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Graphicast Receives International Recognition for its “Big Data” Project

Jaffrey, NH – Global business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan’s Manufacturing Leadership Council honored 100 world class manufacturing companies and individual leaders, including Graphicast of Jaffrey, New Hampshire, as winners of the 2014 Manufacturing Leadership Awards (ML Awards).

In a world of intensifying global competition and accelerating change, recipients of the ML Awards have distinguished themselves by embracing breakthrough innovation and enabling their companies to anticipate and respond to customers with unmatched agility.

Now in their tenth year, the Manufacturing Leadership Awards honor companies and individuals that are shaping the future of global manufacturing. Nominations were in nine categories for outstanding projects undertaken and completed by a manufacturing company, and were evaluated and scored by a panel of expert judges. Two categories recognized the achievements of individual manufacturing leaders.

Although a small company by industrial standards, Graphicast has been a pioneer in the use of detailed analysis of manufacturing and operations data to improve revenue and reduce costs. “Big data” refers to the massive amounts of information that many companies have collected on their operations that, until recently, was difficult to analyze effectively. New data analysis software, now available to even the smallest companies, makes this data come alive, providing rich and meaningful insight into the company’s operational trends and direction. Graphicast coupled data analysis with business optimization software, which allows the company to determine the most profitable path to grow the company and improve performance. The mathematics of optimization methods grew out of the necessities of World War II and garnered a Nobel Prize in Economics for their developer.

Graphicast also won an ML100 award in 2009 for its work on improving shop floor scheduling and work flow.

Manufacturing Leadership Award winners and their technology partners will be honored on June 5 at a gala celebration that follows the tenth annual Manufacturing Leadership Summit in Palm Beach, FL, a unique gathering of manufacturing leaders from around the world. The theme for the 2014 Summit is “The Next Industrial Revolution: What Will Your Company Look Like in 2030?”

Global Success – a tale of innovation and rebirth in Indian manufacturing

“Geoff Forester photograph, courtesy of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund”.

“Geoff Forester photograph, courtesy of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund”.

I had the great pleasure of spending most of the last two weeks in India. My wife and I were invited to attend the wedding of the son of a former work colleague. Besides the chance to spend time with an old friend and to absorb the fantastic cultural experience of an Indian wedding, we also toured many of the famous sites throughout the country. An added treat was a plant tour of my friend’s company, Pradeep Metals, Ltd. Started with his father over 30 years ago, the company has evolved from humble beginnings to become a world class supplier of nuclear grade steel forgings. This journey involved a dramatic change in markets served, additions of many quality standards, an ongoing lean manufacturing effort, constant reinvestment in new equipment and methods, investment in his employees, and a commitment to social responsibility. You could tell this story in any industrialized country and instantly identify the type of company this is – a modern, progressive manufacturing company committed to customer service and employee empowerment.  This level of sophistication is not unique in Indian manufacturing. This level of energy is also not unique.

Throughout India, in addition to the many palaces, forts, and monuments such as the Taj Mahal, you can feel an incredible energy. You see the little stores packed on top of each other in the crowded cities and in the smallest towns. A whole nation of entrepreneurs at work, with few breaks or downtime.  The roads are packed with trucks, cars, scooters, camel carts, bicycles, pedestrians, and the occasional cow or monkey. You’ll see a hand operated water pump next to a bank of solar cells. Universities advertise their degree programs on billboards along the highways. While you can’t escape the broad contrasts of luxury hotels located next to people living in the streets, there is a surging economy gradually making life better for many in this country of over 1 billion people. There are challenges of bureaucracy and corruption working against growth, but not enough to stop it. With a well educated work force, a familiarity with western business practices, and the rule of law prevailing, this seems like a country well positioned to be a focal point for expanding global businesses. I saw a huge difference in the country since my last visit of twenty years ago. I left feeling that even greater changes are at work and India is poised to be a major player in the global economy.

Manufacturers Need to Help Develop the Next Generation of Employees

“Geoff Forester photograph, courtesy of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund”.

“Geoff Forester photograph, courtesy of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund”.

Many manufacturers are concerned about the next generation of manufacturing workers. What if we have a manufacturing renaissance and nobody comes? The issues of relevant education, workforce preparedness, and  employee demographics have been some of the topics discussed at every gathering of manufacturers in the last decade. We can’t blame the education system completely. They may be on the wrong path in the eyes of manufacturers, but a question remains. What have manufacturers done to change the situation? Besides a lot of complaining, I think the answer is, not much. You need to get involved with the education process or there will be no change, or change not necessarily in your favor. So, what can you do? There are a number of opportunities if you just put in some time and dedication.

The first is to go visit your local schools, talk to the teachers and administrators, visit a class, invite teachers and students to visit your facility. We know from experience that educators know very little about manufacturing. They think it’s a dead end. Once they have a better understanding of what you do and the needs and opportunities available in manufacturing, they begin to realize that the headlines are not all true. The oohs and aahs you get from students seeing a manufacturing plant in operation are cherished responses. They had no idea how or what was happening in your factory.

Once past the introduction to manufacturing, we’ve found that working with educators to identify programs and courses to better prepare students for careers in manufacturing is a positive exercise. Although the wheels of education turn slower than those of industry, change is possible. Being a curriculum adviser to a program at your local high school or Career and Technical Education center is a rewarding experience and helps build trust and understanding between the business and educational communities.

Next, you need to make a commitment to educating the next generation. Internships, job shadowing, and apprenticeships are all appropriate methods for engaging with students. Even a small company, such as Graphicast, can have an impact. We have a college student from Keene State College doing an internship for us. She’s in their Industrial Safety and Environmental program and is helping us comply with the newest safety standards. We also have a high school student doing a job shadowing program. He comes in two afternoons per week to learn about manufacturing. His expressed interest in engineering is getting a real world test, and he’ll know much more about what he wants to do and where he wants to go to college after his time with us.

There are many other areas of advocacy where we can help improve the perception of manufacturing. Developing relationships with local colleges and universities, getting to know your legislators, and testifying on behalf of manufacturing related legislation are several areas of value. As manufacturers, we are faced with many daily challenges that we overcome to advance our companies. The educational and training issue is just another challenge we need to address if we are to prosper in the future.

Sailing in a Storm

“Geoff Forester photograph, courtesy of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund”.

“Geoff Forester photograph, courtesy of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund”.

I had a meeting of my CEO Peer Group on Monday.  As a treat to ourselves at the end of our 2012/2013 meetings, we met on the sailboat of one of our members, a 38 foot Catalina.  Moored at an ideal spot in Portsmouth, NH harbor, we boarded quickly and were soon in the Gulf of Maine sailing out to the Isle of Shoals, about ten miles off the New Hampshire coast. The weather was spectacular – a light breeze, calm seas, and sunny, with a few puffy clouds. The forecast was for the possibility of scattered thunderstorms later in the afternoon. No problem. It took about two hours to get out to the islands, and looking back we could see some darkening, but nothing too concerning. We spent the next hour conducting our meeting, enjoying the cool breezes and the slight rock to the boat. Getting ready to go back, we noticed a significant change toward shore. Scattered thunderstorms was not quite correct. A dark mass with some ugly clouds, indicative of a front rather than isolated thermal storms, was covering the shore. Now we were concerned that the weather was going to be much worse than forecast. We decided to head back,  stowing the sails and motoring at full speed. The seas and winds picked up. We headed in toward the coast,  then  turned to run with the storm a little to give us more maneuvering room. By the time we turned toward the coast again, the storm was upon us and we headed through it. The seas rose to six to eight foot waves and the winds exceeded 70 knots. It was more like being in a hurricane than a scattered thunderstorm. Even without the sails, the boat heeled in the swirling wind. Waves crashed over the bow. Our helmsman kept his eye on the seas and the weather, applied his knowledge of sailing and his boat, and got us through in good shape.  When we re-entered Portsmouth harbor the water was calm, and the sun was out. Damage on shore was significant, including parts of a nearby dock which had fallen into the harbor. Our experienced captain said it was the worst weather he had ever sailed.

The business metaphor of this trip is too hard to avoid. Know you business. Know your markets. Look at the forecasts. Enjoy the propitious weather and the profits of a good run. Be prepared for changes. Use your skills to navigate the worst economic storms, surviving with your business and bringing it to calmer times to prepare for another profitable journey. This sounds a lot like the last five years. There couldn’t have been a better lesson for a boat full of business owners.

Go Big or Go Home!

“Geoff Forester photograph, courtesy of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund”.

Go Big or Go Home. This was the title of an article by machine tool builder Mori Seiki about one of their customer’s decisions to buy some large pieces of equipment to give them a competitive advantage. The concept relates to much more than machine tool size.

In manufacturing, continuous improvement is a mantra of the Lean Manufacturing crowd. Small, steady steps in improving your day to day activities can lead to increased productivity, elimination of waste, and improved profitability. However, making a decision to employ these concepts in your company is not a small step. It is a big decision. It is a major cultural  transformation and a multi-year, if not a permanent commitment to a new operating philosophy. Going Lean is going big. The same could be said about committing to an ISO 9001 quality system. Or employing Theory of Constraints. Or adopting Quick Response Manufacturing.

Going big also relates to capital investments, new facilities, acquisitions, developing new products, or entering new markets. Although business people are  characterized as conservative by nature, making big decisions often requires bold risk taking and an audaciousness not present in the ranks of most corporate managers. Business dynasties aren’t created by just crunching numbers and analyzing data.  Mixing number crunching with guts and vision is what it takes to  make things happen. To paraphrase New Hampshire native son, newspaper editor Horace Greeley, “Go big, young man, go big”.

 

We’ve crossed the ISO 9001 finish line. Now the work begins.

“Geoff Forester photograph, courtesy of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund”.

We just successfully completed our Stage 2 ISO 9001:2008 certification audit . Our auditor’s findings will next go through a technical review by other auditors, and we should receive our registration information within four to six weeks. We managed to complete the entire process in just under a year, which is a credit to Dave Gregory, our quality manager, and the entire Graphicast team. Our employees embraced the process and the concepts of a formalized quality system from the start. Now that we’ve reached this point, the challenge of maintaining and improving the system remains in front of us. We’re looking forward to this next phase of the ISO 9001 journey.

We can see the finish line for the first step of our ISO 9001 journey

“Geoff Forester photograph, courtesy of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund”.

While Graphicast has always maintained a reputation for quality products, we did not have a lot of market pressure to become an ISO-9001 registered supplier. Our customers were happy with our quality system and we regularly passed quality audits. That is, until the recession hit us square in the face. We found very quickly that in response to the recession, many companies were actively strengthening their supply chains. Besides ensuring that their suppliers were financially viable, they were also trying to eliminate internal costs associated with working with those suppliers. One way to reduce costs was to reduce vendor audits and any vendor uncertainty. This put the pressure on us to be able to succeed in this environment. So began our ISO 9001-2008 registration and certification journey.

With a good production quality system in place. our efforts were aimed at the documentation and control aspects of the ISO quality system. We’ve made a lot of progress in the past nine months and just completed our certification stage 1 audit. Based on the results of that audit, we have our registration audit scheduled for the end of July.  If all goes well, we will have completed the first part of the ISO journey, getting our ISO 9001-2008 certification. Then the challenge of maintaining and improving the system begins. We’re looking forward to it!

Are You Ready for “The Sixth Wave”?

“Geoff Forester photograph, courtesy of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund”.

No, I’m not talking about surfing. I’m talking about an economic wave that’s in its early stage of emergence and will drive our economies for the next 50 to 60 years. In the 1920s, a Soviet economist, Nikolai Kondratiev, studied capitalist economies and noticed that they went through repetitive cycles of expansion and contraction. These  “Kondratiev Waves” last about 50 years. He identified the first wave as occurring in the early 18th century. His ideas eventually lead to his execution in the late 1930s, but other economists continued his work, trying to understand the reasons for these cycles. Although this theory is not universally accepeted, it does offer insight into societal, political, and technological changes that have occurred throughout history.  In the 1980s, Cesare Marchetti offered supportive research when he wrote about society as a learning system and decribed Invention/Innovation Cycles whose ebb and flow correspond to these economic waves.

The Kondratiev Wave consist of four periods. As liquidity expands in the initial phase of the cycle, commodity prices rise reflecting the increasing business activity and inflation. As business activity and inflation accelerate, speculators bid up commodity prices due to their fear that inflation will continue to accelerate. After the rate of inflation peaks and starts to fall, the acceleration premium is removed from prices. Thus, commodity prices start to fall despite continued but slowing inflation, a trend called disinflation. At the same time, a change in psychology away from fear and toward feelings of relief and hope induces people to channel the excess purchasing media created during disinflation into bidding up the prices of investment assets such as stocks. Because inflation continues, the wholesale prices that manufacturers charge for finished products, the retail prices that stores charge for goods and the levels of wages that employers pay for labor all continue to rise but at a continously lesser rate, following the rising but slowing trend of business activity and inflation. Near the end of the cycle, the rates of change in business activity and inflation flip to zero. When they fall below zero, deflation is in force. As liquidity contracts, commodity prices fall more rapidly, and prices for stocks, wages and wholesale and retail goods join in the decline. When deflation ends and prices reach bottom, the cycle begins again.

Most who subscribe to the Kondratiev Wave theory identify our current economic situation as being in the last phase of the fifth wave cycle. The authors of The Sixth Wave have suggested that the emerging wave will be powered by the economics and technology of scarcity. Those who can do more with less and reduce waste will prosper. Industrial trends such as Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, and Theory of Constraints are all associated with elimination of waste, reduction of variability, and improvement of production velocity. These practices support a Sixth Wave mentality. 

At Graphicast, we recently described our experience with a customer who worked with us to take an expensive assembly of four machined components and turn them into a single, economical casting that was stronger, more rigid, and less wasteful to produce. There are many more opportunities to reduce costs by redesigning and rethinking your needs, than by just making the old design “cheaper” by outsourcing to a low labor cost area. In the long run, the better design is the most productive way to succeed in the Sixth Wave economy.

Good luck getting ready for the next wave. We may not yet be out of the Kondratiev “winter”, but prosperity awaits those who embrace the upcoming “spring”.

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Taking Innovative Casting Technology to Your Bottom Line™

Graphicast Inc.

PO Box 430 36 Knight Street,
Jaffrey, NH 03452
phone: 603-532-4481
fax: 603-532-4261