Lessons Learned: Principles Inspired in Manufacturing Can Take Root in Other industries

Question: What’s the connection between disposable diapers, surgical gloves and fashion textiles? Answer: They are all part of a vast and diverse manufacturing community in Volusia County, one that is always striving to make a good product and deliver it to the customer at a reasonable and competitive price. And while the products themselves may differ, the industry offers some valuable lessons to those in and outside the field.

Just ask Mike Sibley, CPA, and a partner with James Moore, Certified Public Accountants and Consultants. Originally from Maine, Mike attended St. Joseph’s College, where he studied accounting and computer science. After graduating in 1998, he joined a large accounting firm in Portland, before joining James Moore and moving to Daytona Beach in 2001. In his current role, he oversees both the Daytona Beach and DeLand offices and he helps companies implement change based on manufacturing principles. 

Mike has spent his entire career working with manufacturers. His goal is to help his clients be as effective and as efficient as possible. To do that he said he focuses first on the big picture: What are the owners’ excited about? What are their concerns? How did the business start and how has it changed over time? What problems have they encountered? How were these problems solved? Is the company reaching its goals? “Then we talk about financials…A company’s financial statements tell a story,” he said. “It could be a Fairy Tale, an Adventure or a Horror Story.

To help his clients, Mike often uses principles drawn from a problem-solving method called Lean Six Sigma (LSS). The method, which originated in the manufacturing industry, employs tools and processes which help owners and workers identify, understand and solve problems.

Mike, a Black Belt in LSS, says the process benefits industries beyond manufacturing, including his own. “We use these tools internally to improve our own operations. And we apply them to businesses as diverse as construction, light assembly, and local government. It is the same methodology that manufacturers use to improve their operations.”

LSS involves evaluating different processes to determine where there is waste. One good example is to evaluate time. In manufacturing, “through-put time” measures the length of time it takes to turn raw materials into completed products. For analysis, time is divided into cycles consisting of process-time, inspection-time, move-time, and queue-time. Only process-time adds actual value to the product and often, through-put-time is not considered complete until the product is actually sold. So then, if a company can reduce the amount of through-put-time it means a product makes it to market faster. Likewise, companies and organizations outside of manufacturing can benefit from analyzing time spent performing tasks–anything from how efficiently one delivers the mail in a business to the amount of invoices or checks a business may have to process. Decreasing wasted energy and variability is the name of the game.

Another area that can benefit from an LSS approach – talent management. “ Hiring, training and supervising are critical to every business,” Mike said. What are the talents and skills of your present workforce? Are the right people in the right positions? Can they be better trained, or trained to do a different job? Identifying underutilized employees is often a critical step toward reducing waste in this area. And then there is the training itself. To produce a consistently good product or service, two people doing the same job should be trained in the same way. This holds true for businesses in other industries too.

Taking a New Direction

Brad Harris remembers his first summer job at age 16. He worked in a shoe factory in Wilkesboro, Pennsylvania. “My job was to stain the crepe shoe soles by dipping them into a staining solution.” It was a job that sparked his interest in technology and started him down a path that would eventually lead him to where he is today, Acting Director of Volusia County’s Economic Development Division.

“I was interested in technology, machinery, the whole process.” As a college student working toward an industrial engineering degree at Lehigh University, Brad worked for a large, vertically integrated paper mill. Its raw material: logs. The finished product: Bounty paper towels, White Cloud toilet paper and other paper products. “It was a massive operation. It showcased the technology and the creativity of the men and women who put that together.”

With his degree in hand, opportunity led Brad to Burlington Industries, where he worked as a project engineer at locations in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Later, he took a job in the medical device industry with Becton Dickenson. He started as an engineer, before moving up to plant manager, and finally, was given the responsibility of opening a twin-plant on the El Paso/ Mexican border.

Experience and Perspective

Brad broadened his experience, working at several other companies in the medical field, until an opportunity with Sherwood Medical Industries brought him back permanently to Volusia County in 1997. The lessons he learned from his long career in manufacturing help him understand industries based in Volusia County today.

As Acting Director of Volusia County’s Economic Development Division, Brad brings to the table an in-depth overview of manufacturing in all of its aspects. But when thinking back on lessons learned, he doesn’t focus on the technical. “You realize how important others are to the success of what you were doing. There are so many people who contribute to a successful outcome. Everyone has to work together for a company to succeed.” And he too, stresses the importance of getting the right people in the right jobs. “Most people have unique capabilities. The goal is to optimize the strengths you have, and put those to work for the organization.”

Brad also emphasized the role of “culture and work environment” and the nature of the work itself. In the medical manufacturing field, for instance, Brad found it personally rewarding to be in an industry that helped improve and save people’s lives. “When you see people who get along, who are proud of the product they produce, other people want to be a part of that. If you can marry that to a work environment that is a joy to be in, that is a great combination.”

These are lessons, learned in manufacturing, that Brad says we can all take to heart.

What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma, sometimes referred to as Six Sigma, is a business tool that helps identify and eliminate waste in order to increase a product’s value. Six Sigma is a methodology designed to define, measure and analyze problems, and then devise, implement and maintain solutions to those problems. There are Six Sigma belt rankings similar to those in martial arts. In order of mastery from least to greatest, they include: White Belt, Yellow Belt, Green Belt, Black Belt, Master Black-Belt and Champion.