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 (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) 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 | Dreamstime.com


[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, http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2015/06/27/appreciating-the-theory-of-constraints/

Recycling the Circular Economy

Recycling is at the heart of the Circular Economy. Embracing the Circular Economy, a post from 21 March 2016 discuses the concept of a Circular Economy, especially as it applies to smaller manufacturers. Embracing the Circular Economy is worth recycling — so here it is:


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 www.rma.org/scrap-tires. 


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

(Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) 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] http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2014/10/04/bmw-a-case-study-in-sustainability/

[2] http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2015/01/30/waste-management-corp-a-case-study-in-sustainability/

[3] Download for free at http://wm.com/sustainability

[4] www.usbcsd.org

 

What the Frack?

On January 17th of this year, the Annual Energy Outlook for 2017 (AEO 2017) was published by the Energy Information Agency, part of the U.S. Government.[1] The AEO examines U.S. domestic energy production and consumption, with extrapolations[2] into the future. Information from the AEO 2017 provides information and insights relevant to business management. This post focuses on petroleum and natural gas production through hydraulic fracture and directional drilling techniques (“fracking”).

America and Petroleum

The graphic labeled “Energy Consumption” is from the AEO 2017. The brown line indicates that petroleum and related liquids fuels about 35% of America’s energy current energy consumption.[3] Further, it indicates little change in annual petroleum consumption over the next 24 years, given the assumptions used to extrapolate the AEO’s “reference case”.

Over the past several decades, the U.S. has consistently consumed considerably more petroleum than it has produced. The difference has been imported, much of it from the Middle East. Since imports must be paid for, petroleum imports have resulted in a substantial drag on the U.S. economy. Further, securing continuing petroleum supplies from overseas has been a major determinant of U.S. foreign policy.

The graphic labeled “Net Energy Trade” illustrates that, in the years around 2006 – 2008, the U.S. imported amounts of petroleum equivalent to over 25% of its entire annual energy consumption, net of any petroleum exports!

Then something dramatic happened. U.S. domestic production increased rapidly from about 2010, resulting in a major decline in global petroleum prices. Accordingly, retail gasoline prices declined by about half during the last six months of 2014, resulting in boost to the U.S. economy that, in my opinion, triggered in the end of the Great Recession. Think of it this way: when a boatload of crude oil arrived in 2013 at $100+ per barrel, the U.S. shipped a boatload of greenbacks overseas in payment. By 2015, the price of crude was less than $50 per barrel and the number of boatloads imported dropped sharply. So, the U.S. shipped many fewer greenbacks overseas in payment. The rest stayed at home, within the U.S. economy. Since we are talking about millions of barrels every day, the difference really matters.

The Fracking Revolution

Fracking – petroleum and natural gas production by directional drilling plus hydraulic fracturing – is a truly remarkable technological innovation. Look again at the graph labeled “Energy Consumption”. Notice the rapid increase in natural gas consumption from 2010. That too is due to fracking. As a fuel, natural gas is complementary to petroleum. Petroleum fuels primarily transportation. Natural gas fuels mostly stationary consumption, including industrial uses, commercial and residential heating, and especially electric power generation.  

Natural gas is difficult and expensive to transport, other than by pipeline. Fortunately, the U.S. already had a domestic pipeline network in place as the huge increase in natural gas production due to fracking became available. Prior to the advent of “fracking”, global natural gas prices generally followed petroleum (crude oil) prices. The increase in natural gas supply in the U.S. resulted in natural gas prices that are not pegged to petroleum, and that are considerably lower than natural gas prices elsewhere.

Implications, Domestic and International

>> Energy Independence: Due to increased U.S. domestic production of petroleum and natural gas, the AEO 2017 projects that U.S energy exports will exceed imports by 2026, using “reference case” assumptions. That means that, if necessary, U.S. energy production would be sufficient to satisfy America’s energy requirements, without relying on OPEC or anybody else.

>> Industrial Economics: U.S. domestic prices for natural gas are substantially lower than elsewhere in the world. This provides U.S. industry with two competitive advantages in global trade. First, energy costs are low. Second, many important petrochemicals can be produced from natural gas, resulting in lower raw materials cost for many products.

>> Petroleum and Natural Gas Reserves: Fracking is used in geological formations that are different from those where conventional petroleum and natural gas production methods are used. That means energy production becomes possible in geographic areas where it is otherwise infeasible. It also means that the world’s potential reserves of petroleum and natural gas have increased substantially.

>> International Development: Fracking technology can and will be applied in other countries. Correspondingly, many nations that lack conventional petroleum or natural gas production may be able to become producers, thus reducing dependence on foreign sources and gaining a degree of freedom from global energy prices.

>> Cleaner Fuels: Petroleum produced by fracking is generally light and sweet. That means it is easy to refine, with few byproducts such as sulfur or heavy metals. Refining light, sweet crudes is relatively energy efficient. Accordingly, less carbon dioxide is produced when light, sweet crude is produced and consumed. Natural gas is even cleaner.


There is a lot more information worth discussing in the AEO 2017. Look for more posts on other AEO 2017 in the future.

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

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) 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] The AEO 2017 is available for free download on the Energy Information Agency’s website, www.eia.gov

[2] I use “extrapolations” rather than “forecasts” to emphasize that the AEO is projecting present and recent past information into the future based on certain assumptions. The “reference case” refers to a “business as usual” set of assumptions that do not anticipate government policy changes or technological innovations, other than those already in place.

[3] Note: U.S. annual primary energy consumption is about 100 quadrillion BTUs.

 

The Globalization Gap

The Fly-over Zone

“The fly-over zone” is David Stockman’s term for the middle portion of the United States; the vast expanse roughly bounded by the Appalachian and the Sierra Nevada mountains. Stockman holds that people in the fly-over zone think differently from those on the coasts.[1] The election results from last November tend to agree.

In my view, Globalization, with its economic and social repercussions, provide insight as to why the fly-over folks think so differently from those on the coasts. In essence, Globalization has benefited Americans whose income relies on professional services and intangibles over the last several decades. Those who depend on tangibles, again speaking generally, have done considerably less than well.

 International trade, especially in consumer goods, and large-scale migration from less economically developed nations to more developed countries are two primary factors driving polarization of opinion about Globalization here in America, as well as in the European Union.

Free Trade

Global free trade is fundamental to increased and increasing global standards of living. Since the end of World War II, international economic history records a succession of moves to facilitate multinational trade by removing tariffs and other barriers to trade. One result is truly multinational companies, like GE or Nestle. Another is globalized value chains, even for small companies. Companies and consumers everywhere benefit from the lowest prices available anywhere in the world.

But it isn’t all good. Employees in some nations suffer as lower cost competitors abroad take business and jobs. Some nations import much more than they export, resulting in escalating debt. Some nations use access to resources as an economic means to political ends, like the recent Russian cuts in natural gas supplies to Europe or the OPEC oil embargo in the 1970s.

So, the benefits of free trade are widely spread, but difficult to recognize or quantify. The negatives, on the other hand, are localized and specific – those who have lost their livelihoods to free trade are not happy. And that unhappiness has resulted in political resistance to new trade pacts and movements in several countries to revise or rescind existing agreements.[2]

Migration

In 2013, author and investment banker Dan Alpert[3] wrote:

“The past twenty years have seen a transformation of the global economy unlike any ever witnessed. In the time it takes to raise a child and pack her off to college, the world order that existed in the early 1990s has disappeared. Some three billion people who once lived in sleepy or sclerotic statist economies are now part of the global economy. Many compete directly with workers in the United States, Europe and Japan in a world bound together by lightning – fast communications. Countries that were once poor now find themselves with huge large surpluses of wealth. And the rich countries of the world, while still rich, struggle with monumental levels of debt – both private and public – and unsettling questions about whether they can compete globally”

Alpert’s thesis is that the world suffers from gross over-supply of labor, capital and productive capacity. Capital moves readily across national borders seeking higher returns – meaning productive investment opportunities. When excess productive capacity exists, businesses don’t invest in more. Excess labor, looking for work and stimulated by numerous local wars and conflicts, continues to migrate from developing world countries toward developed countries.

The circumstances that Alpert describes do exist and significantly define world economies and the businesses that drive those economies. These conditions will continue until fundamental global imbalances change. That change may be gradual, spanning years, or quite rapidly, like the economic equivalent of an earthquake.

Chguck - Juneau AKThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) 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.

Container ship graphic licensed via www.dreamstime.com


[1] David Stockman was former President Reagan’s budget director. He now writes extensively, especially on political / economic affairs.

[2] For more on this, see “Trade, at what price?” in The Economist, April 2nd – 8th 2016 edition, page 27

[3] Dan Alpert’s The Age of Oversupply, Penguin Group (USA) LLC (2014) is offers much more on this.

 

Knowledge Workers and Tomorrow’s Jobs

President Obama, in his 2015 State of the Union address, proposed that America’s community colleges be made tuition free.[1]  With advancing technology, including on-line instruction, that seems to me to be a sensible step. But only a step. America’s education system needs a comprehensive overhaul in order to educate enough people rapidly enough to meet the rapidly changing demands of the 21st century, rather than those of the 20th.

Peter Drucker discussed this need for what he termed “knowledge workers” and provides his usual profound insight to the matter. Here is a post from a year ago that discusses Drucker’s ideas. It is well worth repeating.    — C.H.


Peter Drucker and the Knowledge Worker (from 10 January 2016)

Peter Drucker is arguably the most widely respected of the 20th century management consultants. Drucker wrote over 30 books on management, which are largely focused on human behavior. His 1999 book, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, offers a forward looking assessment of what demographics suggested would be the key problems facing manager in the early decades of the 21st century. Drucker’s concept of a knowledge worker – those whose work is focused on knowledge and its applications – is central to this book. He contrasts knowledge workers with manual workers – those whose work is essentially focused on things and the manipulation of things.

The Knowledge Worker

With his characteristic bluntness and surety, Drucker states:

“Knowledge-worker productivity is the biggest of the 21st century management challenges. In the developed countries it is their first survival requirement. In no other way can the developed countries can the developed countries hope to maintain themselves, let alone to maintain their leadership and their standards of living.”

Drucker credits Fredrick Taylor’s “scientific management” for the awesome improvements in manual worker productivity that characterizes 19th and 20th century industry and agriculture in the developed countries. According to Drucker, those increases in productivity have been the primary source of incremental wealth in the developed world.

The industrial engineering concepts that constitute “scientific management” are quite portable, so they can be quickly applied anywhere, using workers with little education or training. Developing countries have lots of people, many with rudimentary educations at best, who are willing to work for close to pre-industrial wages. Developed countries have aging populations and declining birthrates, hence much higher wage expectations.  

The bottom line is that labor intensive, repetitive manufacturing in the developed countries simply isn’t competitive in this globalized world, a few special cases excepted (at least for a while). Developed countries need sophisticated work based in knowledge, rather than in method. Economies in developed countries need knowledge workers. As Drucker puts it:

“The only possible advantage developed countries can hope to have is in the supply of people prepared, educated and trained for knowledge work. There, for another fifty years, the developed countries can expect to have substantial advantages, both in quality and quantity”.

What To Do?

There have always been knowledge workers, so much is known about knowledge work. Much can be learned about knowledge worker productivity from professional firms such as surgical practices, legal firms, architectural firms and accountancy firms. Today’s medical practices, for example, have several types of knowledge workers – specialized nurses, radiological technicians, physician’s assistants and such – that enhance the productivity of physicians, the practices’ key resource..

For manufacturing firms that intend to become and remain Sustainable, significant changes in organizational practices and organizational structure will be needed. This means new and innovative business models. Obviously, doing all of this will require study, careful thought and even more careful implementation. There isn’t any real alternative to embracing the change. Start by reading (or re-reading) Peter Drucker’s Management Challenges for the 21st Century !

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

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

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


[1] For more on my thoughts on President Obama’s proposal, see: http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2015/01/24/tomorrows-talent/

 

Advancing Global Competitiveness

The HBS Report

The Harvard Business School conducted a study on America’s competitiveness within the global economy. The study defines competitiveness this way: [i]

A nation is competitive to the extent that firms operating there can compete successfully in domestic and foreign markets while also lifting the living standards of the average citizen.

One way to measure a nation’s competitiveness is by following that nation’s balance of trade – the difference in value of that nation’s exports and imports. An excess of exports over imports yields a positive balance, while an excess of imports over exports yields a negative balance, or “trade gap”.

The Bureau of the Census has this to say about America’s balance of trade: [ii]

The trade gap in the United States increased to $42.6 billion in October 2016, up $6.4 billion from a downwardly revised $36.2 billion in September. Exports recorded the biggest decline since January due to lower shipments of food, industrial supplies and materials, automobiles, consumer goods and soybeans while imports reached the highest in 14 months. Balance of Trade in the United States averaged negative $13.521 billion from 1950 to 2016, reaching an all time high of positive $1.946 billion in June of 1975 and a record low of negative $67.823 billion in August of 2006.

This graphic puts that into rather vivid perspective:

U.S. Balance of Trade Graph

As you can see, America’s balance of trade was roughly even from 1950 until 1975, when the balance turned sharply negative following a rapid increase in imported crude oil prices. Matters got much worse after about 2000.

To beg the obvious, America’s persistently large and negative trade gap, especially since the millennium, indicates that America does not “compete successfully in domestic and foreign markets”. Accordingly, “lifting the living standards of the average citizen” has not occurred. This is not surprising, since a trade gap is paid for by exporting cash in lieu of goods, bleeding the U.S. economy. Quite obviously, this is not sustainable.

It is my personal conviction that the dramatic decrease in the price of crude oil experienced in the latter half of 2014 is the key trigger to the relative improvement in the performance in the U.S. economy since that time. That reduction in international crude oil prices is directly attributable to the corresponding sharp increases in U.S. crude oil production, due to “fracking”.

What to Do?

Crude oil imports are an important part of America’s trade gap, but only a part. Manufactured goods are another major portion. Many other economically developed countries have positive balances of trade in the manufactured goods sector – it is not impossible. Nor is it easy. Action is needed at all levels, from individual manufacturing firms to the federal governments. Many earlier posts to this blog address competitiveness, especially for smaller manufacturing firms, as will future posts.

The Harvard study mentioned above offers an eight-point plan for policy improvements at the federal level. That plan, believe it or not, strikes me as a starting point that the incoming Trump administration might actually find actionable:

Eight-Point Plan

  1. Simplify the corporate tax code with lower statutory rates and no loopholes
  2. Move to a territorial tax system
  3. Ease the immigration of highly-skilled individuals
  4. Aggressively address distortions and abuses in international trading systems
  5. Improve logistics, communications and energy infrastructure
  6. Simplify and streamline regulation
  7. Create a sustainable federal budget, including reforms to entitlements
  8. Responsibly develop America’s unconventional energy advantage

Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) 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.


[i] Michael E. Porter et al, Problems Unsolved and a Nation Divided  – A Harvard Business School Survey on U.S. Competitiveness, Harvard Business School, Cambridge MA, September 2016. The study is available for download at: http://www.hbs.edu/competitiveness/research/Pages/research-details.aspx?rid=81. It is well worth reading.

[ii] This quotation is from www.tradingeconomics.com/united-states/balance-of-trade (a service of the U.S. Bureau of the Census, accessed 31 December 2016). In the interest of clarity, some figures have been restated from millions to billions and the terms “negative” and “positive” have been substituted for the corresponding “-“ and “+” symbols.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals

One year ago, “The Age of Sustainable Development”, a series of three posts to this blog, sought an operational definition of “Sustainable Development” as that term applies to smaller manufacturers. That is, a definition that answers the question: “what characteristics and actions can be expected to enable smaller manufacturing firms to grow and prosper indefinitely, within context of a sustainable world?” (A sustainable world does not self-destruct ecologically, socially or economically.)

UN FlagThe third of those posts explores the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The United Nations’ Goals serve to remind us of just how broad the scope of doing business is today. Finding a way to keep in meaningful contact with the multitude of changes occurring in globalized commerce is a major management challenge for smaller manufacturers. The following is extracted from that post:


U.N. Sustainable Development Goals

Earlier posts in this series of posts looked at two routes to an actionable definition of “Sustainable Development”. The first was the original (1987) Bruntland Commission single sentence definition: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The second approach was to take the entire contents of Dr. Jeffrey Sachs’ “The Age of Sustainable Development” – the on-line university level course (a “MOOC”), along with the 500+ page textbook – as an operational definition.

Clearly, a single sentence definition isn’t specific enough, while a book plus a MOOC is a bit much. A third route involves the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. By examining these global goals, smaller manufacturers can identify specific, actionable areas that fit with their business and those it serves. From those specifics, each firm can construct their own operational definition – a definition that reflects and contributes to global initiatives.

The U.N. adopted an Official Agenda for Sustainable Development in September of this year (2015). The Official Agenda includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals, to be achieved by 2030. The Goals are sweeping, general statements, each reinforced by a number of more specific Targets. Sustainable Development Goal #1, along with its associated Targets provides an example:

Goal #1: End poverty in all of its forms everywhere

Target 1.1: By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day

Target 1.2: By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions

Target 1.3: Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable

Target 1.4: By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance

Target 1.5: By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters

 Target 1a: Ensure significant mobilization of resources from a variety of sources, including through enhanced development cooperation, in order to provide adequate and predictable means for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions

Target 1b: Create sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies, to support accelerated investment in poverty eradication actions

Before you throw up your hands and blow this off, consider that Goal #1 and its targets affect about 2 billion people. Any real global effort toward achieving this will involve huge opportunities in agricultural products, distribution methods, irrigation and other water related products, along with a multitude of other areas. Somebody will supply each piece of all that is required. Some will participate directly, others as suppliers to other manufacturers. So, many firms will do some business and help make the world a better place by doing so.

The remaining 16 Goals and the 162 Targets associated with them are just as ambitious as Goal #1. Rather than list them here, you can visit original list on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development website:

https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/topics/sustainabledevelopmentgoals

For Smaller Manufacturers

>> Each of these Goals and Targets deserve careful thought as to how they fit with your firm’s business model and web of relationships. The 17 Goals, taken together, are so broad that there has to be opportunities for just about anybody who can make anything. Personally, I don’t believe that world poverty will be eliminated within the coming 15 years. But there may well be significant action toward that end. China’s progress over the last few decades demonstrates that major improvement is possible. Helping even a fraction of 2 billion people out of abject poverty is a very good thing.

>> The U.N. Goals signify that the U.N. has decided to combine its (human) economic development efforts with Sustainable Development. That means the U.N.’s current idea of Sustainable Development has a much different focus from the original Bruntland Commission definition. Bruntland emphasized the longer term (inter-generational) relationship between economic development (meaning industrial development) and environmental impact. The new U.N. focus is shorter term and emphasizes human and fairness matters. The U.N. hasn’t forgotten the environment – just much more emphasis on people issues.


Chuck - VancouverThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) 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.

U.N. Flag image licensed via www.dreamstime.com


Links to the three posts comprising the “Age of Sustainable Development” series:

http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2015/12/05/the-age-of-sustainable-development-part-1/

http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2015/12/12/the-age-of-sustainable-development-part-2/

http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2015/12/19/the-age-of-sustainable-development-part-3/

 

The Triple Bottom Line in Context

The Triple Bottom Line

Sustainability guru John Elkington’s concept of a Triple Bottom Line provides the most used framework for discussing Sustainability. Elkington proposed that businesses should measure and report Return on Assets Deployed information for natural (ecological) assets deployed and for social assets deployed, as well as the usual financial assets (capital) deployed figures. The three “bottom lines” represent the business’s net effects on planet, people and profit. This is obviously a more comprehensive view. Perhaps more significant is the implication that the business should show positive results which indicate enhancement to the environment and society, beyond doing no harm.

Triple Bottom LineAndrew Savitz and Karl Weber’s book, The Triple Bottom Line, extends Elkington’s idea by representing the three “bottom lines” as intersecting circles. The areas of intersection are termed “sweet spots”, meaning synergistic opportunities. For example, when power utilization efficiency is improved, profits are improved due to lower power cost, while the environment and humanity benefit through reduced carbon dioxide emissions. So, improvements in the planet and people “bottom lines” are not necessarily at the expense of the profit “bottom line”. [1]

A Systematic Approach

Approaching the Triple Bottom Line through systematic business planning appears to me to be a clearer, more pragmatic approach. By “systematic business planning” I mean integrating all three aspects of the Triple Bottom Line: in definition of the business (mission statement, vision statement, values statement), in formulating goals and objectives, and in establishing and executing the business processes necessary to successfully pursue those goals and objectives. The sequence is clear enough:

Values to Results

In this sense, Triple Bottom Line involves an increased scope of management awareness that includes attention to the natural world and humanity, in lock step with attention to financial realities.

The rub lies in setting (and achieving) sufficiently aggressive goals and objectives that express timely progress toward achievement of the mission, vision and values that define your business. Those goals and objectives are unique to each organization, in context of the organization and the business climate that exists as they are set and pursued. Accordingly, there is no ready package of goals and objectives – you have to figure them out for yourself. However, you can look at the efforts of others to help you find your own way.

Here are a few starting places:

Fetzer Winery – Fetzer is a medium sized California winery that has Triple Bottom Line Sustainability in its DNA. Start with Fetzer’s website.[2]

Ben & Jerry’s – Yep. The Vermont – based premium ice cream company founded by two hippies. Try Ben & Jerry’s website [3], especially the tabs on values.  Also, Ben & Jerry’s – A Case Study in Sustainability [4],an earlier post to this blog, may be useful.

Hershey Company – The maker of Hershey Bars began as a fair example of an early 20th century mill town, and then morphed into an extraordinary example of what a successful business can do for its employees and their neighbors. Today, more than 70 years after the death of Hershey’s extraordinary founder, Hershey’s continues as a successful multi-billion dollar company that still focuses on its roots. Start with the Wikipedia wiki on The Hershey Company.

Interface Corporation – Interface makes carpets, primarily for commercial buildings. Interface provides an example of what can happen when a manufacturing company thoroughly embraces Sustainability, from its expressed mission and vision all the way through business results. Start with Whither Sustainability? [5], a recent post to this blog.

Waste Management – Waste Management changed its business model from a business based on collecting refuse and carrying it to landfill, to one based on profiting from the refuse it collects. Both Waste Management and Interface are examples of firms that fundamentally changed the basis of their business to embrace Sustainability. See Waste Management Corporation – A Case Study in Sustainability,[6] this blog.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – The UN recently established a set of 17 goals for the world to achieve by 2030. The UN’s set of goals provides insight as to just how broad Sustainability is. Aligning your Triple Bottom Line goals and objectives with the UN goals may be a good idea. Start with The Age of Sustainable Development – Part 3 [7] this blog . Alternatively, just google “UN Sustainable Development Goals”.


Again, your goals and objectives are unique to your business and the business context within which it exists. The examples cited above are extreme cases which may be useful to stimulate your thinking.

Chuck in FranceThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) 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.

Triple Bottom Line graphic credit – creative commons via Wikipedia


[1] The preceding two paragraphs are borrowed from Double Take on the Triple Bottom Line, an earlier post to this blog. http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2012/10/04/double-take-on-the-triple-bottom-line/

[2] www.fetzer.com

[3] www.benjerry.com

[4] http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2014/11/01/ben-jerrys-a-case-study-in-sustainability/

[5] http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2016/06/20/whither-sustainability/

[6] http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2015/01/30/waste-management-corp-a-case-study-in-sustainability/

[7] http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2015/12/19/the-age-of-sustainable-development-part-3/

 

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 (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) 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.  www.eia.gov

[2] Energy Efficiency Market Report 2016, International Energy Agency, page13. https://www.iea.org/eemr16/files/medium-term-energy-efficiency-2016_WEB.PDF

[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 www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/led-not-solar-have-transformed-their-industry , which refers to a Goldman Sachs report at www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/new-energy-landscape/future-of-clean-energy/index.html

On Globalization Immigration and Pragmatism

Globalization and its effects are simply facts of 21st century life. The pragmatist looks first at those effects that most urgently affect the pragmatist’s life and business, then seeks a pragmatic solution – a solution that can actually work for all involved.

Viewed from here in the southwestern United States, illegal immigration is one such issue needing resolution. The following, reprised from two earlier post to this blog, proposes an approach that offers a real chance for a lasting solution. The pragmatist also knows that band-aids and stop-gap measures may be necessary as a lasting solution is implemented. But the pragmatist does not confuse the temporary with the lasting.    — C.H.


A Tale of Two Borders

Benito Juarez, a five term president of Mexico in the mid-19th century, famously lamented “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States”. Today, many in the U.S., especially here in the southwest, complain about illegal immigration from Mexico.

Finger pointing didn’t work in the 19th century, and it will not work now – in either direction. Canada is just as close to the United States as Mexico is. There are no significant immigration issues between the U.S. and Canada. The difference is the approximate economic parity between the U.S. and Canada. The solution to the illegal immigration issue lies in addressing the cause of that issue — the economic disparity between the U.S. and our neighbor to the south.

Those demographics and trends suggest that reducing the economic gap between Mexico and the U.S. / Canada is possible over the coming two or three decades. With the active support of its neighbors to the north, Mexico could build a large, globally competitive economy that exports worldwide and builds big new markets within Mexico. With a cooperative arrangement that catches the demographic tide, Mexico’s economic growth need not be at its northern neighbors’ expense.

The prize is a U.S. – Mexican border that works like the U.S. – Canadian border.

Lose the Sombrero

serape and cactusLose the sombrero, the serape and the siesta. Those old stereotypes hardly fit the modern country that Mexico is rapidly becoming. Two recent news items put this into focus:

(1) The World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Vision 2050 report [i] projects that, in 2050 — 37 years from now — Mexico will have the fifth largest economy in the world, as measured by GDP. That’s right, #5 — behind China, the U.S., India and Brazil; but ahead of Germany, Japan and everybody else. That may shock the stereotype. However, Mexico is already #12 and growing at about 4% annually, while most of the larger economies are currently growing at considerably slower rates.[ii]

(2) Fifty years ago, the fertility rate — the number of children per woman — here in the U.S. was about 3.2, while the rate in Mexico was a whopping 6.8. That’s right, on the average, each Mexican woman had about 6.8 children. Today, the rate in the U.S. is about 2.0, while the rate for Mexican women is about 2.2. And, the projection for 2020 for the U.S. is closer to 2.1, while the Mexican rate is projected to drop below 2.0. [iii] As Mexico’s population growth rate drops, conditions exist for economic growth per person to increase sharply.

The Giant Sucking Sound

Ross Perot received 18.9% of the vote as an Independent candidate in the 1992 U.S. presidential election, a huge percentage for an Independent candidate. Perot was strongly opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He famously warned of a “giant sucking sound” as manufacturing jobs in the U.S. went south, into Mexico. [iv] Perot lost the election and the manufacturing jobs went. But they went to China, not to Mexico. Why? Labor costs in Mexico were lower than those in the U.S., but labor costs in China were much lower yet:

capture-mexico-avg-mfg-costs

But that Was Then

As you can see, the difference between labor rates is shrinking because rates in China are increasing much faster than those in Mexico. Add to that the costs of transporting goods from China to the U.S., the logistic costs associated with long lead times from China, currency fluctuations, and the hassles involved with doing business in China. Mexico is becoming more competitive every day.

But wait… there’s more: [v]

>> Mexico graduates more engineers every year than Germany.

>> Mexico has free trade deals with 44 countries, more than any other nation.

>> Minimum wage in Shanghai and Qingdao is now higher than in Mexico City and Monterrey.

>> Mexico produces substantially more petroleum than it consumes, and Mexico’s petroleum reserves are sufficient to allow Mexico to remain energy independent for a long time. 

As a consequence of all this, five years from now, Mexico is projected to have passed China as a supplier of manufactured goods to the U.S.:

Mexico exports to the US

 

Certainly, Mexico has problems, big internal problems, that must be resolved if Mexico is to take advantage of these opportunities for economic development. The Economist referred to Mexico as “Latin American’s perennial underachiever” — if the political will to manage those problems comes to pass, as appears increasingly possible, Mexico may well lose the “perennial underachiever” tag, along with the sombrero.

What This Means for Smaller Manufacturers

Mexico is a big country, 11th largest in the world by population, with an average age 27.4 years (as compared to 37.1 years in the U.S. and 41.2 years in Canada). [vi] And, Mexico is right next door to the U.S. American manufacturers should remain aware of Mexico and its potential across their entire Value Chain:

>> As a Competitor: As discussed above, Mexico enjoys several competitive advantages over many other nations. Expect Mexican manufacturers to become increasingly strong competitors.

>> As a Market: Economic development requires capital goods and infrastructure – related products and services. As Mexico’s per capita GDP grows, demand for consumer products will also grow. U.S. manufacturers are just as close to Mexican markets as Mexican suppliers are to U.S. markets.

>> As a Supplier: The competitive advantages that Mexico enjoys as a competitor also apply to Mexico as a supplier, especially in comparison to Asian suppliers.

Chuck - SedonaThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) 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

Photo credit: Man with Sombrero and Serape licensed through www.dreamstime.com.


[i] Here, the Vision 2050 report cites data from Goldman Sachs. Learn about Vision 2050 at the WBCSD website, www.wbcsd.org. The entire Vision 2050 document and/or a summary are available for free download in about 10 languages. There are also PowerPoint presentations and visual aids available.

[ii] Statistics from the World Fact Book, www.cia.gov

[iii] These figures, and many others in this post, are from The Economist, 24 November 2012 issue, Special Report on Mexico. Reprints of the Special Report are available at www.economist.com. In instances where figures are not footnoted in this post, refer to the Special Report.

[iv] Information on Ross Perot are from Wikipedia, www.wikipedia.com

[v] Information from The Economist, ibid

[vi] Statistics from the World Fact Book, www.cia.gov