific requirements. 

For example: Your employees spend too much time manually tracking financial flows → The Erp software you choose should have extended automation functionality for financial management, including keeping detailed financial records on all of your  projects, should allow you to check their status anywhere, any time, and should generate financial reports at time intervals of your choosing. 

You should be able to clearly determine the value that certain upgraded features will add to your business. 

For example: track how many hours are saved by ERP automation. If your employees are manually entering data in Excel, track how many hours were saved as a result of automation. In this way, you should be able to easily calculate the return on investment of your chosen ERP.

Don’t fall victim to unrealistic expectations—a software is only a software. There is no magical solution that will mend your business ailments overnight. The right ERP will act as a catalyst for your business—make sure that your employees are working diligently to make the most of the powerful new tools at their disposal.

Making The Decision

person looking at software

After you’ve formulated your requirements list, it’s time to choose the ERP software you want to use. Most ERP vendors offer a free demo of their product. These demos are custom-tailored to give you a preview of what specific functionalities the ERP can offer—make sure you choose an ERP that is deft in handling all of the delicate intricacies that only your business needs. 

Make the most of the ERP providers’ experience. Utilize their team of software experts to ensure that their solution is able to be a comfortable fit for what your business needs.

Technical implementation is a major factor to consider. If you have an in-house team of developers, consult with them before making a decision. They will be able to provide insights that someone less tech-savvy may have glanced over. 

If you don’t have a team like this on your payroll, enlist an ERP that is able to walk you through and assist you with the oft-complex process of data migration and implementation. 

Training Your Employees 

The successful implementation of your new ERP isn’t the end of the journey, it’s really just the start. Your employees need to learn how to use the system. 

Although your enterprise resource planning software was designed and developed to digitize your organization’s processes and increase employee efficiency, many of them may be reluctant to learn how to use a new software. Your task here will be to communicate the value of the system and to teach your employees to build new and better professional habits. 

This is an arduous task at first glance, but there’s good news—most ERP vendors offer personalized support & employee onboarding. Not only will a team of experts develop a software tailored to your businesses specific needs, but they’ll show you the ropes and train everyone in your organization on how to get the most of the software. 

Wrapping Up

The prospect of shifting the entirety of your business’s operations to a new ERP can be daunting on the surface. But like most things in life, breaking down this large undertaking into digestible chunks will help you through the process.

The Best Steps To Follow In This Process: 

  • Gather as many insights from as many employees as you can
  • Determine the main objectives of ERP implementation
  • Make a list of the specific ERP functionalities you need 
  • Prioritize them in order of importance
  • Talk to your ERP vendor
  • Implement the ERP
  • Utilize the ERP’s vendors expertise in teaching your employees how to use the software

ERPs contain a wide-ranging set of functionalities across an even wider range of industries. Not every ERP will be perfect for your business, but don’t fret—the perfect ERP for business is out there. 

Data-Driven Decision Making: A Guide To Working Smarter

We all have hunches. Whether it’s at work or at home, we often rely on our gut.

Sometimes, it points us in the right direction. (Yes, that person across the bar did in fact smile at you.)

Other times, it keeps us out of harm’s way. (Aren’t you thankful that you dodged that foul ball with almost no conscious effort?)

While your gut is a valuable resource in scenarios like these, it can often lull you into a false sense of security for those looking to translate natural, instinctive insight into the business world.

There will always be those special, gifted few. You know, the ones who are able to make sense of and intelligently act on overwhelmingly complex data sets using only their natural brainpower. 

There are exceptions to every rule. Always have been, always will be.

But when it comes to your business, don’t bet on the exceptions. Bet on data-driven decision making. Let’s find out how data-driven decision-making can help your business. 

What is Data-Driven Decision Making?

According to Northeastern University, data-driven decision-making can be defined as “the process of making organizational decisions based on actual data rather than intuition or observation alone.”

To break it down even further, there are two types of data that will be relevant to your business: quantitative and qualitative data. 

Quantitative data focuses on cold, hard numbers. Sales figures, employee turnover, and shipping costs are examples of quantitative data.

Qualitative data focuses on non-numerical data. Examples of qualitative data relevant to your business would include things like employee interviews, customer reviews, and the job satisfaction of your employees.

data funnel

Both are important, yet neither provides a complete picture of your business and how it can build and sustain future success. When successfully cultivated, categorized, and deployed, these two types of data sets can transform the way your business makes decisions. 

Why Data-Driven Decision-Making Is Important

Sticking to the data allows systems and their respective algorithms to be strong in areas where humans are notoriously weak—acknowledging bias and false assumptions. Computers remove the ever-so-fickle emotional component of decision-making that more or less defines our humanity.

By allowing technology to guide and assist you along your decision-making process, your business will reap tangible benefits. 

  1. Reduced spending – If your technology is able to guide you in a more innovative direction (i.e., making less of one product than others) then your process has already begun to bear fruit. Ideally, allow data-driven decisions to limit waste.
  2. Faster decisions – Instead of belaboring over a decision and arguing over fickle details as a deadline approaches, allow data to make the best decisions for you. When a decision is able to be backed by data, the more sound that decision will be. 
  3. On-the-fly improvements – One of the best—and often most belaboring—things about data is that it is always shifting. While this may seem tiresome at first, it serves a purpose. By having access to a continuous stream of up-to-date information, you’ll be able to adjust your projects on the fly based on the most accurate information.

How to Support Data-Driven Decisions

It’s one thing to acknowledge the importance of how data-driven decision-making can help your business, but it’s another thing entirely to act on it. So how can your business use data to its advantage?

Before this process begins, some housekeeping is in order—organized data is the best data.

Let’s start by running through a list of questions to ask yourself:

What goals do you aim to achieve from making data-based decisions?

Are you primarily focused on brand awareness or conversions? Is your goal to improve an existing product or to launch a new one? Are your efforts focused on customer retention or customer acquisition?

Where does your data come from?

Is your data reliable? Has it been cross-referenced and analyzed for its authenticity? Have you gotten input from all of the pertinent employees from different silos of your business? Beyond all of that, is your data secure?

In what ways, if any, are you able to universally and easily view all of your data?

Can your data be viewed in digestible formats? Do you have dashboards, charts, and metrics accessible from all kinds of devices? Can your data infrastructure adapt to your growing and changing business needs?

filing cabinet computer

If you feel that you haven’t adequately answered these questions, that’s ok. There are plenty of ways to keep your data organized and all in one place.

Data for data’s sake is only valuable for mathematicians and scientists. For the 21st-century business owner, data needs to be clear, concise, and actionable.

Data-Driven Decision-Making Examples

No matter the size of your business, your business generates data. Whether it’s customer financial data, employee feedback, or social media activity, business data comes in all shapes and sizes.

While all data is valuable and useful, not all data serves the same purpose. For example, datasets containing customer transaction history won’t necessarily help you build a better HR department. A car is a great method of transportation—until you reach the ocean.

Let’s take a look at how businesses big and small used data to drive them toward profitable decision making:

  1. Netflix’s Hyper-Specialized Content – As a pioneer of mass digital streaming, Netflix has a huge subscriber base. Now, you’ve probably heard people say “You can’t please everyone.” Well, Netflix has come awfully close. By analyzing scores of consumers’ watching habits, Netflix has been able to tailor content specifically to their target audiences. One of their first success stories using data to drive their decision-making? House of Cards.
  1. Google’s Project Oxygen – In 2008, Google embarked on an ambitious journey to figure out how to better scout and develop managerial talent. They sourced lots of data points—performance reviews, technical assessments, surveys, etc.—and came to the conclusion that there were 8 main points that led to managerial success. In this case, data enlightened us that “having key technical skills” was the least consequential managerial asset. Who knew?
  2. Horne Label Manufacturing Success – Data-driven decision-making isn’t just for mega-corporations. Horne Label, the largest manufacturer of custom labels and tags in North Carolina, realized that they needed to work smarter. Feeling unorganized and limited by their current methods, turned to the help of a trusted ERP to improve their processes. By taking advantage of the streamlined automation and virtual dashboards now at their disposal, Horne Label was able to cut order input time by 50%. Beyond that, they can now view their data from anywhere, on any device. 

Your Data Is Unique

Every business has data, but only your business has your data.

It seems like an obvious point to make, but for some businesses, it’s not so clear. In our copycat culture, companies and business leaders are always aiming to replicate the success of their peers and competitors. This is great in many ways—the best innovations and ideas are often directly sourced from older, less fleshed-out concepts. But in other ways, it’s detrimental.

Instead of looking at the insights and profit margins that have come from large corporations analyzing their data, it’s best to look at how and why they did it.

Rather than asking “What kind of success and profit did their data analysis generate?” you should ask yourself why they chose to analyze data to begin with, and how exactly they went about parsing it. 

With all kinds of data solutions out there, it’s important that you choose the right one for your business. But one thing is for sure—data-driven decisions are the best decisions for your business. 

Striven Hosts #MFGHour: Keeping Your Digital Office Organized

A special thanks to #MFGDay organizers CVT Plastics, DSCS, Inc., and Social Success Marketing and to everyone else who spent the day chatting with us on Twitter about manufacturing!

The topic: Organization is key. The importance of keeping an uncluttered physical workspace is apparent, but have you been able to tidy up your desktops and data storage systems too? In today’s fast paced environment, it’s important to have accurate, complete, and organized information at your fingertips at all times. Time spent searching for lost files, sifting through duplicate spreadsheets, and hoping old hardware and software will somehow begin to run faster will take a toll on your businesses efficiency, and in effect, your bottom line.

File Organization

striven MFG hour Q1

“My computers are squeaky clean. I keep a very neat and well-organized file system too. I find a tidy work environment, both physically and digitally, makes for better productivity. It’s a code I live both, both and work and in my personal life.” –Foxmere Technologies

Believe it or not, I began working on this project in mid-December and ran into a little snafu when my external drive had a mechanical problem. It’s certainly a timely question. #USAMfgHour” – Felix C. Nater, CSC

I start but then I get sidetracked. I really do need to do it though. #USAMfgHour” – DCSC, Inc.

Striven’s answer: When working on a project, I try to set up my organization’s infrastructure ahead of time (file locations, team member coordination, etc.) Since I’m only human, I like to take a look at the end of each week to make sure everything is neat and tidy.

Old Technology

“Your guess is as good as mine. I would like to think somewhere around 5 years old. Still runs well though! #USAMfgHour” – Crescent Software, Inc.

“A client of mine in the technology space changes their computers every two years. #USAMfgHour” – Ruby of Social Success Marketing

“Well, since we all are working remotely and have laptops, they are brand spanking new. We got to pick what we wanted! #USAMfgHour” – Dar-Tech, Inc.

Striven’s answer: The average age of an office computer in 2020 is about 4 years. Converted into human years, that’s pretty old. In fact, it often costs businesses more money to keep their outdated computers than it would be to replace them with newer models.

Workplace Efficiency

striven MFG hour Q3

“We use 5S and other lean management systems. We are such fans that we have free guides and infographics to help others use it easier.” – Graphic Products

“We visit this every week at our staff meeting. We ask the question: How can we do better than last week? It works! We typically find 1-2 things we can make more efficient. #USAMfgHour” – Dynamatic

“I look at things I do all of the time and how long it takes to do those things. If I can find ways to shorten the time, I do whatever I need to in order to cut out wasted time.” – CVT Plastics

Striven’s answer: A method that I practice regularly is to assign tasks to employees and groups of employees. Some tasks take a day, some take a month, and some may not come to fruition until years down the road. Setting goals and sticking to them leads to optimal efficiency.

Organizational Skills

striven MFG hour Q3

“Organization is a huge asset. It helps keeps the entire company working efficiently. We do have a written organizational system in our Company Policies and Procedures document. #USAMfgHour” – NJMEP

“I place a huge priority on organization. When starting a project, I set folders up that I will need to keep everything in proper order. When adding to the project or if I need to reference something at a later date, I know exactly where to go. #USAMfgHour” – RICO Manufacturing

“Organization is key for me and I guess I’m kind of a perfectionist about it. I really am quite organized even though my answers today are appearing that I’m not. I am always striving for better! We are in the process of writing policies for organized data.” – Obsidian Manufacturing Industries, Inc.

Striven’s answer: For me, it’s a huge priority. When someone shows extreme attention to detail, it really demonstrates how much they care about their work. In software, it’s huge. In manufacturing, it’s even bigger considering how many moving parts there are in any one organization.

Employee Feedback

striven MFG hour Q5

“I talk to myself…make a few notes then discuss it with my co-director. By the time we have finished, we’ve had some great outcomes. When dealing with clients we guide their facilitation. #USAMfgHour” – Nigel T. Packer, Pelatis

“We are supported by a good IT department off campus, and we have a dedicated IT person in the office. #USAMfgHour” – SpaceGuard Products

“This is where deep business empathy plays a huge role. Understanding the needs of the business and partnering to meet those needs. When people with strong technical skills add that perspective, they have a tremendous impact.” – Dondi Scumaci, Best Selling Author & International Speaker

Striven’s answer: I always let my staff know that their opinions are welcomed, there’s no such thing as a bad suggestion. Innovation is messy, ideas should always be flowing. Employees can talk to their immediate supervisor as well as request an IT support ticket from the appropriate party.

Achieving More

“Me. I’m in the way of myself. I’m the bottleneck in my business so I will have to find a way to scale. #usamfghour” – Jen Wegman, Insight Information Solutions

“What a great question. #1 Build the best sales team. #2 Money has always been something standing in the way.” – SCTools

“From a personal point at work I want us to grow (I’m working on that) become more efficient (capital investment for new machines, software & training), and be the local “go-to” for CNC machining! #USAMfgHour”- Neil Hussey, TruTurn Precision Engineering