How Lean Manufacturing Helps Us Serve Customers Better

Managing Production and Inventory in Context of Lean
by Montie Roland

Audio File:    2016 Mar – Managing Production and Inventory in Context of Lean.mp3

Good morning.  My name is Montie Roland with Montie Gear in Apex, North Carolina.  And I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about managing your production and inventory in the context of Lean.

So with Lean, you have a thing called a Kanban, and the ideas that you have established a level of inventory that you need to maintain in order to meet your customer needs and your anticipated customer needs.  So, when we think about it, we’ve got two types of parts and assemblies.  One is parts and assemblies that we’re going to use to make finished goods, and the others, of course, finished goods that we’re making in anticipation of sales.

There’s a lot of different sizes of companies out there and a lot of different types of products.  And some products are built to inventory and some products are built to order.  And so if we just look at Montie Gear, in the past I’m realizing we had this kind of crazy system that didn’t really serve us well financially.  And so in the past what we do is that we would build a batch of products and in this, the reason why we build a batch is mainly because of we’ve got several processes where we need to have a minimum order.  And there’s just no getting around that without having ridiculous costs.  So let’s say that with slingshots, the two places where we have to have minimum orders – one is to cut the slingshot and then where we do our secondary machining ops.  You do the set up – that’s a lot of the work – and so you really want to have a minimum batch size through the secondary machining.  And then the other one is paint or finishing if it’s to anodize (it’s called finishing).  So, finishing also has a minimum order and can get very expensive if you don’t do a minimum number of parts.  So in this case, we’re not going to have a single piece flow through these external processes.  But we can have single piece flow through our assembly area (maybe).  Alright, so in the past what we did, somebody (usually me) would sit down and say, okay, we need to build this, this and this.  I guess we’re getting low on this. And I don’t know, we’ll sell these.  Well, there was a huge lack of scientific method here.  And what that tends to do is that tends to eat up capital because if you’re building parts that you’re not going to use for the next year, that’s money that’s tied up; it’s really not doing you any good.  And it’s not doing your customers any good either because its money you can’t spend on products that they really want.  So the next step for us, I believe, is to create a chart or a spreadsheet that shows each product; what we sold last year, what we sold this year, and the year before.  And that way we’ve got three years’ worth of sales.  And then we can say, okay, well based on this historical data, we expect we’ll sell this many of this product this year.  Then what I need to do is to take and apply a time to manufacture that good through all the processes.  And the external processes occupy ninety percent (or higher) of our manufacturing calendar days for Montie Gear.  So, paint, water jetting, machining; what have you.  And so if I apply a calendar date or calendar time to each one of these products . . . so, for example, with a slingshot.  Maybe generally the queue at ADR for the water jet cutting is two weeks.  And let’s say the queue for paint is generally two weeks, and the queue for machining is generally a week.  So, I’ve got a five week delay from the time I order to the time I get parts that are ready for us to assemble.  In this case, we’re cutting the frames, we’re painting the frames and the side plates, and then we’re machining the secondary operations in the frames.  And so I’ve got a five week delay.  So then if I know that I’m going to sell -amount of slingshots this year, then I can take and multiply that sales number by five-over-fifty-two.  Now, I take the yearly sales, multiply by five weeks, divide by fifty-two weeks to prorate it for five out of fifty-two weeks.   And that tells me how many slingshots I should sell during the period while I’m waiting on more slingshots.  So, I establish a number that I know I expect to sell while I’m making more.  And then also, I need to factor in any seasonal demands.  So, you know, look at, for example, Christmas.  So we sell more slingshots at Christmas than any other time just before.  So I need to also factor in the seasonal affect.  So, the yearly sales and then bump it up by the percentage that is increased for Christmas sales.  Now, I know what I need to keep on hand.  But I also need to apply safety stock, because there’s always going to be some variation.  So, I don’t know, let’s say our safety stock – we’ve got to come up with a metric for that – but maybe the safety stock is one month’s sales.  So now what I’ve got is I’ve got my yearly sales, prorated for the amount of time it takes to make those pieces, and then times the yearly sales.  I’ve got how many I need during the period when I’m making parts; what my safety stock is; and then any adjustments for seasonal variation.  And that gives me a much better idea of how many I need to keep on hand.

Now, I’ve also got to factor in the effect of minimum orders on this, because I want to keep my production economical by ordering above the minimum order.  But that gives me an idea of how many of each product I should stock.  And that way I don’t have inventory sitting on the shelves that I’m just not going to sell.  Now, this can get a little . . . you know, this is not a perfect system but this is an excellent baseline.  And it works well for products – or I think it will work well for products like the slingshot, where we have continuous sales of those.   We have other products that the sales are not as continuous and they have larger variations and swings.  Like, for example, our RFID products.  Because they’re commercial orders we may get an order for two hundred or two hundred and fifty or twelve hundred.  But with those, and those big orders, the lead time is figured in  and anticipated by the customer.  So, that’s a little different situation to calculate.  Now, however, on those, I think it is important to note that the longer it takes to produce your product, the longer you have to wait for the effects of the profit from that sale because obviously, you know, percentage of the sales . . . for a domestic sale, where there’s terms, you don’t get paid until you ship; if an international sale, you may get paid a deposit upfront and then paid when you ship.  But so, the longer you wait to ship, the longer you wait to get paid and the longer you wait for the benefits of the profit from that sale.  So that’s definitely an important consideration but for the purposes of looking at it from Kanban, it’s a little different.

So back to our slingshots and other things where there’s consistent sales.  So now what we’ve got is we’ve got product, and then what I’m planning on doing is to then do an inventory once a month.  And then on that inventory we’ll post in the bin where we keep each product (we have a bin for each product in our inventory . . . or for each product SKU; so there’s a bin with slingshots, there’s a bin with glove shots, arrow rests.  And so some of our bigger sellers like slingshots, there’s actually multiple bins depending on what color your slingshot actually is.)  So then what I can do is to do an inventory once a month; compare that to our minimum stocking level that we created, which was, you know, our time to produce and you know, relating that to time to produce versus sales, so we know how many is in there; plus, our seasonal variation during the period where we’re going to be making new parts; plus, our safety stock.  So we watch that and then flag it during our inventory and pull a card out that says we need to make more of these.  So that way then we collect those cards and then those cards then become an indicator that it’s time to produce more.  And that’s a nice, easy solution.  And I think, too, that when we’ll have to post what that minimum stocking level is so that when someone is withdrawing products for shipment, then they can watch that as well.  So, for especially where there’s, you know, low numbers, like, for someone where the bin’s starting to look empty, they can check.  So maybe it’s between inventories; they check and go, Hey, Montie, here’s the card for this; we’re starting to get low.

So, I think that’s one of the concepts is that you’ve got this visual indicator where this product, this produce and this product are getting low and then we can leave those cards in the bins and walk by to see them, or we can collect those cards and know that we’ve got to produce some inventory – or at least check to see what the inventory is to decide when we’re going to.  And the same thing for goods that we use on a regular basis to produce those products.  Now, that depends, too, on how long it takes to get those.  So, for example, for slingshots, the lead time on these services we purchased or the parts we purchase, it’s fairly long in some cases.  For other pieces like screws, it’s fairly short.  So it may be that we order screws, you know, about the same time we send out slingshots for paint, because we can get screws in just a few days easily without expediting anything.

So this is kind of the thought process I’m having to go through to decide, you know, how we’re going to make all this work.  And also it’s good, though, because now, all of sudden, I’ve got a framework, so I can use that framework to make buying decisions, and keeping those simple.  So, now we have a simple process for deciding, you know, how many of something we should keep.  It’s no longer a “gut-feel” thing or something where we have to wing it.  Instead, we’ve actually applied a metric to that.  And I think that’s part of the value of Lean is that now, all of a sudden, we’re using a simple tool, getting organized and, in this case, making sure that we have the inventory so we can get it to the customer quickly.  But, also, at the same time, conserving our resources so we’re not stocking too much inventory.  And having a simple system means a couple of things.  One thing is that it’s something that can be taught, not something that’s a gut-feel or something somebody high up has to make a decision.  Instead, by using a simple process we can give someone the authority to make a purchasing decision without having to go through some sort of process or get as much approval.  And I think that’s one of the values of Lean is now, all of a sudden, you can scale a lot easier; as the company grows, you have a simple process and your associates or employees, contributors, what have you – can learn that simple process.  You can audit that process because it’s simple; it’s not a gut-feel thing or it’s not some guy in the corner that guesses what the seasonal demand will be.  Instead you’re actually using simple math to solve what used to be a complex problem.  And I think that’s great.

So this is kind of how I’m looking at developing our inventory control to function in more of a Lean way.  It’s kind of cool.  I’m excited because it’s a simple solution to something I thought would be a . . . before I thought, Hey, this is going to be a complex, computerized, we-need-to-have-some-sort-of-software-to-manage-this; but, no, I mean, we can do it with a card stuck in the back of a bin that gets collected when inventory reaches a certain level.  And that’s kind of a wonderful thing to keep it simple.

Well, comments and suggestions and questions and thoughts are always welcome – Montie (M-O-N-T-I-E) at Montie (M-O-N-T-I-E) dot com.  If you get a chance, visit our Montie Gear site.  We make some kick-butt slingshots and some other cool products.  And Montie Roland, signing off.  Have a great day.

My Journey Into Lean Manufacturing – Kano Model / Don’t Forget Customer Delight

 

Greetings,

Can you get so Lean (Lean Manufacturing) that you get lost in the process?  You bet you can.

Lets talk about the Kano model.  The Kano model helps you to organize your product development and management efforts between basic expectations, performance enhancements and delightful additions to your product.  Understanding the difference  and applying this model to your product management and design management ultimately serves as a reminder to not forget the joy of creating delightful products that please your customers is great ways.  Don’t end up getting lost in the process and forget to delight your customers.

Comments and suggestions are always welcome: montie@montie.com.

Cheers,
Montie

Who You Are and Why Your Designs are Better Because of It

Forget about designing from a clean sheet of paper.  It can’t happen.  The designer himself prevents brings a tapestry of experience, skills and preconceptions with him.  Embrace that diversity and create better designs, even when you are starting from scratch.  Once you understand you, then you can think on a broader scale and truly innovate on your next project!

This is a podcast I originally created in 2012.

Cheers,
Montie
montie@montie.com

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Audio File Transcript: Who Are You and What Does that Mean

Hello. My name is Montie Roland. And I’m with Montie Design in Morrisville, North Carolina. I wanted to spend a few minutes with you this morning talking about who are you and how does your skillset, your drive, your . . . how you go about creating new product concepts or new product ideas; how does that fit into everything.

We all have our own desires, drives and I want to kind of go through it and talk about it. And maybe learn a little bit about each other as we go through it.

I’m the president of Montie Design and also the president Montie Gear in Morrisville, North Carolina. Montie Design is a product development firm. And we develop products for you. And we fill in gaps. Sometimes it’s a small project; sometimes it’s a large one. And what we do is fill in those gaps in your engineering or your industrial design or your prototyping department; fill in those gaps to help get your product to market.

Montie Gear is a company that provides outdoor shooting equipment, and slingshots and fun stuff. Montie Gear was founded about four years ago as one of those things we decided as an institutional learning tool. And we decided that we wanted to design some of our own products, not just everybody else’s. So we did a couple and then said, well, what would it be like to sell them? How do we sell products without spending a lot of money on advertising? So, we put them on our website, Montie Design website, and then we also came up with the idea – thanks to Carl – of doing a lot of test and evaluation units. And over the years that test and evaluation unit approach has even rolled into a service we now call Social Reviews. And so, I don’t want to spend all day talking about that. Something we’re proud of. Montie Gear line has grown from zero to over a hundred thousand dollars in sales in about four years with very little advertising. So we’re very proud of that and we’re proud of the products we sell.

So it gives us a little different perspective on the product development process. So, not only do we develop products, we also are responsible for some of those products for selling, and manufacturing them. And that’s also kind of spilled over in that we’re now doing that for two clients where we’re providing the backend services – they sell them, and we ship them. We make sure they’re manufactured, that they’re packaged, they’re QC’d and then the customer’s happy.

And so, first question, our first thought is I want to throw out the thought of, you know, who is Montie? Who am I? If I’m going to tell you how other people are, I’m thinking maybe I should go ahead and kind of do a little analysis on myself. Now, Montie Design designs products for a wide variety of situations – manufacturing approaches. We have products that we design – they’re going to go straight overseas. We have products that we design and we get to a certain point and we turn them loose to an ODM somewhere the other end of the Internet and they take it from there; and we read about it in a magazine. We other products we’re more intimately involved with throughout the whole lifecycle. But, you know, it comes down to the “Who’s Montie” and how I think. I think the best example is to maybe watch what I do and not what I say in this case and look at Montie Gear.

With Montie Gear we’ve come at it from the standpoint of we want to have a high quality product that’s what we call heirloom quality-Toublesome Gap tough. Which means a very robust product that’s going to perform well in the field and it’s going to be the kind of product that you want to give to your grandkids because it’s that lasting and hopefully timeless.

So, right there, you kind of have to ask, well, how many of those products are high-volume. And the answer is very few. So we have mainly products that are low-volume, low-capital requirements – and by low-capital requirements, we haven’t built a lot of tooling; we haven’t spent a lot of money to get the products to market. Now the trade-off with that, of course, is the products cost more to manufacture, so you have a higher quality product, higher cost of goods sold, but at the same time that fits in with the Montie Gear approach where what we want to have is this heirloom quality, made local, products.

So, when I go to create a product for Montie Gear, or work with someone on our team that does, or work with an intern or what have you, we’re definitely in the mode of Let’s-get-something-out-there-fairly-fast, without spending a lot of capital investment; without a lot of investment. So, we want to design it, have it work well, but not rely on the fact that we’re going to injection mold it to get the price down or what have you; die cast it, and have to sell gazillions instead. We’re going to plan to sell handfuls at a time. So, in this case, my natural instinct is to rely on local manufacturers for Montie Gear, and to work with those local manufacturers closely to have a higher quality product sold at lower volumes – higher cost, but at the same time the higher quality and also that emotional appeal of having a product that the down the street made (which I think is having more and more value in our society). At the same time, if we’re going to have a higher-end product, we need to provide a higher level of customer service as well. So what we want to do there is to treat that customer well and make sure that we meet their needs on a timely basis.

So if we take that a little farther and look at it in a broad perspective, there’s several different kinds of companies. One company is a company that’s service excellence. They may not be terribly innovative, but you get the same service every time. A great example of this is McDonald’s. You know what you’re going to get no matter where in the United States you go; and to a certain extent, you’ve got a good idea of what you’ll get no matter where in the world you go. So, their goal is to bring you a reliable product at a reliable price, and get it to you quickly and have no surprises. So, it’s a safe bet. You stop and eat at McDonald’s, you know exactly what you’re going to get. That’s not a terribly innovative company at this point. It may have been innovative early on by driving the concept of fast food and so forth. But at this point, it’s a mature company and they don’t do a lot of innovations. They do little tweaks here and there. And they definitely don’t create a lot of new intellectual property; at least, that goes into their products. Most of the intellectual property goes into logistics, service.

So let’s look at other companies that have to innovate. So, kind of break it down into two different types. One is a product excellence company. So a product excellence company is a company where you know that you’re going to get the finest product you can get. You’re going to get a high quality product; you’re going to get service to go with it. So, the whole experience is excellent. They may or may not be innovative, but at the same time, you’re going to get this high quality, high satisfaction product. A good example is that you may go buy a ring for your wife (or your husband); and that ring hasn’t really changed a whole lot. You got a little filigree here and its silver instead of gold, but for the most part, your expectations is very high level of quality. Not a lot of innovation in that industry, I would argue, for the most part. There’s some artistic work but not a lot of what I describe as true innovation. And then another example is a company that’s very innovative, or it could also be very inventive, where they create new intellectual property. And so, in either situation that organization is relying on either innovating or inventing to drive their products ahead of their competitors. And that’s a very important part of the whole ecosystem as well. And that’s the ones a lot of times we tend to really want to get behind. And everybody just wants to always tell the example of Apple, but they’ve come up with some really great products by often by innovating and inventing. And so they’re an example of a company where they try to stay ahead of the curve. And a good example of that is if they don’t, they’re products don’t always compete as well because of cost. So, they want to have this innovative customer experience, these innovative products; but as those products age, there are a lot of times that “me, too” products are a lot more attractive. A good example of that is the iPhone is now starting to be displaced by other smartphones, where at first they were “me, too” – for example, Samsung, HTC – but now they’re starting to actually have some innovation and some invention in what they do. And so they’re competing very well. And if you look at the iPhone 5 versus the latest HTC or the latest Samsung, there’s starting to be a technology gap, which in this case isn’t in Apple’s favor because they really relied on having this amazing edge in the marketplace. Now, they also have a lot of other things going for them, but in the realm of phones, that edge is absolutely critical to maintain their market share.

This also applies to smaller organizations. I like going to the Apex farmers’ market. And there are several folks there that cook different types of items. So, one example is there’s a lady there that makes pies and she makes muffins and so all the recipes she’s using are pretty old school. There’s not a lot of innovation. So, what she’s bringing to her product is quality; its handmade from scratch; these very desirable elements, but there’s not a lot invention or innovation that goes into that. So, if you look at this in the context of the three categories I described earlier, she’s in the service excellence category, or product excellence. So, she’s using her time buying some materials and turning that into a product. Now, in no way am I denigrating that as a model for business. There are a lot of very successful businesses that do that. Think about how many large cookie companies there are. And so, it’s a very valid way of doing business. I think the important thing is that if you’re in that type of business, it’s often handy to understand what your model is to help you make future decisions and current decisions.

So a lot of the folks that we buy stuff from that make pies and pastries at the farmers’ market, there’s just not a lot of innovation there. So, they want to provide a high quality product; they want to provide a friendly face; and it tastes good. You like the fact that the person you’re talking to made it yesterday or this morning, put their time and love into it. And so that’s a good way to look at that. The other categories you find in different places. So, for example, if you’re an inventor, then generally when someone considers themselves to be an inventor, or we consider them to be an inventor as an organization, they have an interest in creating intellectual property, and then selling the concept. So, they’re truly inventing. So, in this case, they’re viability as a service provider (or as a vendor) to someone is their ability to innovate. So, they fall in that last category because if they come up with a concept that’s already out there and it’s a “me, too”, as an inventory they really haven’t invented anything. When you look at entrepreneurs, the entrepreneur – and I want to define the inventor as someone who invents for the sake of invention-to-license later – an entrepreneur is someone who builds a company and an infrastructure that is designed around selling a product; manufacturing and selling it. It’s an important distinction.

So when the entrepreneur does this, the entrepreneur may be making pies to sell at the flea market; may be making cupcakes; and in the last few years there’s been this huge amount of cupcake industry forming. It’s really amazing how many cupcake companies there are. These companies that make cupcakes make some amazing cupcakes sometimes. So you can go and get a cupcake at the grocery for $2.50; or you can go to a specialty store – you might get a $20.00 cupcake. Yes, a $20.00 cupcake. So, could a cupcake company kind of fall into these categories? Well, yes. A cupcake company could be a matter of picking twelve existing cupcake designs, styles, and then making those. And in that case, their appeal is service. They’re providing a product that’s based upon their labor. So it’s not a real inventive product in that case. But there are also cupcake manufacturers and cupcake stylists that provide cupcakes that are very different. And they’ll actually do research into different ways that they can do this. Or maybe come up with their own. So, there may be a new style of icing or a new style of . . . packaging. You know, what can they do different that sets them apart? Now, the question to ask is – Are you selling cupcakes because you have something that’s truly original? It’s a, I don’t know, vacuum-puffed cupcake that no one else can do. And you’ve got this trade secret on how to make vacuum-puffed cupcakes. Or, are you selling products that are just based on your hard work and love? And usually there’s a mixture of the two. But, so, it’s important to understand how your business thrives based on where you are in these models. Because then, all of a sudden, you can make better decisions about how much time and resources and money you should put into these different activities. So if having inventive cupcakes doesn’t drive sales, then maybe you’re putting too much effort into inventing those crazy, new technology cupcakes. If the fact that you sell these crazy vacuum-puffed cupcakes is what is driving your new sales (or your existing sales) in a big way, if that’s what’s driving your growth, then maybe you need to put more effort into the crazy ones.

And so it goes a little beyond just the matter of the accounting; saying this cupcake sold this many, this cupcake sold this many. I think it also goes into the strategic planning. So I think it’s important to plan your strategy around what type of company you are. And so understanding these distinctions and where you fall, and how where you fall helps your business grow, is very, very important. This type of strategic planning and understanding is important at the Fortune 500 level; its important at the small business level. Because it important for anyone in a small business to make sure that you’re always, always – always – making good use of your resources. And understanding, you know, your place in the process of developing new products; or not developing new products helps you make the best decision to maximize your return on investment. Which is critical because it’s a small business; it’s tough enough to survive even if you’re making good decisions. So, making better decisions may be a different between subsistence and true growth and just kick-butt kind of company. And I think how you go about product development, or don’t, is an important part of that and can help you dramatically.

I hope this podcast is helpful. This is a tough subject to sometimes kind of articulate through and work through and walk through with you. So I hope it was helpful. Understanding your spot in your strategic model and what the strategic value of your . . . or what the value proposition of your company is, is something that can really help.

Let me know if you have any questions. Montie Roland, Montie Design. (M-O-N-T-I-E)@montie(M-O-N-T-I-E) .com. Visit us on the website – (M-O-N-T-I-E)@montie(M-O-N-T-I-E) .com. There’s a handy little chat tool and you can click on it and get immediate help. Either way, it’d be great to hear from you. And have a great day. Montie Roland, out.

New Intern – Sarah Wartofsky

Hi, my name is Sarah Wartofsky and I’m interning at Montie Design this summer. I’m a Mechanical Engineering student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. I’m used to approaching the design process from a slightly different angle than what we’ve been doing since I got here, so I’ve got a bit of a learning curve ahead of me, but I’m looking forward to gaining new perspectives during my time here. I’ve already learned a lot in the few weeks I’ve been here so far, so it should be quite the experience!

I’ve been working on concepts for a folding slingshot recently. I started by considering methods that have been used to make compact products, and ended up focusing on folding knives (as well as butterfly knives) and telescopes. I actually disassembled my own knife to get a better idea of the locking mechanism it uses.

 

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Below are some of the concept sketches I’ve been working on.

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I’ve been having a great time here so far. We’ve gone on a field trip to ADR Hydrocut to see their waterjet cutting process, gotten to play with prototypes, and yesterday I even shot a pinecone off the top of a box with one of Montie’s slingshots. I’ve no doubt this is going to be a fascinating summer.

 

Podcast: Micromanufacturing In Spring Creek

July – Micromanufacturing In Spring Creek

 

Audio Transcript

Hi. My name is Montie Roland. And right now I’m coming to you [from] about two hundred vertical feet above Troublesome Gap [at an elevation of  approximately 3900 feet].

Troublesome Gap is between the communities of Spring Creek and Big Pond, which is just south of Hot Springs, North Carolina, which is where the Appalachian Trail goes through Hot Springs, and just north of Asheville. And so I had an opportunity to come up this weekend and just relax.

We had a meeting in Spring Creek earlier and a meeting the night before at ASU for the IDSA Student Merit Competition judging. And I was right here, and I said, You know, it might be a good weekend to pitch a tent and sit back and just relax. So, that’s what I’m doing. So, right now, I am literally the only person within three-quarters of a mile of where I am. I think the closest people, from right here, from where I am, are Bob and Patsy Allan, who are down farther on Baltimore Branch Road. And they’re about three-quarters of a mile away. So, it’s nice and remote up here. And then the next neighbors . . . there’s another neighbor about three-quarters of a mile away and then you got to go farther to get to more neighbors. So it’s quiet up here. It’s about to rain, I think. It’s been holding off all day but . . . so I built a fire, pitched a tent, and there’s a stack of wood in kind of a U-shape behind the fire, which keeps the wind off. There’s a lot of wind up here. And it comes from Tennessee and comes up the Spring Creek Valley and it’s pretty energetic. So we have to build this pseudo-kiva structure to keep the wind off the fire. And I’ll tell you that has a really nice effect of pushing a lot of that heat back, I believe. Or maybe it captures it and radiates it, but, whatever, it’s nice and cozy warm here. It was in the high-70’s today and now it’s a little cooler.

So, it’s nice to get away. It’s nice to sit back and relax and enjoy life.

So, we are, as a company, Montie Design and manufacturers of Montie Gear products, are setting (or in the process of) setting up . . . I’m going to call it micro-manufacturing facility for now. Maybe one day we can actually graduate to the mini-manufacturing facility size. But we’re planning on renting a building up here and down in the valley in Spring Creek, and have a couple of local folks that work part time and do some assembly for us. And hopefully grow that into a way to bring jobs to this community. And then also serve our Montie Gear clients better, and our Montie Design clients. And I think I just hear my iPhone beep. Boy, that kills the woodsy mood. Sorry about that. But anyway so we’re putting in this facility and been making arrangements to do that. And what I wanted to do was chat a little bit about my vision for that facility.

My contention is that we can have a facility up here, in this remote location, and bring jobs to a group of people who are struggling to find employment. And that also gives us the labor rate that’s lower than what we can do in Raleigh. And hopefully we can put some of this mountain culture and mountain know-how to use in a way that, like I said, is good for the Montie Gear and Montie Design clients; customers.

So, what we’re setting up is a very flexible assembly area where we’ll do some of the assembly on our Montie Gear products. For example, the slingshot has a paracord handle, and that’s . . . that has to be woven into the aluminum frame. And it takes . . . its time consuming. So what I want to try with that is to . . . it’s just out to here, so it’s not something we’re doing in the office anymore in Raleigh; it’s something we’re doing up here. And I think that’ll work out as a win-win for everybody. You know, that brings some work here. It keeps our labor rate low, which is a win for our customers, too, because that helps our prices reasonable.

So, as a Montie Design client, you know, what’s the benefit for you if you’re a Montie Design client? And that is, now, we have a good way to do that initial prototyping for you, where there is a . . . you’ve not moved it to a full-blown contract manufacturer, but maybe you want to get the first hundred units out while you’re tooling up or what have you. And so I think this is a lot more cost effective way where we can take that product (a lot of times one we designed), shift it over to here to be assembled, tested, debugged. And so that way we’ve got this very flexible facility – very small but very flexible – taking your product and building your prototypes. And I’m thinking this is the . . . you know, we’ll build the first few prototypes in the office, develop some documentation, and then we move those prototypes to here and maybe that’s the first two hundred . . . thousand, what have you. But you get those fairly quickly; we can use to make those . . . maybe they’re cast parts; maybe they’re rapid prototype-type parts, but . . . what have you. So those first market samples go out.

So that’s kind of part of the reason . . . big chunk of the reason we’re doing that is to give us capabilities that we didn’t have before. And a way of keeping that economical.

It’s really beautiful up here; it’s gorgeous. And it’s remote. And, I think the nice thing is that for . . . if your production is up here, you can go meet the people that are building your product. You can see where it’s built; you can see, you know, is this a sustainable model, are we treating people well. And just ask them. And so I think that’s an awfully nice thing in today’s times where we’ve . . . you know, there’s so much, so many times, that it comes over from a boat, and, what was it like when it was made? You know what? What considerations are there for, you know what, how people are treated? Or, you know, how . . . are people paying attention to the quality of your product as they’re putting it together. And so what we’re trying to do here is give you a way to address those concerns. Do it locally and do it in a very cost effective manner.

So I hope as this project progresses you’ll keep track and I will . . . will definitely post information as it proceeds. And that can . . . inspire you to think about, you know, letting us do some of your production here in Spring Creek, North Carolina.

I hope you have a great evening. And I think it’s starting to rain so I believe I’m going to move underneath the picnic shelter to keep me dry.

Thanks. Have a great evening. Bye.

END AUDIO

Maker Faire is Coming, Maker Faire is Coming on Jun 7th


Are you a maker? Who are makers? Lets spend a few minutes and explore this amazing and sometimes wacky world. Keep in mind that the makers are influencing how you do business and that influence is rapidly growing. According to Wikipedia:

The maker culture is a contemporary culture or subculture representing a technology-based extension of DIY culture. Typical interests enjoyed by the maker culture include engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of CNC tools, as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and traditional arts and crafts. The subculture stresses new and unique applications of technologies, and encourages invention and prototyping. There is a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them creatively.

Makers are people how build stuff. Some of these makers are just hobbyists and crafters who use technology to create their products. Other makers are entrepreneurs who use what is now common technology to build innovative products in their garage. It would probably surprise you how many individuals now have CNC machines or hobbyist grade 3d printers in their garages. Over past ten years several technologies and enabling products have had a huge impact on democratizing design. These enabling products and services include:

Electronics Development Platform
Raspberry Pi – http://www.raspberrypi.org/
Adurino – http://www.arduino.cc/
 

3D Printing
MakerBot – http://makerbot.com/
RepRap – http://www.reprap.org/wiki/RepRap
 

Laser Cutters

Epilog –
http://www.epiloglaser.com

CNC (Computer Numeric Control) Machining
Shopbot – http://www.shopbottools.com

Online 3D Printing and Laser Cutting Services
Fineline in Raleigh, NC – https://www.finelineprototyping.com
Ponoko – https://www.ponoko.com

There are even networks of makers like 100K Garages (http://www.100kgarages.com/).

Many people don’t realize that this community even exists. It’s important to keep in mind that this community is and will impact your business and how you do business. A great way to connect with the community is at the Maker Faire at the NC State Fairgrounds on Saturday, Jun 7th, 2014. This is a fun event, and it is guaranteed to show you the coolest innovation and innovators around. Check out the Maker Faire at www.makerfairenc.com!

See you there!

About this blog’s author, Montie Roland and his business Montie Design Montie Design is an innovation and commercialization firm with core competencies in mechanical engineering and industrial design. Active in the product design, defense, and technology sectors, we leverage years of industry leadership and extensive technical capabilities to help clients take products from concept to marketplace that are economical to manufacture, elegant and robust. Montie Design is a North Carolina company headquartered in the Research Triangle region with clients across the country and overseas. We are dedicated to economic development throughout our home state and furthering excellence in design and engineering. For more information, visit www.montie.com or download the capabilities statement in PDF format here.

How to Design Successful Outdoor Products

Designing any great product is easier when the designer and engineers to have an appreciation for how they are making the customer, reseller and distributor’s life easier and more profitable.  This podcast explores how I was motivated to design products for the camping / glamping market.  We’ll also explore what it means to have a robust product.

Call me at 800.722.7987 or email montie@montie.com or visit montie.com to discuss how we can help with the design, engineering and prototyping of your next product.

Montie Gear Y-Shot Slingshot shooting a break down arrow
Montie Gear Y-Shot Slingshot

Here is the transcript from the podcast.

Hi, my name is Montie Roland. I’m with Montie Design in Morrisville, North Carolina.

I’d like to spend a few minutes today talking about keys to success in designing an outdoor product.

Let me tell you a little bit about what we do. Montie Design is a product development firm. And we’re also the manufacturers of MontieGear line, which is a line of outdoor and shooting-related products.

I personally enjoy designing products of all kinds. One of the products I enjoy the most is products that are outdoor related. I enjoy spending time in the outdoors – enjoy camping, enjoy backpacking – so I’m always trying to come up with, you know, what’s a way to make that trip more pleasurable, safer, easier. Or what’s a way to extend the capacity and do something better.

I think a lot of us have spent time camping. A lot of times, when we’re growing up, maybe going car camping . . . maybe you just went once or twice. Maybe it was with Indian Princesses or with Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. But being outdoors, there’s a certain freedom and there’s a certain . . . lack of captivity then you are when you’re between four walls. Now the trade-off is that you got to work a little harder. It’s . . . not as comfortable, sometimes. You’re out of your comfort zone. You don’t have some of the comforts of home. And so . . . equipment over the past few years has changed in some ways; in some ways it’s very similar. When you’re camping, you want to be comfortable. You know, one of the horror stories you see on the commercials and on TV (and maybe experienced) is getting wet. You know . . . my daughters and I were camping in the Shenandoah’s a few years ago, and Hurricane Bob came through. We had no idea which way that hurricane was going to go. And we had planned this grip in advance and we finally said, Hey, let’s just go. And worst case? We’ll just drive home. And so we were up in the Shenandoah’s and . . . it rained. And . . . and then the tropical storm actually passed over. And it rained. And, did I mention it rained? Yeah. And in between the rain, there was rain. So, needless to say it was a challenging environment for about . . . I don’t know – twenty-four hours? When it rained for twenty-four hours. Did I mention the cooking in the rain? Or no . . . yeah.

But, anyway, so our tent wasn’t up to the challenge. Now, thankfully, our Aerobed was. So, late that evening, our tent in one corner had about two foot of water in it. And the average depth in the tent was probably six inches. Now, we were car camping, and thankfully, we had put everything in boxes, these waterproof . . . or, pseudo-waterproof boxes, because we had stuff in the truck. So, we had the bed full of camping gear. And . . . so when it rained and tent flooded, we . . . we were laying on the Aerobed, and the Aerobed was floating. Our boxes were floating. So, if you wanted something out of a box, you had to reach over and grab it, pull you to it, take the lid off without tipping it over and bringing water in. Also had to be real careful not to let your sleeping bag fall off the Aerobed, because if you did, it was wet.

So, it was definitely challenging in that way. I think that we still had a good time. Have to ask my daughters. I might be being optimistic. But . . . so in that case, the product didn’t live up to the challenge. I ended up taking the tent back.

So, when you’re outdoors, one of the things you want to provide with your products is you want to enhance the comfort of the trip, if you can. Now, the product may itself enhance the comfort. So, let’s say you’ve got an inflatable mattress, making sleeping more comfortable. That is so nice when you’re camping. But at the same time, I think it’s important to also think about how the product’s carried, how it’s stored, how it’s used. So, for example, you may enhance the comfort of the trip by making an existing product easier to carry. So, for example, if something’s big and bulky and takes up too much room in the car, or in your pack, then you may find that it’s really uncomfortable. Or, let’s say that for some reason it pokes you in the back in your backpack; when it’s in the backpack, its poking you in the back. Or it’s causing some sort of other transportation dilemma. So, how the product is carried, how it packs, how easy it is to pack – those are all things that can help make your trip more comfortable in that respect. And also, less work. One of the things with our Montie Gear products that we push is to have products that are very, very easy to assemble. Because when you’re tired, it’s raining, its dark, its cold, the last thing you want is to have a product that’s overly complex and difficult to assemble. Because once that happens, those conditions amplify the difficulty of using it, assembling it, breaking camp, what have you. And you’ve lowered the user’s perception of the product, possibly to the point they’re done with it.

So, you always want products that are easy to assemble, easy to use. Just because something’s that easy to assemble on your desk at work, when you’re sitting in a comfortable chair and not hungry, not tired, no rain, seventy-two degrees . . . you may be able to do it on your desk and go, Well, that’s not so bad. But then once you get outside, in the outside environment, looking for twelve pieces that you just dropped onto the ground and now found out that the color they are is perfectly camouflaged – those all add aggravation. So, you want to have products that are low aggravation. And generally, readying the product for use – assembly, what have you – is an area where we’ve seen a lot of . . . I have personally when I was camping seen a need to really think through the product. So, you want a product that’s comfortable; you want a product that easy to assemble, easy to bring to bear, easy to stand up. We want a product that is easy to use. There again, if you’re sitting by the fire and its dark, having some precision alignment of holes before you can put something in a pin, before you can, you know, use it; maybe you have to take it apart between uses and put it back together. Well, if it’s difficult to do in the dark, there again, you may have a product that just doesn’t fit that environment.

So, that . . . that goes to the issue of being robust. Robust products are easy to use, easy to assemble, and hard to damage. And give you . . . also, I will argue that a truly robust product gives you ways that you can use it in ways that the designer never intended. So, maybe there’s a “I intended to do ‘A’”; your customer does “B”. At that point, that’s a really valuable piece of feedback to know because that may open up a whole new market for you. Or, give you an idea of a new product you should design.

So, robust products are ones that they are just easy to use, hard to damage, and easy to assemble, easy to take down, and give you options. Sometimes you can do stuff twelve different ways. Sometimes it’s one, depending on the product.

So, the other thing is you want products that are rugged when you’re designing for the outdoors. Now, sometimes you have limits on that, how rugged they are. A great example is a tent pole. Tent poles, by nature, tend to be fragile to keep weight down, especially with backpacking tents. So there’s this implicating understood trade-off that when I lay out my tent poles from my backpacking tent on the ground, I don’t want anybody around because I don’t want anybody to step on it and bend it or break it. And so I understand that the trade-off of having a four-pound-ten-ounce tent is the fact that the poles are delicate until they’re assembled. Now, they’re easy to assemble with a shock-cord and so forth. But until they get into the tent, they . . . can be hard to . . . can be delicate. Now, once they’re on the tent, they need to be extremely robust. That fifty-mile-an-hour wind, or that six inches of snow, that tent needs to come through that, and that pole needs to do its job with no problems what so ever.

So, there are times when the rugged nature and the robust nature has to be within a specific pattern of use, or a specific part of a pattern of use. And I think the other thing that’s important when you’re camping is that you want a product that looks like it should be a product when you’re camping. Now, one of the things that has changed about this is that for a long time camping products were very functional. They looked like something that you’d buy at the Army Navy Store. A good example is Coleman stove. A white gas later gave way to propane. But, they’re great, they’re rugged; you can fix them with a . . . a knife and a screwdriver, some oil; and they’re just great products – they last forever. And I think long life is usually a by-product of having something that’s rugged and something that’s robust. So, a lot of these cots and other things just look like something the military would use. Now, what happened a few years ago is REI came on the scene, a great outdoor provisioning company. And all of a sudden, camping became more upscale. And so as these stores competed for dollars, one of the ways that they made themselves more distinctive was to provide very high quality, very robust products, and provide them at a higher cost, because higher quality robust, what have you . . . and that also gave the opportunity and the need for more industrial design. Where thinking through the customer experience, the customer experience behind the counter, or in front of the counter; customer experience in the field; what the customer sees on the website; reviews; what have you. So, the world kind of changed and now we have camping products that a lot of times are beautiful as well as tough.

And so, with a camping product, you got to also . . . you know, where does it fall? Is it an inexpensive product? And Coleman is an expert at providing relatively inexpensive, less frills, less performance products. Or, is it a product that is a higher quality product and a higher end product (something you might see at REI)? And then in the past few years, there’s also been a switch to what I’m going to call “Glamping” products. And I think glamping . . . which another way to look at it is called “glamorous camping”. It’s something we can thank the Europeans for. And we were headed there anyway. But, in Europe, you can go camping at a campground and camp in a two thousand square foot tent with flat screen TVs, satellite cable, Persian rugs, couches, that are really, basically, high-end homes made out of fabric. And so the option of doing glamping, I think, is starting to come to the U.S., and that’s going to impact some of the products that are designed for this market as well. So, just to keep that in mind, you’ve kind of got a low-to-midrange, which is the Coleman products; a lot of products that folks who own RVs buy; and then the mid-range . . . mid-low-or-high, which is REI – so you’ve got brands like Patagonia, you know; Merrill. And then you’ve got high end, the glamping products. And that kind of gives you, hopefully, gives you a framework of where to start when you have to look at how you’re going to structure this product. Where does it live? And, also, to evaluate whether or not you’ve got the right product designed. How effective it’ll be in the marketplace.

So, these are some criteria. Just to summarize. You want a product that’s rugged. You want a product that’s robust. You want a product that’s high quality. You want a product that fits the intended market segment, be it the lower end (the Coleman, a lot of the RV products), the mid-range (the REIs and Great Out Door Provision Company-type market); or the glamping market. You want a product that’s easy to use, easy to assemble. You want a product that’s easy to assemble when it’s almost dark and raining and cold. You know, can you assemble this product with gloves? Is this a product where once it’s . . . it’s hard to damage once it’s installed, but is easy to install. So, in camping, it’s a very tough market because it’s so functionally driven and so user experience driven. And then also, too, yeah, always keep in mind is that you’ve got different types of camping. You’ve got car camping. You’ve got glamping. And, of course, car camping being you drive your car to up to where you’re going to camp; you unload everything. So, weight and size isn’t so much of a penalty; comfort’s a high priority. Backpacking – weight is everything. Comfort – eh, not so much so. And ruggedness in backpacking is very important, but you have a more sophisticated user that understands that you don’t want to bend that tent pole when you’re twenty miles from anywhere.

So, keeping all those in mind, I hope you design some great outdoor products. If you have a product that you need . . . maybe you’ve got a concept and need us to design an product and then build a prototype and help you get it into manufacturing, or just some small part of that, give me a call, we’d love to help.

Montie Roland, Montie Design, 1-800-722-7987. Or montie (M-O-N-T-I-E)@montie(M-O-N-T-I-E).com. I hope you have a great day. I hope this podcast was beneficial for you. Montie Roland, signing off.

Simple Products plus a Great Back Story = Success

I was reading an email from Etsy this morning and thought I would pass it along.  Etsy is an online market place for handmade or crafty / artsy products.  One of their vendors is a company called Timber Green Woods.  I don’t know much about the company other than what I’ve read and by visiting their store on Etsy.  They have a line of simple (but well designed) wood products that they make from local timber.  The majority of the work is done using a laser to cut out the shapes.

Product from Timber Green Woods
Product from Timber Green Woods

When you think manufacturing, its easy to think everything has to be done in a giant building with a concrete floor.  However employees of Timber Green have parts of their day that look like this:

 

Using a portable saw mill to cut up the locally grown logs
Using a portable saw mill to cut up the locally grown logs

These products are a great example of turning a local resource (the lumber) into a family of products without a tremendous amount of capital investment.  Then they used an online presence (with a lot of SEO work and wordsmithing) to grow their sales.  This is a wonderful formula where they made the use of the resources at hand and applied good design plus some innovative thinking to achieve success.

Here is the link to the story:  https://www.etsy.com/blog/en/2014/quit-your-day-job-timber-green-woods/

Let me know if Montie Design can help you apply our skills, drive and passion to help your product succeed!  Email montie@montie.com or call 800.722.7987

 

 

Joys of Unintended Use

Sometimes products can be used in ways you didn’t intend when you originally created them.  As an example, the Camping Shelf we design for Montie Gear was originally intended as a camp kitchen organizer / food prep area.

The realization came, as we were standing on top of the mountain, that this shelf would also work really, really well to hold up our camp shower.  Not only did it hold up the camp shower it also held up the wash clothes, soap and served as a hanger for the nozzle.  It also made it easy to pull the bucket down to add more hot water.  Here are some pictures of the final result.

To buy one of these wonderful shelves, please visit www.montiegear.com.

Podcast: When the Customer Is Not Right

Lets chat about times when the customer is not right.  This runs contrary to conventional wisdom, but is good advice.  Lets explore this topic together.

Don’t hesitate to call 800-722-7987 or email montie@montie.com to talk about we can help with your product or project.

When the Customer Is Not Right

Podcast: Listening

Lets spend a few minutes talking about how effective listening can affect the design of a product and client relationships for better or worse. Montie gives his thoughts and tips on this easily overlooked step.

Listening

Please don’t hesitate to send an email to montie@montie.com with any questions or comments.  To find out more about how Montie Design can help you get your products to market, please visit  www.montie.com.