SME Speaks: Networking: It's Not an Obsolete Concept
Gathering with peers, swapping business cards, sharing knowledge, and even finding new jobs--these are the goals of the hundreds of thousands of people who participate in clubs, informal networks, and professional organizations like the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME). While networking used to happen over handshakes at meetings, luncheons, social gatherings and local coffee shops, it now also happens over electronic networks, online, with greater purpose, and on a global scale.
Over the last few decades, all our lives have become busier. People are working more hours than ever before, and we have less time to devote to anything outside our jobs and family. While those who consider networking a purely social function have reduced their involvement in organizations like SME, those who have used their memberships to share knowledge and become more competitive have found that networking is not only desirable, it is absolutely essential in achieving professional success for their companies and themselves.
In manufacturing, people all over the world are making the most of the business advantages of networking. They share relevant cross-industry knowledge that helps them become more competitive through the transfer of technologies and ideas.
There are many manufacturing technologies with applications that can cross industries. By sharing their knowledge with manufacturers from other industries, manufacturing engineers not only benefit themselves and their companies, but they are contributing to the evolution of manufacturing itself.
Take welding, for instance. Welding technologies apply in virtually every manufacturing industry. Automotive and aerospace industries generally use traditional metal-welding technologies, while the electronics and medical manufacturing industries make greater use of finer welding technologies that include ultrasonic, hot plate, vibration, laser, and spin-welding techniques. The materials they are joining tend to be more varied, as well, including everything from acrylic and nylon to polystyrene and PVC. At SME's recent flagship technical event, The SME Summit, speakers and attendees discussed the transfer of a variety of welding technologies across applications and industries. For instance:
- Kelvin Spain, president of the Radyne Corporation, a company focused on heat treating for many industries, shared hands-on samples created through new advances in induction brazing.
- Wayne Thomas, of The Welding Institute, winner of The Summit's best-paper award, introduced five developing friction-stir-welding technologies.
- Brad Tress of Precitec Inc., a company focused on helping companies find cutting and joining solutions utilizing CO2 and Nd:YAG laser technology, spoke on the quality-control benefits of laser welding in a number of applications.
Rapid prototyping and nanotechnology are two of the many other technology areas where professionals are working to share information and transfer knowledge across manufacturing industries. Boris Fritz, an engineer and senior technical specialist with Northrop Grumman's Air Combat Systems team, recently discussed the challenges involved in applying the emerging nanotechnology applications, which are being used more and more often in biomedical and automotive manufacturing, to the aerospace industry.
According to Fritz, given that nanotechnology deals with materials and systems that have dimensions of one to 100 nm, it was almost impossible for many to understand how this technology could be used in the aerospace industry.
But it is.
Nanotechnology is contributing to creating multifunctional nanocoatings that can provide corrosion protection using environmentally safe materials, sense corrosion and mechanical damage of aircraft skin, initiate responses to sensed damage (chemical and physical), achieve optimal adhesion and improve fatigue resistance, and display color on demand. It also contributes to the creation of lightweight, high-strength, thermally stable materials desirable in aircraft engines. In the future, as early as 2030, Fritz noted that nanotechnology will contribute to the creation of a Fixed Space Facility, or Space Elevator, that creates a physical connection from the surface of the Earth, at the equator, to space. And looking forward even further, it will be used to hollow out and terraform NEA (Near Earth Asteroids), and to grow new products from raw materials, "the way nature grows us."
I am proud to be part of an organization that is helping professionals learn from each other how best to apply technologies across industries. Today, competition continues to intensify among the companies serving each manufacturing industry. At the same time, most new manufacturing professionals will end up working for more than one industry during their careers. Technology transfer and cross-industry knowledge sharing are essential tools for companies, individuals, and for the continued evolution of manufacturing.
Teamwork Lays Foundation for Lean Certification
The new lean certification developed by SME, the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) and The Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing launched November 1 to its first group of candidates. The certification is the first professional lean certification designed for manufacturing professionals, and is expected to be the most rigorous and comprehensive program available for lean manufacturing practitioners. Based on the input of hundreds of lean professionals, this certification will help bring lean's proven benefits to companies whether they are mass producers or custom shops.
"This launch marks an exciting time for lean, because this certification provides manufacturers large and small with a standardized, legitimized, and credible toolset for the successful implementation of lean," says Doug Ferguson, of Ferguson and Associates (Rincon, GA). "I'm proud to have been a part of the process."
Overwhelming industry support from individuals and companies brought lean manufacturing experts together numerous times over the past year to lay the foundation of the certification. The volunteers joined together through virtual meetings and telephone conferences and in person to contribute to the certification's development from first thoughts to its recent launch.
"What we accomplished here is very important," said Ford Motor Co.'s (Dearborn, MI) Sue Sadler, lean development manager ford production system, and a participant in the development of exam questions. "The certification captures tools and techniques of lean, but also the leadership elements that are critical in a lean culture. This is the first time I've seen anything that's brought it all together in one certification."
The first level of the certification identifies certified lean practitioners who have demonstrated their solid understanding of the principles and tools of lean manufacturing, as well as their capabilities for tactical implementation that drives improvements. Because certified lean practitioners will be required to show results through the completion of project portfolios, the group created criteria tables that will be used to ensure consistent portfolio evaluation.
The mentoring portion of the program applies to all levels of the certification. In addition to the completion of the other steps, the mentoring portion will help candidates establish their effectiveness in leading lean transformations and demonstrating authority over assets, processes, and people. Over the summer, lean experts developed a mentor process flow chart, an application to become a mentor, a mentoring guide, and more, to lead that process.
While the first group of candidates undertakes the portfolio and mentoring portions of the program, volunteer beta testers are readying certification examinations. The program's first lean certification exams will take place in March 2006 at SME's Total Manufacturing Experience event in Los Angeles.
No Lone Rangers Here
SME is grateful to team members from industry and academia who worked to:
- Write and fine-tune exam questions using a rigorous validation process
- Determine precisely how a portfolio of knowledge and experience would be used to validate expertise
- Decide how mentoring will be used and judged as the third key element of the certification
In addition to the three partners in the certification's development, many organizations, institutions and companies have been involved including:
The Boeing Co.
Ford Motor Co.
General Motors Corp.
The Lean Enterprise Institute
The Pawley Institute
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This article was first published in the November 2005 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.