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MOOCs…A New Way to Educate?

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are a new type of college or secondary education that are starting to pop up across the U.S.  The Kansas City Star had a great article about MOOCs earlier in January.

What is a MOOC?

MOOCs — massive open online courses — have attracted millions of students from all over the globe to learn from top professors at elite universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Princeton and Harvard.The best part is that MOOCs are free. All you need is time, a computer and the Internet.

The courses are anywhere from 5 to 16 weeks long.  A person can take whatever classes they like and pertains to what they may need in their career.  Imagine…

A student could take one MOOC taught by an MIT professor, another taught by a professor at Harvard and yet another taught at Duke. In the end, the student could take a discipline-specific assessment, like a bar exam, to get something akin to a license to practice in their field.

We know that with a growing presence of education online the traditional brick-and-motor way of learning is going to have to adapt.  A college education won’t be the same in 10-15 years.  What if you could get your basic remedial class credits for free and have them transfer.  Well…

The Gates Foundation recently put up several hundred thousand dollars toward grants for nine universities to develop remedial MOOCs.

Like anything new, there are still a lot of challenges to work out before it becomes mainstream.

Fort Hays State and Johnson County Community College are among campuses piloting MOOC-like programs and looking for solutions to problems such as how to test, how to grade thousands of essays and exams, and how to prevent cheating.

And if you thought their wasn’t much interest in MOOCs, there is data to show otherwise.
MOOCs cemented their prominence in the higher education conversation when a 2011 class on artificial intelligence, taught by former Stanford professors Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun, attracted nearly 58,000 students from around the world, more than three times the size of Stanford’s entire student body. Even though fewer than half of them completed the course, it was clear the MOOC’s reach dwarfed anything possible in a classroom or lecture hall.
I can really seeing MOOCs leading to a great new way to gain a college or secondary education.  Here are my initial thoughts.  What if there was a company that compiled the MOOCs in one grand list?  The company could create a list of courses that need to be complete in order to receive a certain degree (i.e. For an accounting degree take Accounting 101 from Prof. A at Stanford and Accounting 201 from Prof B from University of Texas, etc…).  The program would be accredited and recognized as any other degree.  Maybe more professional tests are required in the future, like a bar examine.
I think it is important to still pay for the education but maybe it is $75 or $100 for a class.  This could really reduce the cost of a secondary/college education and prepare the individual just as much.
As for the cheating aspect.  Maybe there is a centralized database with a person’s information and a picture.  Then when it is test time, the test is taken with a webcam on to show you are the one taking the test.  May not be perfect but my first thoughts on it.
MOOCs provide an interesting alternative to learning.  How can it be leveraged to better educate and be more cost effective?  What are your thoughts?
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Interview with Ford’s Alan Mulally

One of the cover stories of the Kansas City Star yesterday was an article about Ford President, Alan Mulally.  It was a great piece on Mr. Mulally.  He is originally from Lawrence, Kansas and grew up dreaming of being an astronaut.

The article is more of a feel good piece, highlighting Mr. Mulally’s roots to Kansas City and Lawrence.  There is one section that highlights some things he did when arriving at Ford.

Mulally told his colleagues: “The most important thing is we pull together as a team. We’re going to get real clear about leadership. … We’re going to help each other.”

Scanning the conference room, he noticed team members fiddling with their BlackBerrys during meetings. That practice, and whispering to people next to them, would end.

“I think you should listen to the person talking,” he said.

This seems like basic respect for people.  As much as listening to people seems like common sense and the right thing to do, people just don’t do it.  As nice as Blackberries are they can be a curse too at times.

Here are other highlights:

He dropped in at dealerships to try his hand at selling Fords — and succeeded with at least two customers.

He asked: Why did we stop making the Taurus? (So the Taurus returned.) And why isn’t Ford moving faster to develop smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles? And, excuse me, must you keep saying things are fine when we’re headed for a $17 billion loss?

I like how he went to the dealership and tried to sell cars.  What a great way to ‘go and see’ what customers are saying about the product.  Mr. Mulally also asked the hard questions and didn’t sugar coat things.  I have heard the story several times about asking how things could be going well when they were losing money.  It was good to see the story directly from him.

It is great to see Ford turn down the government money and turning things around.  In a time when excuses are easy to come by, Alan Mulally won’t allow it.  I hope Ford can keep the turnaround going.

Milbank Manufacturing – An American Manufacturing Success Story

Company Background / History

Milbank Manufacturing is a 3rd generation family owned and ran business.  It was founded in 1927 by Charles A. Milbank.  The 1920’s was a rough time to start a business but with the philosophy to provide their customers with high quality products at a fair price in a timely manner and Charles’ network of friends and determination, Milbank built a strong base of customers.  Today, Milbank is the industry leader in the manufacturing of electrical meter sockets.

Milbank provides wholesale electrical distributors with quality electrical products for the utility, contractor industrial and OEM markets.  Their products are divided into three platforms: Core Products (primarily meter mounting equipment and pedestals), Commercial and Industrial (electrical enclosures and commercial meter pedestals),  and Power Generation (standby generators and wind turbines).

Milbank has over 500 employees and four manufacturing facilities (Kansas City, MO; Concordia, MO; Kokomo, IN; and El Dorado, AR).  This post focuses on the lean efforts and success of the Kansas City, MO manufacturing facility and the Plant Manager that lead the transformation process during the last 6 years, Mr. Trace Tandy.

Trace Tandy’s Background in Lean

Mr. Tandy is currently the Vice President of Manufacturing for Milbank.  His first exposure to the concepts of Just-In-Time manufacturing ocurred in the late 1980’s while working for a Tier 1 automotive component supplier.  He joined Danaher in 1990 where he learned the Toyota Production System from the Shingijutsu Co.,Ltd. consulting company.  Later that decade he had the opportunity to receive further training and development in the Lean principles through the Toyota Supplier Support Center (TSSC).  Mr. Tandy has lead nine manufacturing sites through the Lean transformation process with the most recent site, Milbank’s Kansas City plant, winning the TBM Consulting Group’s 2010 Quest for the Perfect Engine Site Award.

How Millbank Started It’s Lean Journey

Elements of Lean manufacturing or similar philosophies had been attempted between 1998 and 2004 with little or no sustainment and with no evidence of a plan.  In 2004, Milbank re-engaged with a commitment to the Lean principles on an enterprise-wide level.  Milbank partnered with TBM in 2007 and began using Lean Sigma tools, including Shop Floor Kaizen Breakthrough (SKB) and Business Process Events (BPE) and later, the policy deployment x-matrix process. Employees at the shop floor level became more engaged in the improvement process and there was an unwavering commitment from top management to truly transform Milbank using the principles of Lean.

Results from Lean Efforts

Before the lean efforts, the manfacturing in Kansas City was spread across two buildings plus a third that was used for warehousing.  Now everything is done in one building.  Using the Lean Sigma methodology during the couse of 2007 – 2009 they were able to:

  • Completed 38 SKB / BPE kaizen events
  • Created a 3 year plan / vision for consolidation of the two Kansas City manufacturing sites
  • Implemented a policy deployment process based on the TBM x-matrix
  • Implemented a War Room / Managing for Daily Improvement (MDI) process
  • Implemented visual management systems such as Leader Standard Work, Maintenance Scheduling, etc…
  • Implemented U-shaped, one-piece-flow assembly and fabrication cells
  • Implemented visual scheduling / shop-floor-control systems eliminating the use of MRP in many areas
  • Reduced floor space utilized by over 47% (60,000 square feet of manufacturing space opened up for future expansion, no brick and motar required – eliminated the need for a 30,000 square foot remote storage facility – property was sold)
  • Reduced lead time by almost 53% (reduction of 30 days)
  • Improved stock availability from 90.6% to 95.6%
  • Improved sales order on-time performance by nearly 50%
  • Reduced FG inventory values by over 50% ($2.42 million in cash generated)
  • Reduced WIP inventory by 83% ($1.14 million in cash generated)
  • Improved FG Units / Employee by 12.3%
  • Implemented annual cost reductions averaging $1.22 million

Milbank will not tell you they are done.  In fact, they have plans laid out to improve even more over the next few years.  Their mindset is to keep improving and never be satisfied.

As you can see Milbank Manufacturing is a great example of how lean is helping manufacturing in America not only stay viable but become the industry leader.

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