Most Disruptive New Paradigm Technologies

February 27, 2010

What are the most powerful, the most disruptive new paradigm-shifting technologies for manufacturing?

TIP-TIG 2009 North American welding package introduction

That’s a harder question to answer than what people realize, and many people would answer it differently. I’m going to answer it myself in this article, slanted toward welding. But the biggest power of the question lies in the searching and the analysis, because ultimately that’s not the question that needs answered. The question that any leading company executive or engineering manager really needs to answer is this one:

“Which new paradigm-shifting technologies can I take full “disruptive” advantage of in my marketplace segment or new segments?”

Answering that question effectively requires research and analysis, as well as a keen visionary eye.  Because in evaluating a new technology for feasibility and disruptive profit potential, you must accurately envision what can realistically be, not what already is. Essentially, you must think innovatively.

Take for example, this recent article in Fabricating & Metalworking on Hybrid Laser Arc Welding (HLAW) as “the future of welding”, which leads off with this statement:
“This innovative technology is the most disruptive in a generation, leading some to believe hybrid laser arc welding will be a core welding process in the next five to ten years.” Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Cutting Costs or Slow-Motion Suicide

January 28, 2010

What factors cause business failure? Certainly there are many external burdens such as our draconian corporate taxes and regulation that depresses American companies against foreign competitors who pay little or no taxes.  But beyond that, America has a wildly popular and successful internal business management recipe for putting our own companies out of business: shift focus from getting more profitable, to “cutting costs”.

It’s a subtle yet critical difference.  “Cutting costs” seems harmless and sounds sooo responsible.  But it tends to ignore the value and necessity of essential core technical expertise and instead mislabels them as financial liabilities that could be trimmed.  Is it a matter of ignoring, or of ignorance?  Instead of pressing groups for ideas and project execution to improve profits, they press for input on which essential business functions to cut. The mantra is usually “we all hate to do this, but we don’t have any choice.”  The result of this lose-lose is a painful decision to eliminate the very expertise that drives the effectiveness of Continuous Improvement, visionary process quoting, training, process stability, IT systems, and much more.  In short, it creates a top-down management culture of plant-closing through “slow-motion-suicide”.

In a superb article, noted industry expert and author  Bob Sproull summarized it like this: “It was also evident that operating expense had a functional lower limit, and once you hit it, you could actually do more harm than good to the organization by reducing it further.”

I’m not talking about whether you can trim your controls engineers from four to three positions.  I’m talking about trimming from two to one, or even eliminating the position completely – without any analysis of the ROI of value-added cost-reduction projects, or of the critical production support roles that could double or triple downtime and late shipments because of the six dozen automated systems out there on the plant floor. Sounds crazy because it is, but some company executives are crazy enough to do it.

Unfortunately, if you embrace a path that cuts the costs of the assets that produce income, you are essentially downsizing the future profitability of the company.  Cutting profit-generators will make it impossible to remain competitive: the company will  go out of business.  I hope my thoughts can spark a good discussion and some effective ways to recognize and resist these suicidal business practices in your company.

One example of this is the trend I’ve noticed toward trying to hire “jack-of-all-trades” engineers.  They want a trained engineer who works like a tech (“hands on”, “bias toward action”) and yet can do CAD drafting, IE functions, Six Sigma, Lean, PLC programming, robot programming, welding systems, program launch management, capital appropriations requests, and executive powerpoint presentations.  Apparently they want to hire a messiah like this (for the pay of a mediocre one-discipline engineer) to handle their 80-robot process automation and launches, because they don’t have quality or control or welding or maintenance engineers to do the work and can’t get approval to hire them. They might as well post for an engineer who walks on water and has a standard 12/6 work-week. What will it take for them to realize that while they can hire someone who lies about having all those skillsets, the extremely rare one who actually might is either being paid $85k+ (USD) as an engineering manager, or has started his own systems design and integration company?

Ken Payne of The Columbus Group recently pointed out to me that while classic Industrial Engineering (IE) breaks everything into the Man, Machine, and Material categories, most companies have lost sight of a simple overarching fact: everything in a company – including Machine and Material – is driven by the Man factor. Payne and Demming both point out that manpower is the source of all value streams.  So the value streams are ultimately driven by the human energy in the form of work, passion, expertise, inventiveness, entrepreneurial drive, and cohesive teamwork of the company’s manpower.  That manpower is a combination of individual expertise and passion, and company culture.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Fall Guys

January 7, 2010

Scapegoating – the practice of selecting a “fall guy” to take the blame, thus deflecting deserved outrage away from those at fault, and saddling the (mostly) innocent with undeserved suffering, penalties, and a mud-smeared reputation.

When it’s more fully defined like that, hinting at some of the abusive downside, it’s easier to see how damaging this ignoble practice really is.  Of course the most dastardly versions of scapegoating fire the fall-guy so that they can’t defend themselves or correct the concocted stories.  And if his boss is too noble to go along with the ploy, well, you have to fire him too.  But one of the most neglected aspects is illustrating the penalties and costs paid by the people still at the company… however long it might survive its’ management malpractices before workers are laid off or plants close.

Last year (not long ago), a consulting engineer mentioned to me that he had lost track of how many times executive staff had used him as a scapegoat.  And not long ago, I was inspired to write a poem that I suspect many can relate to.  I’ve decided to publish it here, as my tip of the hat to all those talented, honest and dedicated engineers who have suddenly found themselves struggling for breath and blinking at the sky as the Fall Guys.  May it inspire better decisions, greater boldness, more nobility, and a more wisely wary outlook for all.

The Manufacturing Company

There was a certain company, that welded many things,

and yet their questions rarely held an engineering ring.

Customers often urged them – hire a welding engineer.

But those sciences and physics were shunned without a fear.

.

Yet eventually the time would come from management-ly choices,

when a string of poor decisions drowned the ignorant wise voices.

These two sharp guys will likely do, from MIT and LeTourneau too.

We’ll hire them to do some magic, wait briefly for a furry rabbit.

.

This might be hopeless, it’s certainly bleak –

How long do we need an engineer you think?

When customers grow too irate, let’s fire the engineers we hired of late,

and hide our failures as their missed dates.

.

Ignorant of the lurking plan, yet alarmed at how the meetings ran,

the engineers were disturbed to find the obvious needs dismissed.

Then grave alarm set in, when contract terms were pushed aside

and executives announced a plan to sell their customers a lie.

.

Shouldn’t it be obvious – the deeper hole they dug

Was more desperate and impossible than fibbing with a shrug?

Why not face the growing stench of putrefied decisions,

And root out the unwillingness to replace fantasy with vision?

.

What do you do when you face a chasm with an uncompleted bridge?

Do you slow the train and rush ahead with the rails and spikes and girders,

Which were needed but never purchased because you gave those orders?

Or do you stoke the fire still hotter and yell ahead to hurry,

And throw off the patient bridge designers and blame them for the dirty

wreck you’ll soon be in,

When car after car goes sailing off the cliffs that you have chosen?

.

Ah, pretending all is simple and the answer’s “git ‘er done” –

Taxation’s cursed sea of MBA’s who can’t even make part one.

.

Brian Dobben – 2009

I know several people who can personally relate to that.  I’ve also met a few who claim that such unethical, abusive behavior is only wrong if you get caught.  That shouldn’t be surprising.  Harvard Business School and other “higher education” circles are reportedly gripped by moral retardation and long ago turned their “business ethics” classes into studies rationalizing how to separate low-risk fraud from high-risk fraud. The underlying assertion is that the only unethical decision is the one you publicly got caught in, which crassly ignores the penalties to the company in lost profits, missed business, and vital human talent assets jettisoned or crippled. So “wrong” and “evil” have become concepts as slippery as the meaning of “is” in the Clinton Administration, or “American citizen” or “bailout” or “terrorist” in the Obama regime.

I assert that real men are more grounded in reality than that, and that noble behavior is not dead. Even nobility like stepping up and admitting that you didn’t listen and made a poor decision, and committing to do much better.  But with nervous manufacturing staff feeling more at risk in a depression economy, has scapegoating now become a more widespread problem in engineering and management circles?

If so, what are the causes?  And how can we work to prevent or avoid such situations?

And if you’re an HR manager, or a Recruiter, or engineer that finds yourself an unwilling party to such professional abuse, what are your options?  What do you do?


The Weld Shop Role of CWI’s and NDT Inspection Techs

September 24, 2009

As an AWS CWI/CW Level II, Dustin Sharp contacted me with this question:

“I have read your blog and would appreciate your perspective on the need for skilled non-WE technicians/inspectors in the industry.”

This started a valuable discussion that I think others could assist with:

Dustin –  Thank you for your comments and question. If you were implying that this area is thinly covered on my blog, you are exactly right. As with many uncovered but valuable areas, I just haven’t gotten to them yet.

There is no question in my mind that there’s a great need – as you say – for “skilled non-WE technicians/inspectors in the industry”. The level of that need depends on what the exact industry is, more specific than the “welding industry” which includes everything that gets welded. The more welding codes involved, the more exotic the materials, the thicker the materials, the more demanding the customer application, and the lower the annual volumes, the more likely it is that many or all of the customers will require a CWI environment in order to assure quality and reduce risks. (On the other hand, the more basic the materials, the thinner, and the higher the annual volumes, the more likely it is to be a welding automation environment with fixed pre-agreed quality procedures in which CWI’s are not considered to be value-added.)

In manual welding environments these skilled technicians provide valuable, accurate on-the-floor analysis of welding quality, and to varying degrees a source of techniques and hands-on training. In many cases (especially true if there is no WE), it takes a CWI to establish facts of welding quality in the floor culture, and dissolve mythical opinions and expertise which are “tribally” assigned, like union seniority, to “Survivor” game-players who have “been around welding a long time” – rather than to people who are qualified and know what they are talking about. In the absence of these technicians, a Welding Engineer will spend a great deal of time in welding, yet be stripped of a lot of time to engineer.

(Brian)

Brian – Well stated, and thank you for the response. As someone who continually aspires to stay on the forefront of industry knowledge, I value your opinion.

I agree that in cases in involving; high tolerances, exotic materials, short run productions that a non-WE weld specialist should, or can be quite valuable. The industries that I would think to be most benefited through this function would be, as you stated, ones that deal with strict/exacting codes and standards. Aerospace, Nuclear, Oil&Gas, Pressure Piping/Vessels, and to some extent Large Scale Construction (Building,DOT) all present these code challenges and demand a highly skilled weld group (welders, supervisors, inspectors, engineers.)
Now, that is what I have thought to be true concerning the need for these non-WE specialists.

The absence of not only skilled WE, but knowledgeable specialists can be detrimental or at the very least counterproductive in many industries. Being a welder/fabricator for the duration of my career I have seen first hand the effect of “tribally assigned experts” bringing at times nothing more to the table than inflexibility, rhetoric, and limited knowledge of why a process/procedure is or is not working well.

Now trying to market yourself as more than just an overqualified welder — that’s a challenge.

(Dustin)

That’s been our discussion so far.  Since I’ve spent the last 15 years in welding automation, I’ve had no need to get a CWI certificate or build a CWI environment.  But that’s all going to change over the next several months as I move into a highly mixed production environment with thousands of welded assembly designs.  Meanwhile, please feel free to contribute in comments!


Beyond Welding Divas to World-Class Success – Why 15 years of welding doesn’t make a Welding Engineer

April 9, 2009
So you’re partial to your UWE (Unqualified Welding Engineer) because he has 15 years in welding and he’s brought your welding automation where it is today? 
  
I love these two, but welding engineers they're not.

I love these two, but welding engineers they're not.

I understand.  I’m partial to these couple of girls because I’ve known them for several years, they give heartwarming hugs, and they look great in sunglasses.  They also do great on 2 and 3 wheel scooters, and in less than 15 years they’ll drive a car.  They’ll always have a place in my heart.  But they’re going to need some training before I let them do a brake job on my truck.  So let’s face it: wearing a welding hood to weld won’t make them welding engineers any more than putting on sunglasses and dancing in a department store makes them the next Hanna Montana. 

 

If you manufacture welded assemblies, it’s no longer optional to be excellent in the welding processes.  You’ll have to move quickly toward welding excellence to survive.
The business reality is that welding is – by far – your most complex process, involving more sciences and physics and variables than anything else you have.  So no matter how good he is, your non-welding-engineer probably cannot enable you to survive.  He certainly can’t enable you to take leadership in your manufacturing segment.   If you’re going to make money in today’s flailing manufacturing economy, you must understand what your UWE is capable of vs what he is not capable of, and limit him to appropriate roles and authority.  How do you do that?  By hiring the real expertise that’s needed to guide him, further develop him, protect you from the self-serving interests of your supplier salesmen, and fill your profit gaps before you drown in red ink and close your doors.

 

But how?  You don’t have 5 years to find your way across the financial desert by trial and error.  How can you quickly make the critical changes you need without splitting your tribal welding culture into factions warring and squealing for authority and recognition?  For 20 years I didn’t have a solid plan to answer that question.  Now I finally do.  Read the rest of this entry »


How to Hire the Welding Engineer You Really Need

March 30, 2009

—  Warning —
If your company makes welded assemblies this information is worth
hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars a year in profits.

Searching for a welding engineer or welding engineering manager isn’t an easy task for an HR staffer or professional recruiter. For many reasons, there aren’t many of us Welding Engineers out here. And 70% of job-titled “Welding Engineers” have little or no training in the welding physics and sciences and so are largely or completely unqualified – knowing enough to enable the welding processes, but often carrying enough influence and ignorance to drive companies right out of business. But to complicate the picture, all three recognized Welding Engineering programs have very different approaches and very different ideas as to what a Welding Engineer really is and should be doing.

Caution:  Welding Engineering training and experience is mainly process-specific and/or material-specific, not industry-specific. This has broader implications, but it’s critical to understand that their skills and expertise easily transfer across completely unrelated industries. Your search can easily turn up dry if you think your competion for a welding engineer is your competitors, because it’s not.  You’re looking for process expertise, and your search competition is all industries that weld similar materials and thicknesses.

Formal education is just the beginning of the story because once they’re out in the workforce, degreed welding engineers tend to lean into different areas.  A W.E. might lean toward heavy-wall welding, meaning it’s either piping, structural, off-road heavy equipment, or pressure-vessel, and normally includes a lot of manual welding management, welder training and certifications. Or a W.E. might lean toward the thin “gauge-thickness” materials. In terms of experience, those two worlds (thick or thin) are probably the greatest differences.  Beyond that, they might have a strong affinity for manual hand-welding environments, or for welding automation, or for metallurgy, “exotic” materials, testing, training, process optimization/control or R&D work.

As a personal example, over the years I have been compelled to conclude that I have some world-class skills in an environment of welding automation on gauge-thickness materials.  In that arena, I can excel to a level that makes most welding engineers and welding equipment manufacturers seem rather incompetent – I always find myself trying to figure out who is trainable that I can develop as a welding engineer or equipment supplier.  Can I handle an exclusively manual welding environment of heavy-wall code work that can’t or doesn’t want to move any of it into welding automation?  I’ve been trained, I’ve had exposure, but exclusively manual heavy-wall code welding is not my thing.  I could eventually grow into it, but many W.E.’s are better suited and it might be a waste of my individual talents.  Why not hire the right guy and support him?

A recruiter friend of mine, Kirk Abraham, recently said or quoted “Robots are fast, accurate & stupid. Humans are slow, sloppy & brilliant.”  Too many companies either can’t see the value in having brilliant humans teach robots to be fast and accurate, or they sense wisdom in the idea but just don’t know how to get there.

Then there’s the company or client side of the picture, which frankly can be structured to make the task of filling a WE opening… impossible. There are many pitfalls. After years of watching and participating in this sometimes painful dance either personally or by proxy of fellow welding engineers, I hope my perspectives may be a dramatic help to you as you work to fill your welding engineering position. Along the way I’ll discuss experience, job title, job description, responsibilities, compensation, training skills, strategic issues, and much more.  Here we go!
Read the rest of this entry »


The Differences Between a Welding Engineer and a Certified Welder?

March 21, 2009

After reading my recent article about Welding Engineering Compensation salaries, Garrett asked me some great questions: 

What is the difference between a welding engineer and a welder with a certificate? Would it be difficult for one to get into a school for W.E.? And where is W.E. offered? Thank you for your time.

 

Garrett –

Many people have those questions, and I don’t know of any central place to send you for complete answers.  So here are my answers, and if any of our rapidly growing audience can add comments or valuable links to the discussion, please do!

 

What is a welding engineer?  What is the difference between a welding engineer and a welder with a certificate?

In my mind, a “welder with a certificate” has been trained and tested in personally making specific types of welds on specific types of materials with specific welding processes requiring specific qualification test types.  A welding certificate is usually very limited in scope, and the focus is on physically making the welds needed for those exact types of parts – there is nearly zero training on the sciences of physics, chemistry, electricity or photonics, or on the design, maintenance and troubleshooting of the welding systems and equipment. Extensive training in those areas is all part of a “4-year” Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in welding, plus extensive exposure in all types of welding processes, thermal processes (like cutting and heat-treating), and materials joining (including polymers and ceramics).

 

The National Center for Welding Education and Training is an important new effort that I’ve linked to in my sidebar.  They do a superb job of explaining some of this, like in these job descriptions for various types of careers in welding.  And their welding career videos should be seen in every high school in the country.  But breaking it out further, here’s what I would add:

Read the rest of this entry »