“For every complex problem, there is a solution that is clear, simple, and wrong.” – H. L. Mencken
The operation of a Micrex®/Microcreper™ is complex. I wish it were not that way. Success only came when we embraced the difficulty and committed to being technologists rather than machinery manufactures.
The way Micrex deals with the complexity is through our extensive trial program. During trials we have customers who quickly form their own theories on how the technology works. Good minds do that, but unfortunately the desire to immediately understand something blinds one to the complexity.
I like to give the example of musical instruments. To me the piano looks hopelessly complex. Many keys and combinations of keys. The trumpet has only three keys and usually leads the band. As a child I chose to play the trumpet. A big mistake for me and I am sure little joy for my parents. The trumpet requires weeks of practice before managing the most basic tune. Had I done some research and developed a better understanding of the issues I would have chosen the piano and been making music from day one rather than a lousy horn player.
This is in complete conflict to Occam’s razor where the simplest theory is given priority.
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.
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.