In January 2020 I read a couple of books about the 1918 flu. Within a few weeks it became clear that for the time being these books remained the state of the art in virus mitigations and public health.
In March as the state shut down business, we were notified by several customers that we were considered essential and expected to keep operating. This raised a lot of questions – particularly how do we keep our employees safe?
Guidance from the government was initially vague, but like any safety challenge there is a systematic way approach the issue.
- Relying on the 1918 teachings we immediately supplied masks, and instituted social distancing.
- Our employees were used to working on medical products, so we had the necessary PPE and hygiene supplies along with the training in how to use them.
- Our two shifts modified there schedule so there was no overlap. Extra end-of-shift cleaning protocols were implemented with the between shift being done by management as a further check.
- To reduce the office density, one half of the office staff went on a work-from home schedule. As we already had the IT tools in place, this was basically seamless.
- To eliminate ambiguity, we wrote policies to dictate the response were an employee to get Covid.
- To minimize exposure a staffing freeze was implemented, and no visitors were allowed in the plant.
Two further measures were taken which may have been critical:
- Three stand-alone filtration devices were acquired and located in areas where distancing was more difficult.
- We ran an exhaust fan all winter. Combined with several air inlets this allowed us to run “negative pressure” in the entire plant. Despite the impact on our heating bill, we feel this was one of the most important mitigations.
While the pandemic is not over, these measures along with everyone’s compliance has kept Covid out of Micrex.
In conversations with some of our customers, we are seeing an increased emphasis about meeting compliance objectives and less about new products and making money. We all know of companies where the brilliant team of product development experts were slowly transformed into Quality people.
More and more places that I visit I find bureaucracy slowly crowding out the creative types.
This is serious stuff.
This is not happening everywhere. There are companies as well as nations that understand the importance of hard work and time to market. Creative destruction is still happening, but it might be you who is being deconstructed.
We need to look no further than our own government and returning to the moon. To paraphrase Pence – “It is not like we have not done it before.”
I suggest a heightened sense of urgency is in-order. At your company are the really important things getting proper attention?
4D Printing is a combination of 3D printing and a time change element that provides the fourth dimension — hence a 4D substrate is one that will by design change form over time.
Smart fabrics and 4D printing were identified by Gartner as technologies way up on their hype cycle.
We tend to agree with their assessment.
However, there are useful lessons from additive manufacturing for those of us in the roll goods industry — even if 3D (let alone 4D) roll goods are not in the immediate future.
- We should look at how our products are made from a fresh perspective. Many roll goods are constructed using technology that is decades old. Additive manufacturing teaches us that there may be unforeseen ways to construct a better product.
- Rather than focusing on what our products are made of (e.g., polyester, viscose) we should be focusing on what product properties (extensibility, absorbency) we are trying to achieve.
There is no need to wait for 3D printing to mature to the point that we can make 4D products. The technology for 4D fabrics is readily available now by combining existing technology in new ways.
We understand that at large companies, trying out new products can be complicated. The development process is full of trial and error – but if you add to that the administrative red tape, interfacing with SAP, etc., it can be almost impossible. That’s why at Micrex, we help you shed the red tape and focus on the trial itself.
We’ve said it many times: we believe in quick turnaround and fail-fast. The more ideas you try out, the greater chances you have of succeeding. That is why we offer free screening trials.
But make no mistake: screening trials are not “free” for us, and we take them very seriously. I believe they are the single most important thing we do at Micrex.
This is what you get with a free screening trial at Micrex:
- I (president of Micrex) evaluate and supervise your trial plan
- A senior Micrex operator runs your trial
- Your material is tested on multiple configurations of our equipment with various settings and temperatures. With our expertise, we can complete these trial runs rapidly
- You receive your sample back quickly and with a write-up of results
We figure the average screening trial costs Micrex in excess of $2,000
The bottom line: screening trials are serious business for us at Micrex.
Producing a new product using a sheet material (paper, textile, film, nonwoven or composite) involves overcoming a lot of obstacles and rocky patches, especially when moving from a small concept sample to a commercial product. How to scale up and achieve success despite the roadblocks? Realize that changes will likely be needed in the product and process – and the sooner these are found, the better.
1. Be Sure You Have a Sense of Urgency
Time is of the essence: you and those around you must be filled with a sense of excitement, timeliness and the importance of your challenge. If you fail, you just might run out of time. Move quickly.
2. Have a Clear Plan to Scale Up
In the quest to make a good lab scale sample – do not cheat! Producing a beautiful, small sample at slow speed is not the goal. It only gets harder as you scale up. At Micrex, we have seen too many customers take a short cut and get excited about a small sample, assuming it will successfully scale up.
Lab scale is where you look for truths:
- It is more difficult to run wide than narrow. As an analogy — a long bridge is harder to build than a short one.
- Run speed – slow is easy, fast is hard.
- Many processes fail over time, as dust or other contaminates build up, or process components wear.
At lab scale, the severity of these issues become apparent. How do the results change if you double the width, length or speed? This might indicate a limitation or provide an opportunity to prevent a problem.
3. Don’t Assume the Raw Material Will Be Consistent
As in cooking and wine making – the ingredients are important! We often have customers who claim that one batch of roll goods is “exactly the same” as another. This will be documented with a data sheet or C of A. The reality is that no two rolls of material are the same.
The real question is: “How does the process handle normal variation of the raw material?”
4. Keep in Touch with Marketing and the Customer
Most of roll goods product development is tied to specifications. In the broader world of product design, there is often no specification. As a result, the entity running a trial may make assumptions that will not align with the end customer. Be sure to ask yourself: are you using the right specification?
WHY THIS BLOG:
Companies today need to become much better at innovation. While most organizations claim to foster new products, their actual track record is poor. Managers are using old tools and methods to shape the future.
Except for the rare companies, such as Google or P&G that are richly endowed with a culture of innovation, most managers are left to fumble or improvise a process for developing new products. Regrettably — these improvisations are likely to fail.
Yet it is the nimble smaller firm, when combined with an appropriate innovation strategy, that has the greatest chance for success.
My goal is to help those who are struggling with PD to find a successful path through the art and science of innovation.