Browsing the archives for the manufacturing tag.

What does “Made in the USA” mean today?


imagesI love this question.  Love. It. The answers I get from people are so varied.

For this post, I decided it would be interesting to ask folks I know what they think, similar to what Laurel Nelson-Rowe has done in her latest post via ASQ’s View from the Q.  

When I asked a few people I know in the tech industry (gen x engineers) what “Made in the USA” meant to them, their responses were:

  • Unimpressive
  • Poor Quality
  • Marketing
  • Expensive

Don’t shoot the messenger here. Seriously… 

When I asked folks of varying positions within the manufacturing industry, their responses were:

  • Quality
  • Quality of Life
  • Built to Exacting Standards
  • Pride
  • Skilled Labor
  • High Tech
  • Jobs

When I asked a few folks in my mom’s retirement community, their responses were:

  • American Pride
  • Jobs
  • Quality
  • Craftsmanship

When I asked family and friends, responses included:

  • Poor Quality
  • Quality
  • Happy
  • Jobs
  • Unions

When I asked a couple of friends in China, their responses included:

  • Quality
  • Costly (Expensive)
  • Technology
  • Premium

I asked my 11 year old, and he just said “stuff that’s made here.” So, perspective…

I asked my son this question because he was just asking me why Japanese cars seem to be better quality. It’s no secret that I’m a Subaru fan, so I’m sure he derived the question from something I had said previously. But, nonetheless, his question provided me with an opportunity to share that fun story about Deming and how the perception of Japanese made goods really changed after the war and through the use of quality methods and tools we still use today. Fun story. Also, interesting case study on how a country’s brand was effectively repositioned in the global marketplace.  No easy feat.

At the end of the day, the most common response to this question usually relates to quality somehow.  It is most certainly a significant component of a country’s branding.  What “Made in the USA” means simply isn’t consistent, and we’re sent mixed messages by the media, industry groups, politicians, unions, etc. What “Made in the USA” means depends on who you ask.

So, we need to think about what we want “Made in the USA” to mean. How do we want to stand out in the global marketplace? Some would argue that “Made in the USA” is cool again, with companies like Apple making U.S. production a component of their social responsibility initiative.  I can’t help but also think of a former student that insisted his products for a new fishing lure business be made here in America. Within that industry, I’d say the strategy would likely be good marketing as well but this individual was serious about it for reasons beyond branding.

I’m not going to say “Made in the USA” is hipster just yet… But, who knows?

The COO Effect:

“Country of origin information constitutes a product trait that is external to the product itself. It serves as a surrogate for product quality, performance, reliability, prestige and other product characteristics that cannot be directly evaluated.

Research has demonstrated that consumers tend to regard products that are made in a given country with consistently positive or negative attitudes. These origin biases seem to exist for products in general as well as for specific products, and for both end-users and industrial buyers alike. The nature and strength of origin effects depend on such factors as the product category, the product stimulus employed in the research, respondent demographics, consumer prior knowledge and experience with the product category, and consumer information processing style.”

Sidenote: Remember “America’s Freedom Fabric”


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A Quality Conundrum – High Expectations


There wasn’t much to the consumer decision making process when it came to me selecting a new car. I skipped a few steps and knew I wanted a Subaru WRX. I’m a ridiculously brand loyal individual and support organizations that represent my values and operate in ways that support quality and social responsibility.  Also, this particular car was consistently the one I liked at the auto shows, had owned one before and just thought it was the perfect choice to bring me much happiness.  Driving should be fun after all.

I waited a few months on the Subaru because it was the end-run of the 2014 before the style change and I wanted the hatch that wasn’t going to be offered in 2015.  No worries. Don’t good things come to those who wait?

A few weeks after taking delivery, a knocking noise appeared that required a new short block. That’s big.  But, I took it back to the dealership and they extended the warranty and made the repair.

Here’s where the conundrum gets started…

1) The car was the last run in production.  Could the short block issue be a result of poor quality control or other transitory issues related to the changeover? At a macro level, has Subaru’s increase in popularity (production) made it more difficult to control quality? Maybe it was just “one of those things.” 

The husband picks up the car after the repair and notes all kinds of obvious quality issues with the workmanship, including missing bolts and other parts. I recall him describing it as “laughable.”  The technician shrugged it off and put a little more love into it to pacify us.

2) The quality of the dealership service is a concern. My thinking was to let this go as a fluke and be satisfied that they were cool about it and did their best to make it better.  But, as a quality person, why did the tech not do a better job? Was it that particular person? Training issues? Why isn’t there a process of a quality check before the work is presented to the customer?  What about customers that don’t even bother to check? Here’s the dealer claim: 

“When your Subaru needs service, get the outstanding support you deserve from the expert mechanics and skilled customer care representatives at xxx.”

*I don’t want to name the dealer. The professional in me doesn’t want to turn this blog into a company bashing platform. 

Fast forward… A few months after the short block incident, a tear starts happening in the carpet by the pedals and the rear view mirror compass just stops working. I take it back to have repaired under warranty. I do consider my time valuable, so there is a cost associated.

When I dropped the car off, I expressed my particular obsession with quality and I asked to be assured that removing the interior to replace the carpeting would result in a car that reassembled exactly how it was and that nothing would rattle or otherwise not function. Multiple times, I was assured of this and even told he would personally double check it.

That afternoon, I picked up my rowdy kids and sat in rush hour for an hour to pick up the car. When I questioned if it had been double checked, the friendly service account manager moved the car four parking spaces, opened the door for me to get in, and declared it was perfect.  With rowdy kids, I took his word for it.

Get home… discover parts just laying there, pieces missing, scratches, etc. Husband declares I have “aged the car four years” and the “I told you so” came shortly after. Foiled again!

3) How in the world did the car go through so many touch points (service tech, manager, car wash people, customer service guy) without someone indicating a problem with loose parts all over the place? This particular dealership positions itself as “quality” and services “luxury” brands. Dissonance much?


I wait 24 hours before constructing an email asking these questions and making them aware of my issue.  With 100% service quality issues at this point, I felt it was my duty to make them aware.  I had to call the place to get the email address because the website had no email listed.  I suppose I could have used the live chat feature.  Either way, one of the two addresses I was provided bounced.

When no reply came after a day, I felt the need to be more public.  So, I tweeted. I’d say less than a minute later, I’m contacted back on Twitter. A few minutes later, I get a call. The individual owned the problem as a representative of the dealership and sounded sincere. But, I’m in marketing and sound that way too when mistakes are made and I’m trying to keep a customer. But, is that enough? To me, there are a multitude of potential issues with their processes (hiring, training, quality, etc.) that should be addressed.

The real conundrum… Are my expectations too high?  Do I live in a quality bubble because of the industry I work in?

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Manufacturing Day Success…


I didn’t know about National Manufacturing Day until last year when our local ASQ Section sponsored a Middleton High School event. Who knew that the seemingly insignificant act of me checking my son out of school early to attend the Commissioner’s proclamation that day would lead to a year of commitment to awareness and action. (Oh, and congratulations to Middleton High School, the Pre-Collegiate STEM Academy for Hillsborough County Public Schools, who has been designated by the SME Education Foundation as a Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education (PRIME) School Site.)

Soon after last year’s Manufacturing Day, I organized a facility tour at Heat Pipe Technology for my son’s FLL LEGO League. The kids were nine and ten at the time and had left there with such interest and enthusiasm that I thought it could be something scalable that would be a win-win.  Because of this, I decided to pursue some type of observation for 2014 at our elementary school.

10171786_805430586166126_1528563612181051291_nFlorida Advanced Technological Education Center (FLATE) assisted with sending me ideas and materials.  They’re great! The Director of Engineering & Operations over at Heat Pipe met with the principal and I to discuss potential field trip ideas, but logistics really were an issue.  In the end, I pitched we use a LEGO theme because it was consistent with the school’s overall theme for the year.  We worked with the Morning Show to read several LEGO production fun facts and show videos about manufacturing mini-figures and bricks.  Did you know that LEGO is the largest tire manufacturer in the world?! We also sent home a handout talking about the different jobs available in manufacturing to all of of the 5th graders.

So far, I’ve heard only positive things from my network of friends in the industry regarding the overall success of the day.  Heat Pipe had 41 students and a significant increase in girls go through their doors last Friday. They even scored some positive and well-deserved PR via the local papers in the process…


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Manufacturing Outlook… Let’s talk smart manufacturing


ASQ recently issued a Manufacturing Outlook survey and through their latest View from the Q  question if the results are consistent with what quality professionals see in the workplace.

I’m not so sure I’m interested in talking about the results being consistent in the workplace, other than to say how excited I am about the smart manufacturing component.  As for the rest of it, OK manufacturers are still worried about the economy.  Who wouldn’t be? Recovery takes time, even longer than the economic indicators say.   Job growth is always a good thing.  It’s good that people are getting raises, 49% in fact.

But, smart manufacturing…

“According to the results, only 13 percent of those surveyed said they use smart manufacturing within their organization. Of those organizations that claim to have implemented smart manufacturing, 82 percent say they have experienced increased efficiency, 49 percent experienced fewer product defects and 45 percent experienced increased customer satisfaction.”

Think about this.  There is an overwhelming successful result when using smart manufacturing, but only 13% of the organizations are doing it.


“The results show that 37 percent of those surveyed have no interest in smart manufacturing, while 29 percent say cost is the biggest challenge. In addition, 14 percent said resistance from management is the biggest hurdle when considering a smart manufacturing system.”

We may have a marketing problem here, or as some of us like to think of it, a marketing opportunity.  I have to assume that those 37% not interested simply just aren’t aware of the benefits.  There are obvious misconceptions out there as well, so some repositioning would certainly help with that much needed buy-in.

Survey anyone about almost anything and a percentage will say cost is a consideration.  Sell the benefits of smart manufacturing and cost isn’t going to matter because it’s the long-term gain that shines.  It’s the customer value that matters.  The data supports this.  It sells itself with the right message.

As for that 14% of management that continues to resist change, train them so that they feel comfortable and consistently communicate the benefits.  Smart manufacturing isn’t easy, and it must have management support to even work at all.

This Manufacturing Outlook supports the idea of a future where technology and automation revolutionize the global economy. This article in WSJ is quite convincing as well… and, this one.

But, it isn’t about us being able to make all of our stuff here again, or eliminating jobs.  It’s about reaching that level of excellence in consistency and quality.  It’s about being about as lean as you can be and passing that value onto the consumer.  It’s larger than a job.  It’s larger than a product.  It’s progress.  It’s art, in some weird artistic form.  It just needs to be marketed that way.


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Heat pipes, community involvement & STEM, oh my…


When was the last time you thought about a heat pipe? A week ago, I’ll admit I wouldn’t have been able to say much…

What I love the most about business though is networking and talking to people about what they do.  Within all of these moments, there are a few when you find people really passionate.  It’s the kind of person I’m always writing and talking to students about.

Well, at the recent Manufacturing Day event I attended with Aidan, we met the Director of Engineering and Operations over at Heat Pipe Technology.  He was actually there as the representative of the manufacturer the kids at the local STEM high school would be touring the following day.  This guy lights up when he’s talking about HPT and even manufacturing in general.  And, it turns out he’s not the only one working for HPT who cares enough to give back to the community. A few of their engineers will join me and countless others who participate in the Great American Teach-In coming up in November.  When was the last time you heard someone reference “integrity” when talking about their employer?

Curious about how a heat pipe is made and mesmerized by such a rich demonstration of corporate culture, I started talking with Ken and later scored a facility tour for Aidan’s FLL team.  Serendipity.

So, the boys went last weekend to see production of this stuff and I’m just going to say that it’s very cool.  I was a little concerned that asking four nine year-old boys to focus and behave through a manufacturing facility might be asking a little much. But, they sat there with minds blown as the demo pipe was heated up with a blowtorch and fluid reactions yielded unexpected results.  They walked through this impeccably clean and organized facility completely captivated by the sound of machines at work, bins of scrap for recycling and an inventory system that included a vending machine for parts.  Kanban, anyone? They left that place saying things like “best tour ever” and “BTU in equals BTU out”.  I’ll admit, I shared in their sentiment… STEM in play is awesome!

Anyway, the point here is that there are a few points.  But, the most important is that this is the perfect example of the triple bottom line principle at work and the enormous amount of ways in which that system can benefit stakeholders. Win-win-win.

“Engineers create the future. Manufacturers build the future.”

Thanks Ken!


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