Another Look at Continuous Improvement

Dreamstime - Crystal BallEverybody knows that the reality of globalized manufacturing is a continuous spiral of faster, better, cheaper. Regardless of how good your processes, practices and products are, it is essential to keep improving. On Continuous Improvement, a post from November 2015, takes a pragmatic look at continuous improvement, with some thoughts on how that might actually be accomplished. Another look at On Continuous Improvement is always timely. — C.H.

On Continuous Improvement (from November 2015)

Remaining Competitive

Everybody understands the need to be truly competitive in this globalized economy. What’s more, since everybody knows, everybody is trying to improve – so the bar is continually being raised. The 5th of Dr. Edwards Deming’s famous 14 points is characteristically blunt: [1]

“Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service.”

In practice, there are two ongoing modes of improvement. The first mode consists of numerous incremental improvements to existing products, processes and practices. The second mode involves fewer, larger improvements such as new products, new equipment, or R&D advancements. This essay focuses on the first ongoing mode of improvements.

What to Improve Continuously?

Rereading Deming’s 5th point clearly answers the “what to improve” question: “the system of production and service”. The “system of production and service” means the entire assemblage of manufacturing and processes, procedures and practices, along with their interactions and inter-dependencies, through with your organization functions. It is necessary to appreciate that Deming’s use of the term “system” is not an accident.  A “system”, as Deming intends that term, is assembled in order to serve a specific purpose (Deming prefers the term “aim”, rather than “purpose”).

Deming says that the aim (purpose) of a business is to “stay in business, create more and more jobs”. To me, that means a sustainable business that can continue to grow indefinitely.

To be more specific, it is necessary to constantly improve our products, our manufacturing processes, procedures and practices; as well as our business processes, practices and procedures. Further, it is necessary to do so in a manner that advances the overall aim of the system. Improvement in one component of the system at the expense of another component is counterproductive. Usually, most improvement efforts focus on diminishing variation and waste.

How to Improve Continuously?

Deming tells us that wanting to improve is not sufficient. It is necessary to have a method for doing so. Fortunately, there are several methods that are widely used by manufacturers, each with many books, publications, courses and consultants ready to assist. Generally speaking, my personal preferences are Lean Manufacturing (especially for reducing wastes), Shewhart Cycles with control charts (for reducing variation) and Theory of Constraints (for prioritizing improvement efforts).

Lean Manufacturing

Competitiveness starts with the systematic elimination of waste in all of its many forms. “Waste in all of its many forms” includes losses due to hazardous working conditions, unsafe work practices, emissions to the environment, inefficient use of energy, and on and on. Lean Manufacturing provides a proven, readily available means to do that.

Lean Mfg Text Box

Just about everybody in manufacturing has heard about Lean Manufacturing, or about the stunning success of the Toyota manufacturing system, which serves as Lean’s global model. The fact is that Lean Manufacturing is good sense, systematically applied. Lean doesn’t require computers, robots or big capital outlays. It does require access to the know-how, a willingness to apply that know-how, and a person experienced with Lean implementations to lead the effort.

Shewhart Cycles

Dr. Deming was a statistician. Early in his career, Deming met Walter Shewhart, a pioneer in statistical quality management. He learned of Shewhart’s work with control charts and PDCA improvement cycles. Control charts provide a ready method to plot process outputs and, importantly, to distinguish variation due to the process itself (common causes) from variation due to other causes (special causes).

Variation can be reduced by identifying and eliminating special causes. Shewhart Cycles, more commonly called PDCA Cycles, provide a way to do that. Shewhart Cycles consist of four steps:

Deming PDCA CycleStep 1: The first step is to study a process, to decide what change might improve it. Organize an appropriate team. Do not proceed without a plan.

Step 2: Carry out the tests or make the change, preferably on a small scale.

Step 3: Observe the effects.

Step 4: What did we learn? Repeat the test if necessary. Look for side effects.

Theory of Constraints (TOC) [2]

TOC regards a manufacturing facility as a system consisting of interacting and interdependent processes. Those processes are not all equally important to increasing throughput. A few, usually one, process limits — constrains — the system. TOC focuses on identifying the limiting process and addressing that limitation. “Addressing that limitation” means increasing the capacity of that process, such that it no longer bottlenecks the facility. In addition, TOC uses a buffer before the constrained resource and a raw materials release system to prevent overproduction at non-constrained resources.

Once a constraint is addressed and throughput increases, another constraint will be revealed — otherwise, throughput would be unbounded. So, TOC is an ongoing process of identifying and addressing constraints. As production capacity increases, the constraint to increasing revenues eventually moves from the factory to the market or to some business practice or policy.

Concisely, Theory of Constraints provides a convenient way to prioritize opportunities for improvement so as to improve the aim of the system.

Chuck - Red Rocks3Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington

This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

Image: PDCA Cycle ID 46845201 © Raducomes |

[1] Understanding continuous improvement starts with Dr. Deming. For those not familiar with Deming’s work, I suggest Mary Walton’s The Deming Management Method, Perigee Books (1986)

[2] To learn more about the Theory of Constraints, see Appreciating the Theory of Constraints, this blog,

On Exponential Growth

When Technology Goes Viral, a post to this blog from May 2015, is reprised below. That post describes technologies that grow at such rates that they disrupt, or at least redefine, entire industries – or create new industries. When Technology Goes Viral, however, didn’t mention the element of surprise that so frequently accompanies viral growth. Take LEDs for example, which are currently disrupting the lighting industry. Or Facebook and other on-line media which just this month redefined American elections process. Take a fresh look at When Technology Goes Viral, this time with the element of surprise in mind.

 When Technology Goes Viralfrom 23 May 2015

Going Viral

Most of us have heard of a Facebook post or a YouTube video that “went viral” on the internet. Like a virus multiplying, one person sees the Facebook post or watches the video, then sends it on to several friends, who see the post or video, then … exponential growth. [1] Contrast that with the incremental way we normally expect growth to occur.exponential Growth Graph

This graph shows just how dramatic exponential growth can be. >>>

It’s not just videos. It is not uncommon for entire technologies to grow in an exponential manner for years or even decades. Here are some examples:

20th Century Examples

>> Electrification: In the United States, the first public electric generation and distribution facility began operating in New York City in 1882. By 1950, electrification was essentially complete across this country, serving a population of about 150 million people. Electric lighting was the original application, followed by a multitude of manufacturing opportunities like toasters and vacuum cleaners. Factories switched from prime movers and leather belts to electric motors.

>> Automobiles: Only a few hundred true automobiles existed in the entire world at the beginning of the 20th century. A century later, about 226 million were registered in the U.S. alone. [2] Ubiquitous personal rapid transportation redefined lifestyles and spawned more business models and value chains than I can count.

>> Cell Phones: The first cellular telephone was invented in 1973. Less than four decades later, in 2012, the number of cell phones in the U.S. alone was about 310 million, [3] a figure which approximated the total U.S. population.

>> Moore’s Law: In 1965, Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, observed that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit every year. Ten years later, he raised that to doubling every two years. That amounts to 50 years of exponential growth – 50 years of relentlessly increasing computing power and 50 years of plummeting cost. Good-by IBM 1620. Hello iPhone 6.

Current Prospects

Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, a recent book that one reviewer called “a godsend for those who suffer from Armageddon fatigue”, [4] describes eight technologies that may be on exponential growth paths just now. I’ve chosen a few of those technologies as examples that appear to be especially relevant to manufacturers:

>> Biotechnology: The current issue of Fast Company magazine named their choices for the 100 most creative people in business. Fast Company chose Charles Arntzen as the #1 most creative. Arntzen is a professor at Arizona State University. Using DNA structuring technology, he “engineered” a variety of tobacco plant to produce the medicine that successfully fought the Ebola outbreak in Africa in 2014. [5] Bio-based technology promises new and innovative routes to new fuels, industrial feedstocks, and agricultural products, not to mention medicines. The Department of Chemical Engineering where I trained has been renamed The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Biotech and its potential is that important.

>> Networks and Sensors: The internet of things is really coming. In manufacturing, that means real time information on all equipment and all work in process. Then, connect across the entire value chain so that everybody (man and machine) has actionable information on the current status of everything. Defect rates vanish. Efficiency soars. Inventories shrink.

>> Digital Manufacturing: I have heard 3-D printing described as “neat, but not really useful”. Hmmm. 3-D printing allows products to be manufactured “hands off”, directly from AutoCAD drawings, with no materials waste. Today, cycle times are too long and equipment costs are too high for most routine production – although that is changing fast. For prototypes and complex special orders, not so; especially when exotic materials are involved.

SpaceX Dragon

This photo shows the Space-X Dragon manned space flight vehicle and two of its Super Draco rocket motors. The rocket motors are produced by 3-D printing. >>>

So What?

Exponential technologies offer untold opportunities to create new products, new efficiencies and new markets. At the same time, exponential technologies disrupt. Case in point: cell phones have exploded, while hardwired telephone services are wondering what happened to their market. These opportunities and threats of disruption apply all along your value chain. That’s one more reason why today’s manufacturers need to maintain a fully zoomed out assessment of the entire globalized context within which your business operates.

Chinese character - Crisis


<<< The Chinese character for “crisis” combines the characters for “opportunity” and for “danger”.


Chuck at the PacificThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (

This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

Image credits: Exponential growth graph – creative commons via Wikipedia, Dragon spacecraft photo – SpaceX (creative commons), Chinese character – creative commons via Wikipedia


[1] For more on exponential growth, see

[2] Automotive stats from

[3] Cell phone stats from

[4] Diamandis, Peter and Steven Kotler, Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, Simon & Schuster (2012), especially Part 2, page 49f

[5] “The 100 Most Creative People in Business in 2015: #1 – Charles Arntzen, For Fighting Ebola With Tobacco”, Fast Company, June 2015 issue, page 47f

Energy Utilization Efficiency and LEDs

Energy Utilization Efficiency

AEO 2015 Figure 19The graph labeled “Figure 19” [1] projects energy use in the U.S. per person (blue line) and per dollar of GDP (green line). The right hand portion of the graph (2013 – 2040) projects that annual energy consumption per American will remain rather constant, although well below consumption in 2005. Annual energy consumption per dollar of GDP, on the other hand, is projected to continue to decline. If this projection holds, only half as many watts of energy will be required to produce a constant dollar’s worth of GDP in 2040, as compared to 2005. Said another way, American energy utilization efficiency is projected to double over the period 2005 – 2040!

This improvement is a global phenomenon. The International Energy Agency (IEA) states its importance this way: [2]

“Energy efficiency in IEA member countries improved, on the average, by 14% between 2000 and 2015. This generated energy savings of 450 million metric tons of oil in 2015, enough to power Japan for a full year. These savings also reduced total energy expenditure by 540 billion United States Dollars in 2015, mostly in buildings and industry.”

$540 billion in efficiency savings sounds pretty good to me. But that’s for the whole world. Here is a more up close and personal example of what energy utilization efficiency can mean:

Lighting Industry Disruption

I have recessed lighting in the kitchen of my home. There are three ~ 5” diameter (BR-30) recessed fixtures and ten ~ 2.5” diameter (GU-10) recessed fixtures. I replaced the three 75 watt halogen bulbs from the larger fixtures and the ten 50 watt halogen bulbs from the smaller fixtures with size – equivalent LED bulbs. The larger LED bulbs each draw 9 watts, while the smaller bulbs each draw 5 watts. Right: a total of 77 watts of power draw replaces a total of 775 watts – nearly a 10 to 1 improvement.

LED Lighting DisplayActually, there is a lot more to LEDs beyond reducing your electric bill, welcome as that is. The LED value proposition offers at least these features:

  • Bulb prices are now competitive with older technology. [3]
  • Bulb service life expectancy is several times longer than older technology.
  • Significantly lower power requirements.
  • Much less heat generation.
  • Bulbs are readily available in many form factors.
  • Available in several color spectra.
  • Available with an increasing number of intelligent control alternatives – bulbs and fixtures.

The case for LEDs is so strong that Greentech Media, [4] referencing a report from Goldman Sachs, says:

“The financial institution calls LEDs one of the fastest technology shifts in human history. While wind and solar are challenging the traditional electric generation sector, they have not upended it yet the way LEDs have overtaken the lighting industry. By 2020, LEDs will make up 69% of (lighting) sales and close to 100% by 2025, up from nearly nothing in 2010.”

Best of all, LEDs are an emerging technology, which will continue to evolve. Expect continuing improvements in energy utilization efficiency (it can, and will, get considerably better than the 10 to 1 improvement in my kitchen lighting). Even more importantly, expect completely new ideas as LEDs evolve from replacements in existing sizes and forms to become the creative media of the lighting industry.

Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (

This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

[1] “Figure 19” is from the 2015 Annual Energy Outlook, published by the Energy Information Agency, a service of the U.S. Government.

[2] Energy Efficiency Market Report 2016, International Energy Agency, page13.

[3] As the snapshot of an LED retail display at my local Home Depot indicates, common residential replacement bulbs are readily available for a few dollars.

[4] See , which refers to a Goldman Sachs report at

The Next Killer App – Part 1

“Killer App”?

“Killer App” is a computer industry term. It refers to the software that creates the value that makes people buy the hardware – lots of hardware. In this post, I use “killer app” rather loosely, to mean a whole genre of software that breathes life into new hardware platforms.

Seventy-five years ago, the “killer app” was military software, such as code breaking, that financed the first truly digital computers. Today, it is social media and entertainment software that powers smart phone sales. Tomorrow, look for safety, efficiency and entertainment software that sells electric automobiles – especially electric vehicles that drive themselves.

This post – part 1 of 2 – reviews the idea of an electro – mechanical continuum in equipment design. This provides background for a discussion of electric vehicles and their consequences The Next Killer App – Part 2, next week.

The Electro – Mechanical Spectrum – From 15 November 2014

The Evolution of Machinery

Four Change DriversIt is increasingly clear — if not painfully clear — to most manufacturers that those who cannot embrace change are ill-prepared for the realities of operating in the 21st century. Manufacturers today face a convergence of many change drivers, which this blog rather arbitrarily groups as Globalization, Sustainability, Technology, and Demographics & Trends. To further complicate matters, some change drivers interact with others. Some emerge seemingly instantaneously, like 3D printing. Others reflect a trend over time.

This post looks at a trend in machinery, from almost entirely mechanical to extensively electrical (or electronic). One can imagine a continuum with mechanical devices at one extreme and electrical (or electronic) devices at the other.

As a familiar example, consider a continuum with a fine mechanical wrist watch at one extreme and the Apple Watch,[1] which was recently announced for 2015, at the other. It is easy to see a trend over time from pure mechanical watches to Bulova’s Accutron (electric tuning fork) watch, to quartz crystal watches, to all digital watches, to digital watches that keep time and do an increasing number of other things as well. In my view, the tipping point – the point where watches became more electrical than mechanical – fell between quartz watches with analog faces and hands, and quartz watches with digital displays.

Automobiles provide another example. Early cars were mechanical devices. They made little use of electricity, other than firing spark plugs – a hand crank started the engine. Electrification increased over the years to include lights, starter motors, electric windshield wipers, seat warmers and so on. Almost all of today’s cars make extensive use of electric power and computerization.

The Tesla Model S automobile may be close to a tipping point. Electric motor(s) propel the car — there is no combustion engine. Almost everything else is electric (or electronic) as well. Computers extensively monitor and regulate internal functioning and performance. The latest version of the Model S has two drive motors and all-wheel drive. The performance monitoring and feed-back in distributing power to the wheels is such that the much more powerful two motor version draws less current than the single motor version, extending – rather than reducing — the effective range between battery charges. The Model S also comes equipped with collision avoidance radar and sonar devices which also feed autopilot capabilities, not unlike a commercial airliner.

In the Factory

Equipment used in manufacturing isn’t exempt from this trend in technology. Newer machinery almost always makes more use of electricity and electronics than the machinery it replaced. Increased electrification (especially electronics-fication) improves the reliability and efficiency of the machine itself. It also improves the consistency of the products the machine produces.

Even more important, the information generated can be used outside the equipment in a multitude of useful ways – equipment maintenance, production throughput, energy consumption and materials utilization come quickly to mind. So, there are two advantages: (a) monitoring, feedback and corrective actions within the machine itself, and (b) information collection, analysis and utilization of the same information outside of the machine. Information collection can be through an industrial network, or through the internet.[2]

Production information available through the internet – the Internet of Things – is fraught with possibilities – multi-plant operations, remote maintenance, customer service and interfacing with transportation, for starters. When your firm’s products include “smart” internet accessible capability, the potential for adding value mushrooms.

This isn’t all smoke and mirrors. A McKinsey Global Institute report[3] projects that the Internet of Things will produce $0.9 trillion to $2.3 trillion in annual economic impact to manufacturers globally by 2025. Further, the McKinsey report projects that 80% – 100% of all manufacturers will be affected.

For Smaller Manufacturers

The evolution of machinery presents serious areas for concern for smaller manufacturers. Manufacturers that take advantage of this technology can expect significant gains in internal operating efficiency and in customer – facing areas. Smaller manufacturers, as a group, already lag larger manufacturers in productivity.[4] Smaller manufacturers, as a group, are less likely to have the technical capabilities necessary to exploit this technology. Smaller manufacturers, as a group, also find capital to be more expensive and harder to access than do larger firms.

These are serious concerns. Smaller manufacturers can address them by: (a) understanding and appreciating the disruptive potential for this technology within their industry, (b) continuing to focus their business, and (c) building joint actions with equipment suppliers, through trade associations, through technical societies and with customers.

Chuck - Austrian AlpsThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (

P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about confronting the realities of 21st century manufacturing … CH

This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.

[1] If you are curious about the Apple Watch, see

[2] For more on connected machines and products, see Smart Connected Products, a recent report from Oxford economics:

[3] See Disruptive Technologies: Advances that will transform life, business and the global economy,

[4] For more on the productivity gap between larger manufacturers and smaller, see Confronting the Productivity Gap, this blog,

Toward Proactive Management – Sustainability

In order to survive – let alone thrive – in the 21st century, management must proactively cope with ceaseless waves of change. One way to proactively approach the future (which doesn’t yet exist) is to examine existing conditions that are likely to drive change as the 21st century unfolds. There are a daunting number of current realities that, jointly or severally, are likely to drive change. For convenience of organization, this blog groups change drivers as:




Demographics & Trends

This series of posts examines a few especially significant change drivers in each of the four categories. This post focuses on Sustainability and two of the change drivers it generates:

Sustainability and Manufacturing

3P GraphicIt is not always clear what “Sustainability” really means in a given context. For manufacturing managers, “Sustainability” refers to a greatly expanded scope of concern – a scope of concern that encompasses an entire value chain. As the diagram to the right indicates, manufacturing lies between the natural world, where your raw materials are ultimately sourced, and humanity (which includes your employees, your customers and your customers’ customers). Here in the 21st century, it is necessary to be constantly aware of your firm’s interactions with the natural world and with humanity (with all of humanity’s foibles) in order to remain “sustainable” – meaning “capable of continuing to exist”. Manufacturing’s scope of concern certainly does not start and end at the loading dock.

Global Warming > Climate Change

Climate Change is currently Sustainability’s primary issue. In essence, the assertion is that substantial and dangerous changes to the earth’s climate are in the process of taking place, due to a warming trend in the Earth’s atmosphere (i.e. Global Warming). The warming trend is mainly due to increasing carbon dioxide concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere, mainly due to combustion of carbon based fuels.

That certain common atmospheric gases, including carbon dioxide, can have a “greenhouse” effect that can raise atmospheric temperature is well established fact. That the carbon dioxide concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere has increased in recent times is a matter of recorded measurement. And humanity does burn one heck of a lot of carbon based fuel every year.

However, the Earth’s atmosphere is a large and complex system. Complex systems are prone to respond to changes in inputs or changes in conditions in surprising non-linear ways. Adding humanity’s participation adds another major element of indeterminacy. Consequently, predicting future responses of a large, complex system to changes such as an increase in greenhouse gas concentration over time measured in decades is challenging at best, if not a fool’s errand.

Repeated polls by reputable organizations like the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Gallup organization suggest that only about 50% of Americans believe that human caused climate change actually exists. The latest available Gallup poll, for example, holds that while 69% of Americans polled agreed that 2015 was an abnormally warm year, only 49% believed the cause of that warmth to be human-generated. [1]

The Pragmatic View

So, views on human induced global warming – hence climate change – are polarized. But, for a manufacturer, it really doesn’t matter which side you favor.

Why? Three quick reasons:

>> A continuing stream of increasing governmental regulations is coming, like it or not. The CAFE standards for decreasing vehicle fuel consumption and President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which limits carbon emissions from electrical generating facilities are just a two of a growing crowd.

>> Actions to cut power usage across your firm’s value chain are simply good business, regardless of your views on Climate Change.

>> Actions that reduce atmospheric emissions respect both human well-being and the natural world that we all depend on.

Materials Utilization Efficiency

There are three primary approaches to improving materials utilization efficiency:

Recycle Moibus>> Recovering and reusing waste materials – Recycling, in its many forms, is the first thing that comes to mind: recycling of waste streams generated in the manufacturing process itself (recycled in-house or by others) and general recycling by third parties in the resources recovery industry (recycling of packaging materials, for example).

>> Improving production processes – Reducing waste in any guise, including materials waste, is a primary area for continuous improvement projects, especially by using Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma techniques.

>> Designing (or redesigning) your products – Product design now encompasses your entire value chain. Product design starts with sourcing materials, continues through materials sensitive manufacturing processes, design for product performance, design for durability and ultimately design for end of product life reuse or disposition.

The key to all three of these is attention to your entire value chain, including waste in transportation at each step along the value chain. [2]

These are only two of many fundamental changes already occurring in response to Sustainability. There are many more. Because of the scale of these matters, the resulting conditions as they specifically affect your business may prove to be surprising. In the 21st century, it is absolutely necessary for even small businesses to follow and understand these zoomed-out, big picture change drivers, so that proactive steps can be taken.

Chuck - California CoastThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington


P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about surviving and thriving in the 21st century … CH

This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.


[2] For more on materials utilization efficiency, see Embracing the Circular Economy, a recent post to this blog available at:


Embracing the Circular Economy

The Circular Economy

In an industrial sense, the term circular economy refers to a systemic view of resources utilization. It replaces the linear one pass take (from the natural world) … make (something incompatible with the natural world) … and dispose of (that is, burden the natural world with) production wastes along with the product itself at the end of its useful life. Instead, the circular economy envisions closed loop production which minimizes impacts on the natural world. Circular economy begins with products designed with multiple cycles of reuse and recycling in mind. Corresponding industrial processes are designed to minimize interactions which degrade the natural world, including interactions which occur anywhere along the product’s value chain.

Cutting to the Chase

It is readily apparent that a circular economy mindset might lead to lower costs, as well as a better world. The question becomes how to improve on what you are already doing to improve resource utilization. Here are some comments and examples to stimulate your thinking:

BMW i3 Press Kit Photo

BMW i3 Electric Vehicle

>> BMW i3 – The BMW i3 all-electric city car is an example of a circular economy product. Attention to sustainability is obvious in just about everything about the design and construction of the BMW i3. Recycled materials are used extensively.  Plans are in place for disposal of each component of the i3 at the end of its useful product life. For more on the i3, see BMW – A Case Study in Sustainability. [1]

>> Waste Management Corporation – Waste Management makes more than half of its money on recycling and upcycling refuse that people like you and me pay them to take from us. Sustainability – especially the circular economy aspect – Is integral to Waste Management’s business model. For more on how this works, see Waste Management Corp – A Case Study in Sustainability [2] and Waste Management’s 2015 Sustainability Report Update (which is entitled “The Circular Economy Revs Up”!) [3]

>> USBCSD – The United States Business Council on Sustainable Development is a not for profit business association that, among other projects, seeks to match bi-product streams with firms – often in other industries — that can use those bi-products as raw materials. In other words, one firm’s waste becomes another firm’s feedstock, to the benefit of both. See USBCSD’s website [4] for more on their work.

Scrap Tires 350pxh>> Tires – Where Waste Management Corporation seeks to find uses with the broad range of wastes it collects from residences, commercial facilities and industry, the tire industry focuses on new uses for its hard to dispose of product. Tire Recycling: An Industry Success Story was one of the first posts to this blog, almost five years ago. This lightly edited version still provides a useful example today: 

Tire Recycling: An Industry Success Story

(From 29 June 2011) 

American motorists discard a lot of tires; roughly one tire per capita or around 310 million used tires annually. On the average, tire carcasses weigh about 37 pounds, so that’s something like 11 billion pounds of waste rubber and metal every year. In the past, most of these used tires went to dumps, where they were ugly, mosquito – breeding fire hazards. Today, the recycle rate is sufficient to handle this year’s carcasses, while also significantly drawing down inventories at tire dumps nationwide.

Tire dealers add a state–mandated “tipping fee”, usually around $4.00, to each new tire sold. The “tipping fee” is passed on to the tire reclaim firm when the tire reclaimer collects carcasses from the tire dealer. The tire reclaimer converts the scrap tires into some useful form, usually by shredding the scrap tires and separating the rubber from the steel tire cords. The rubber scrap may be processed further, depending on the intended application. 

More than half of the recovered scrap rubber is used as tire–derived fuel, burned as an alternate to coal, primarily to fuel cement kilns. Ground rubber has a multitude of uses, ranging from landscaping mulch, to athletic fields, to molded rubber products, and on to de-vulcanized rubber, which can be used to produce new tires. Those who are interested can download a free report chock full of information on scrap tire products and markets at 

One take-away for all manufacturers is that the conversion of billions of pounds of scrap from dangerous eye-sore to useful products came to be through the efforts of a trade association. Trade associations offer a particularly useful vehicle for addressing many of the industry-wide problems and opportunities that Sustainability presents. 

>> Learning from Nature – Proponents of the Circular Economy point out that there are no wastes in biological processes. Everything eventually becomes food for something else. Actually, it is better than that. Biological processes operate at or near ambient pressures and temperatures, as opposed to the energy intensive demands of many industrial processes. I was surprised to learn that the Department of Chemical Engineering where I studied is now the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering – a strong indication of the growing importance of bio – based products and processes.

>> Books – Consider the entire value chain for books and other printed matter. Start with cutting forests, then the environmental concerns with paper making, ink chemistry, collecting end of useful life products, transportation costs across the value chain, and recycling or disposal costs. Compare all of that that with a Kindle. Replacing a tangible product – or a component of a tangible product, such as the operating instructions – with a virtual (digital) product changes everything!

For Smaller Manufacturers

The ideas behind the Circular Economy are quite powerful and potentially disruptive. Every manufacturer needs to consider how to modify its business model to embrace those ideas. As you can see, there are a lot of ways to approach this – new product development / new manufacturing processes / teaming with somebody like Waste Management or USBCSD / through a trade association / even virtualization – are just for starters, there are many more possibilities.

Chuck - FranceThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington


P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about thriving in the 21st century … CH

This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.



[3] Download for free at



Betting the Ranch on Innovation

Everybody knows that innovation is the key to continuing success in this globalized 21st century. But innovation is tough. Innovation requires change. And innovation entails risks. Sometimes, very big risks.

Today, I watched Elon Musk’s Space-X attempt to land a rocket roughly 15 stories tall on a barge in the Pacific Ocean, in heavy seas. The attempt failed. But an earlier attempt on land was successful. That Space-X will soon have the tremendous competitive advantage of reusable booster rockets becomes is becoming increasingly likely. Space-X innovated. Now, the established players – Boeing / Lockheed and the Russian space agency — can try to catch up.

The Courage to Innovate, a post from two years ago, talks about Ford’s gutsy innovation in converting its F-150 pick-up truck line to aluminum bodies. It is worth repeating, now that the success of Ford’s innovation has been demonstrated. Now, the rest of the automotive industry can try to catch up.

The Courage to Innovate – From 16 January 2014

Judgment and Courage

This blog often discusses innovation as a route to thriving in perpetuity in today’s globalized manufacturing economy. Innovative products, innovative production and business processes, as well as innovative business models all count. But innovating is often expensive and risky. The perceived opportunity — opportunity to gain or opportunity to avoid loss — must substantially outweigh the anticipated costs and the very real risk of failure. Taking innovation to market requires judgment. Moreover, taking innovation to market requires courage.

The Ford F-150 Truck

Ford F-150 TruckThis week (13 January 2014), Ford Motor Company unveiled the 2015 models in Ford’s F-150 light truck line. The new models offer a list of innovative features, most prominently the extensive use aluminum in place of steel in the truck’s body. This change in materials results in trucks that are about 700 pounds (about 15%) lighter than corresponding 2014 models.

The significantly lighter weight offers advantages from several points of view:

>> Fuel consumption is expected to improve to about 30 miles per gallon, from the 23 miles per gallon the fuel – thriftiest 2014 F-150 model offers. Critically, the 2014 models position Ford to comply with — or exceed — the government’s C.A.F.E. fuel economy requirements as they roll out over the years from now to 2025.

>> With the lighter weight body, an F-150 fitted with an equivalent power train, should significantly outperform older models in acceleration, carrying capacity and almost everything else light truck drivers care about. 700 pounds is a lot of weight to not carry around every place the truck goes, through its entire service life.

>> The lighter weight allows design engineers to make more weight reductions in the future. Less weight means less stress on the suspension, the drive train, shock absorbers, tires (and on and on), so lighter components may prove to be practical.

Ford and the F-150 series

As impressive as all of this is, it is prudent to consider what is at stake for Ford. The F-150 series isn’t some isolated product or minor product line. The F-150 series has been America’s best selling truck line for 37 consecutive years, and America’s bestselling vehicle (cars or trucks) for 32 consecutive years. The F-150 series accounts for over a third of Ford’s North American revenues and, due to high per vehicle margins, and disproportionate share of the profits. One doesn’t cook a golden goose like the F-150 series.

Further, manufacturing a primarily aluminum vehicle is substantially different from manufacturing a steel vehicle. Metal cutting and forming equipment need be changed out. Joining aluminum parts requires much different methods, tools and so on. Employees must be retrained. Maintenance procedures need be revised. New supplier logistics need be arranged. And on and on. Manufacturing people know how long the list of changes must be. Two manufacturing plants are involved, sharing a 750,000 vehicle per year production schedule.

Clearly, the production change-over must be seamless — the new models have to roll out right on schedule. And the new trucks have to be flawless, because the entire automotive world will be watching — especially GM, Chrysler and Toyota, all of whom would love to take market share from the F-150 series.

F-150 or F-15?

Then there is market acceptance. The F-150 buyer community has been remarkably faithful for decades. If the buyer community likes the new truck, they will likely remain faithful. If they don’t like it, the goose is cooked. The major worry is whether or not the new F-150 will be perceived as Built Ford Tough. Beer cans are made of aluminum. But so are F-15 fighter jets. Technically, the right grades of aluminum are quite tough enough, as has been proven in many demanding applications. The question isn’t technology — its perception.

Betting the Ranch on a Green Product

Compliance with the government’s C.A.F.E. fuel economy standards require major changes to American cars and trucks. The new F-150 series is a really major initiative on Ford’s part. Success will reconfirm Ford’s leadership in the light truck segment. The aluminum – based design and manufacturing technology will be ported to Ford’s other car and truck lines. Buyers will enjoy better products that consume considerably less fuel.

2014 AEO ER Fig 12The reduction in fuel consumption will result in lower environmental emissions. It will also help balance America’s petroleum consumption with petroleum production. As the chart labeled “Figure 12” indicates, America imported 60% of the petroleum it consumed in 2005. By 2012, the gap reduced to 40%, with further reduction to about 20% expected within this decade. This improvement is due to increased crude oil production (primarily from “fracking”), to already improving vehicle fuel consumption efficiency, and to redirection of many non-vehicle uses of petroleum to natural gas (residential heating, for example).

Bill Ford, Ford’s Executive Chairman and Henry Ford’s great-grandson, is a confirmed Greenie. The environmental emissions reductions that the new F-150 series pioneers are, in my opinion, are a big part of Bill’s endorsement of all of this.

Alan Mulally is Ford’s CEO. He has led a remarkable turn-around since coming to Ford from Boeing in 2006. As an aeronautical engineer, he knows a lot about aluminum in critical applications. And he understands from the importance of executing this product change-over with a precision rivaling that of Tesla and Elon Musk.

Why lead the industry in the change to aluminum? Why not wait and let somebody else dare the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”? Because leaders lead. That’s what they do, and that’s what they are.

Chuck - Red RocksThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (

P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about prospering in the globalized 21st century … CH

This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.

“The Age of Sustainable Development” – Part 1

Sustainable Development

This post is the first of a series that examines the concept of Sustainable Development in its most zoomed out (broadest) sense. This series of essays is intended to provide context, from which smaller manufacturers can individually zoom in to take actions appropriate to their business and its circumstances. The series title, “The Age of Sustainable Development”, is borrowed from the title of a book and on-line course by professor Jeffery Sachs. Dr. Sach’s book and course will provide much of the material for the posts that follow this one.

It is not accidental that this series of posts corresponds in time (December 2015) with U.N. sponsored meetings on Climate Change being held in Paris. Those meetings represent the latest zoomed out efforts at defining “Sustainable Development” in an operative sense.

Before we get to Dr. Sach’s book and the outcomes from the meetings in Paris, this post reprises and slightly updates an earlier post to this blog. Sustainable Development: An Oxymoron? offers a good starting point.

Sustainable Development: An Oxymoron?  (from 31 August 2011)

The publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in the 1960’s struck a nerve in Kennedy – era America. A national sense of outrage at abuse of the natural environment resonated with the protest climate of the time – the time of the Vietnam War protests and Civil Rights marches, among others. Greenpeace, perhaps the highest profile environmental activist group, has its roots in those times.

Patrick Moore was a founding member and later President of Greenpeace. In his book Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout (terrible title), Dr. Moore recalls attending a global conference of environmental activists in Nairobi in 1982. Of course, all of the delegates at the conference championed immediate and dramatic action in defense of the environment. However, he noticed a difference in outlook between delegates from developed countries and those from developing countries. Those from developed countries wanted action, regardless of economic consequences. Delegates from developing countries, on the other hand, wanted a clean and safe world, along with economic development. There are around 7.2 billion people on this planet today. About half of those live on the equivalent of $2.00 a day or less. Yes, they want economic development.

Dr. Moore maintains that Sustainable Development – the idea that a safe, clean environment and economic development are not mutually exclusive – was born from that conference of environmentalists. Not long thereafter, it was recognized that humanity is part of nature; therefore improvement of the environment entails improvement in the condition of humanity. Dr. Moore emphasizes that connection when he credibly demonstrates that poverty is the worst single cause of environmental degradation.

For a manufacturer, Sustainable Development is a strategic approach, where economic development is pursued simultaneously with reduction in impact on natural systems and without exploitation of humanity. As development proceeds, “reduction in impact” and “without exploitation” both grow into positive improvements. In this sense, Sustainable Development is a course of action, while Sustainability is a state to be achieved.

So, Sustainable Development is definitely not an oxymoron. Serendipitously, it has become increasingly clear that the three elements of Sustainable Development – economic growth, environmental impact and humanity – can be mutually reinforcing when pursued systematically. A clear win-win-win.

The “Jera” in our name, Jera Sustainable Development, is that of a rune, part of a northern European system of writing from about the third century. Jera refers to the harvest, hence to beneficial outcomes earned through systematic actions sustained over time. Thus, our name evokes our mission: to be useful to manufacturers who choose to embrace Sustainable Development through systematic actions, sustained over time.

Chuck - Blue SweaterThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.


…  Chuck Harrington (


P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about pursuing Sustainability … CH

This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.

A Tale of Two Innovators

Henry Ford and Elon Musk

I’ve been reading My Life & Work, an autobiography of Henry Ford. The book was originally published in 1922, during the heyday of the famous Model T. The Model T, its manufacturing technology and the business philosophy behind it revolutionized personal transportation a century ago. The Model T’s story suggests parallels to Elon Musk’s unfolding Tesla revolution today.

Henry Ford and the Model T

1910 Ford Model TThe opening decades of the 20th century were alive with revolutionary ideas. Some of them, like Einstein’s theories, were truly fundamental. Many more were technical advances, across a number of fields – not just mechanics. Sometimes technical advances converge. That’s what happened with Ford’s Model T.

Converging Technologies:

Electrification: Electricity came to industry in the early 1900’s. Electricity provided the power and the practicality necessary for the development of large – scale manufacturing facilities, for automation and for moving assembly lines.

Texas Oil Boom: The gusher of crude oil at Spindletop Hill in 1901 began the Texas Oil Boom, making cheap petroleum a product needed a volume application.

Internal Combustion Engines: Gottlieb Daimler is credited with the first commercial automobile in 1892. Daimler’s vehicle used a four cycle internal combustion engine that was powerful enough, portable enough, light enough and rugged enough for an automobile. Henry Ford built and used a similar engine to power his first “gasoline buggy” in 1893. The gasoline engines that power most of today’s cars at direct descendants of those Daimler and Ford used.

Vanadium Steels: Vanadium steel alloys were first used around 1900. Vanadium alloys are much stronger than conventional steels, so metal parts could be designed to be smaller, lighter and stronger than the conventional steel parts they replaced. Vanadium steel parts were used extensively in the Model T’s frame, before other automobile manufacturers were even aware of its existence.

Scientific Management: Fredric Taylor made a science of the role of people in manufacturing. Taylor divided production into discrete tasks, measured the time and human effort necessary to perform each task and, practically speaking, invented the concept of productivity. Henry Ford applied Taylor’s ideas in his high volume, low cost manufacturing methods.

Business Philosophy

Ford’s idea was to provide reliable personal transportation for everybody. To use Ford’s own words:

“I will build a motor car for the multitudes. It will be large enough for the family but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man earning a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”

Ford’s idea with the Model T was to persistently reduce the price in order to open new strata of demand. Then he continually reduced costs as throughput increased. Cost reductions were through productivity and elimination of waste. In 1914, Ford voluntarily established a minimum wage of $5.00 a day – almost twice the then–prevailing wage rate in manufacturing – heavy Detroit.

Elon Musk and Tesla Motors

Today, a century later, Elon Musk is attempting to upcycle the automobile by replacing the internal combustion engine with electric motors. Electric automobiles are not a new idea – Studebaker, for example, produced electric vehicles from 1902 to 1912, before being overwhelmed by Model T’s. However, like Ford, Musk lives in a time of new and converging ideas. These converging ideas may well change everything.

Converging Technologies

Lithium – ion Batteries: The exploration of space and the advent of mobile electronic devices like cell phones has fostered an avalanche of innovations in battery technology. Lithium – ion batteries are the current favorite due to high storage capacity, long battery life and low weight to storage capacity ratio. Tesla has partnered with Panasonic to build a gigafactory to mass produce lithium – ion batteries for Tesla automobiles and other uses. The gigafactory is expected to start production in 2016, with the ability to produce enough batteries for 500,000 automobiles at full initial design capacity.

Variable Speed AC Motor Drives: Until recently, heavy, expensive DC motors were necessary for variable speed, constant torque applications like automobiles. Today, stable, reliable variable frequency drives allow the use cheap. Light, efficient AC motors in those applications.

Environmental Concerns: Internal combustion engines burn fuels under conditions of high pressure and temperature. Environmentally undesirable by-products, including oxides of carbon, sulfur and of nitrogen, are present in the engine exhaust. Electric vehicles have no exhaust emissions.

Robotics: Advances in computer – driven robotic technology are making significant product quality and productivity contributions to manufacturing. Tesla makes increasingly extensive use such technology.

Business Philosophy

Musk and Tesla propose to build no compromises, fully electric vehicles. “No compromises” means that customers enjoy the advantages of clean, quiet electric propulsion without compromising safety, performance, reliability, cost to operate, internal space or any other characteristic that matters.

To accomplish this, Tesla is engaged in a three step program of commercial development and introduction. The first step was a high price, low volume sports car that provided proof of concept. Tesla’s produced and sold 2,250 Roadsters in 31 countries between 2008 and 2012 at more than $100,000 each.

Tesla Model SThe second step is a premium priced, medium volume sedan and SUV that brings sales volume up sufficiently to confront the realities of everyday driving in many countries. The $70,000+ Model S sedan and the slightly higher priced Model X SUV are expected to sell a combined 55,000 units in 2015.

The third step is a smaller, more popularly priced model that will challenge the heart of the automobile market in developed countries. Tesla’s Model 3 is expected to begin production in 2016 or 2017, priced starting around $35,000. Combined volumes for Models S, X and 3 are forecast at 500,000 units per year by 2020.

If 500,000 vehicles sounds like a very big number, consider that, in 2015, about 15 million automobiles will be sold in the U.S. alone. Also consider that over 15 million Model Ts were produced and sold over its 19 year production run a century ago. Consider as well that the population of the U.S. today is three times what it was in 1920. It could well be that Tesla may be that one gigafactory isn’t enough.

Chuck - Austrian AlpsThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington


P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about pursuing Sustainability … CH

This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.

Photo: 1910 Ford Model T – Creative Commons via Wikipedia

Quotation: My Life & Work, Henry Ford’s autobiography, originally published in 1922

Profiting Through Decarbonization

The Problem in Paris

Groping Toward Paris, [1] an essay from last winter, discussed prospects for finalizing a global agreement for carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, to be finalized in Paris late this year. Primary emphasis is placed on drastically reducing the use of hydrocarbons as fuels. To date, about 50 nations – most of the developed world — have proposed GHG emissions reductions over a range of coming decades.

With four months to go until the Paris meeting, it is clear that emissions reductions currently proposed will not be even close to sufficient to achieve the key goal for this agreement: to achieve GHG emissions reduction sufficient to hold peak global temperature increase to 2 oC maximum. It is reasonable to expect that leaders, especially leaders of developed nations, will be pressured to increase their nation’s emissions reduction commitments. Of course, each leader is constrained by political and practical realities in doing so. (A Carbon Conundrum, [2] a recent essay to this blog, discusses one such reality).

Further, experience from the Kyoto Protocol, an earlier global agreement on GHG emissions reductions, suggests that actual emissions reductions may be considerably smaller than those promised. In summary, it appears that reductions from any GHG emissions agreement likely to be achieved at the Paris meeting this year will be insufficient to limit peak global temperature increase to 2 oC.

The Carbon Cycle

There is a more comprehensive way to think about this. Mean global temperature is affected by the mean concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. CO2 enters the atmosphere primarily as a result of oxidation – the respiration of animals and people, as well as the combustion of carbon – based fuels, especially coal and petroleum. Since CO2 is somewhat heavier than air, CO2 in the atmosphere tends to sink toward the ground, where, as you learned in the 4th grade, plants convert CO2 into carbohydrates (sugars) by photosynthesis, emitting oxygen while doing so. The carbohydrates react by physical and biological reactions to form various biomasses, some of which, over time, become part of the earth’s crust (coal, for example).

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that a stabilizing atmospheric CO2 concentration at between 350 and 440 parts per million will suffice to limit global warming. That stabilization can be achieved by limiting CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, by expediting the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, or by some combination of both. The prospects for GHG emissions abatement being as they are, the expedited CO2 removal part of the carbon cycle deserves more attention than it has received to date.

There are lots of ways to expedite removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, including natural (like increasing forests), biological (such as bio-fuels and photosynthetic processes), and thermo- or electro-chemical approaches. Any or all of these can help to some extent or another. However, all are constrained to some degree by costs, available space, scalability, disposition of recovered CO2 or other concerns. There is currently no readily available “silver bullet” method to remove CO2 from the atmosphere in gigaton quantities without losing money in doing so. [3]

For Smaller Manufacturers

The carbon cycle presents concerns as well as opportunities for smaller manufacturers.

One of those concerns is a rising chorus for applying a price to GHG emissions, in order to force their reduction. This might be a “cap and trade” scheme or a straight – forward tax. Either way, a price on carbon means additional cost for smaller manufacturers.

Opportunities may be present in developing new products, processes and possibly entire industries that remove CO2 from the atmosphere and put it to profitable use. There may be possibilities “inside the box” as well as “outside the box”. All of us have thought about profiting through reducing CO2 emissions. Few have given much thought to profiting through recovering CO2 from the air. There is a lot of room for imagination and innovation.

Chuck and Joan - Paris low resThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (

P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about pursuing Sustainability … CH

This essay and 200+ more are available at are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. Fresh essays are published weekly.

[1] Groping Toward Paris

[2] A Carbon Conundrum

[3] For an extensive look at current technologies for carbon capture, see K. S. Lackner et al, The Urgency of the Development of CO2 Capture from Ambient Air, available at: