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Duluth Manufacturer Implements Lean, Improves Bottom Line

A worker at Spectral Response in Duluth inspects a circuit board before it is shipped to a customer. Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute assisted the company with improving its manufacturing processes.

Spectral Response, a Duluth-based manufacturer of circuit boards, has a lot going for it. It just celebrated its 21st year in business, 70 percent of its workforce has been employed there between five and 10 years, and it won the 2008 Georgia Manufacturer of the Year Award from the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education and the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

But Kevin Melendy, president of the company, says Spectral Response had to develop innovative ways of thinking to survive and thrive.

“Like everybody, we faced an onslaught of competition from low-cost manufacturing. We had to find a way to compete,” he said. “We had to either fight to survive or try to find new and expanding business segments that have higher margins and less competition, and those just don’t exist.”

To improve the company’s manufacturing process, Melendy turned to Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute for assistance. Lean specialists Kelley Hundt and Jennifer Trapp-Lingenfelter initially visited Spectral Response to help streamline the way the company initiated product orders. After developing a value stream map – a diagram used to analyze the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to a consumer – they suggested the project focus on the entire manufacturing floor plan.

“The factory floor was being driven by the how orders were loaded. If a customer called, we had to figure out a way to get it done, whether it was working nights, weekends or three shifts,” Melendy recalled. “But as our business grew and the margin pressures were layered on top of that, we didn’t have that luxury any more. We had to take an order from a customer and make sure our supply chain commitments matched up to our manufacturing processes.”

After meeting with Spectral Response’s leadership, Hundt and Trapp-Lingenfelter both thought the company’s manufacturing process would benefit from a cellular design. At the time, the company was arranged in functional departments that caused excess work-in-process, long lead times and lack of flexibility. Cellular manufacturing, sometimes referred to as cell production, arranges factory floor labor into semi-autonomous and multi-skilled teams that manufacture complete products. These more flexible cells are able to manage processes, defects, scheduling, equipment maintenance and other manufacturing issues more efficiently.

After training the entire 137-member workforce on lean manufacturing principles, a cross-functional team of eight employees examined the “before” process, brainstormed ideas and used lean tools to highlight areas of improvement. The team decided to shut down operations during the week of July 4, 2007, to re-arrange all of the equipment into nine different cellular production lines.

“We used to refer to the floor plan as the snake, and a product had to travel through the entire snake, meaning it was in a single file. If we started a product on Monday, it might be ready to be shipped on Friday,” said David Shockley, vice president of operations. “With the cell production, we can have nine parallel lines – much shorter in length – producing nine products at once. Now, products are ready to be shipped within 48 hours after the order is launched in the system.”

Not only did the cellular design reduce the length of time from the order initiation until it was ready to be shipped, but it also helped with orders that needed to be re-worked or changed. Todd Owens, lean manager for Spectral Response, estimates that inventory in this area was cut by more than one-third.

“Before, the boards that did not pass the testing area would just get set aside into what we called the bone pile. We would have to find time to go back and re-work them, and that inventory became a significant dollar amount,” he said. “Now, we handle the failed board as we run them through the individual cells. A year ago, the value of the bone pile inventory was more than $300,000; today, it’s around $80,000.”

As a result of the lean implementation, Spectral Response has seen a number of impressive impacts. Total work-in-process has decreased by more than one-half, from $2 million to approximately $800,000 worth of inventory. Lead times have been cut in half, overtime is down from 15 percent to less than five percent, and there is 40 percent more floor space for future growth. Melendy also estimates that the company’s electricity bill has decreased by 20 percent, since it is using big, power-hungry equipment less.

“It’s easy to quit on this because it’s difficult, but ultimately you come out on the other side with a company that’s more efficient and better run than when you first started,” Shockley noted. “In July 2008, we will implement cell number ten, and it will be our highest volume product. We are committed to this being a never-ending, continual process.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (john.toon@innovate.gatech.edu).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Cabinet Maker Moves Business Forward with Georgia Tech Assistance

Andy Helm (left) and David Apple (right) discuss a new plant layout with Jonathan White, vice president of Economy Cabinets.

Fourteen years ago, father-and-son team Charlie and Greg White started Economy Cabinets, Inc. with three employees in a rented space the size of a garage. Today the White, Ga.-based company — which has expanded its original plywood cabinet product to include wholesale birch, oak, maple and poplar cabinets — is located in a 15,000-square-foot facility and employs 12 people. This summer, Economy will move into a 30,000-square-foot building across the street from its current location.

“We’ve had really rapid growth in the past couple of years, and our company has more than doubled in size,” noted Jonathan White, the company’s vice president. “I don’t have a background in engineering or manufacturing, and I really wanted our business to be poised for growth once we moved into the new facility.”

To address this challenge, White sought the counsel of David Apple, northwest Georgia region manager with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. White asked for assistance implementing lean management principles, a set of tools widely used in manufacturing to help identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations.

Apple developed a plant layout for both the current and future facilities, an activity that pointed out opportunities for improving efficiency. By timing all of the individual steps in making cabinets, he identified a time spike on gluing and sanding doors.

“All of the individual processes were taking one or two minutes, and when we got to the putty and sanding, the time required was over seven minutes. It was astronomical,” White recalled. “We knew we had to solve that, so I found a new cutting tool that eliminated the need for putty and sanding. It cut that final step down to less than two minutes.”

White also attended Georgia Tech’s lean boot camp, a four-day class that teaches participants how lean impacts profit, lead-time, inventory, quality and customer service. By the end of the course, White was able to map both current and future value streams, identify appropriate techniques for improvement, develop a lean strategy for Economy and plan the application of specific lean techniques.

The first area he tackled was 5S, a philosophy of organizing and managing the workspace with the intent to improve efficiency and safety.

“The visual cues and 5S and having everything in its place – all of that was a novel idea to my employees when we started and now it’s just a way of life,” White said. “Before the lean boot camp, I understood some of the lean concepts, but I didn’t get the big picture. Now I understand it.”

White implemented visual cues to assist with re-ordering the company’s saw blades. Prior to implementing this tool, White would work directly with the person sharpening his saw blades, guessing which machines needed new blades and distributing them to the floor himself. Now, the vendor merely visits a tool board on which the blades needing to be sharpened are hung by employees. This allows him to basically service the entire shop himself.

“This was a hidden waste. It’s a huge waste when you have a saw down for two hours, while someone goes to get a new blade because you ran out of sharp blades,” Apple observed. “Now, the operator always has a sharp blade available when it’s needed, it eliminates searching for a blade he doesn’t have, and it eliminates buying unneeded, new blades.”

Although the cabinet industry overall has suffered a 15 percent business decline this year, sales for Economy Cabinets are up by 10 percent. Through attrition, the workforce at Economy Cabinets has decreased by five employees, but White says that his company’s productivity has increased by 20 percent and inventory has been reduced by 15 percent.

Economy Cabinets has also received assistance from e2e Works, a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute that helps entrepreneurs in the state of Georgia.

Andy Helm, an entrepreneur outreach specialist with e2e Works, continues to assist Economy Cabinets by providing expertise in business management practices, technical assistance and access to a variety of industry-specific resources. E2e Works entrepreneur outreach specialists are charged with helping existing entrepreneurs and startup companies in rural Georgia grow their businesses.

“The efficiencies that Jonathan has gotten through the plant have allowed him to meet delivery times that his competitors can’t, and that’s a huge competitive advantage in this industry,” said Helm. “It’s that customer service that keeps his clients coming back.”

White also credits being able to meet deadlines and increase efficiency to having a committed workforce. By offering workers a four-day, 40-hour work week and monetary incentives for meeting goals, he has also seen a dramatic difference in the company’s turnover rate.

“We’re grateful to Andy and David and Georgia Tech for the impact they’ve made on the company,” he said. “Lean is a journey; it’s something you do every day.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (john.toon@innovate.gatech.edu).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Samsung Expands Wireless Research Facility at Georgia Tech

Samsung Electro-Mechanics Co. has significantly increased its research presence here, opening a new wireless-technology laboratory and expanding its working relationship with the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Homoon Kang, CEO of Korea-based Samsung Electro-Mechanics Co., led a recent dedication ceremony that marked the expansion of the company’s North American Design Center on the Georgia Tech campus.  The Samsung Design Center focuses on research and development of mixed-signal integrated circuits, primarily for use in wireless applications.

The new Samsung facility, located in the Centergy One Building at 75 Fifth St. NW, houses 5,400 square feet of laboratory and office space.  The new center is located close to its Georgia Tech research partner, the Georgia Electronic Design Center (GEDC), which is headquartered in the Technology Square Research Building at 85 Fifth St. NW.

“This is a very satisfying day for us at Samsung,” said Kang. “We are proud of our research work in Georgia, and we look forward to ongoing success in our partnership with the Georgia Electronic Design Center.”

The Samsung Design Center first opened in 2005 in the Technology Square Research Building. It has now grown to more than 50 full- and part-time employees, and Samsung has announced its intention to have 100 full-time and 50 part-time people working for the center within two years.

“The Samsung project is a prime example of the importance of the city’s and the Atlanta Development Authority’s (ADA) focus on strong, long-term economic development partnerships,” said Shirley Franklin, mayor of Atlanta. “ADA has been a partner with Georgia Tech since the inception of Technology Square and maintains a great working relationship with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the Georgia Electronic Design Center and the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute.”

Mayor Franklin praised Samsung for its investment and expressed confidence in the continued growth of the company’s research center.

Among the dignitaries on hand at the opening ceremonies was Ken Stewart, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Stewart later noted that since its inception the Samsung effort has had the combined support of his department, the Georgia Research Alliance and Georgia Tech.

“The expansion of the Samsung design center is a true win-win event for both Samsung and the State of Georgia,” he said. “This successful center can be expected to serve as an ongoing economic asset for the city and the state, as well as a beacon to other top international microelectronics players.”

Kwang Wook Bae recently took over as executive director of the Samsung center.  Chang-Ho Lee, Ph.D., who has been with the center since it began, now serves as research director.

The Samsung center is currently researching core technologies for next-generation communication systems, with particular focus on development of CMOS-based system-on-chip devices for modem, digital and RF systems. One device under development is a cost-effective, highly efficient CMOS-based transmitter for wireless communication applications.

Innovations developed by researchers at the Atlanta-based design center are expected to impact a broad spectrum of Samsung’s worldwide product offerings, according to company executives.

Samsung’s former space in the Technology Square Research Building will continue to be used by GEDC for work related to Samsung’s research interests.

“We are delighted that Samsung is increasing its research profile here,” said Joy Laskar, director of GEDC and Schlumberger Chair in Microelectronics in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “We expect this partnership between Samsung and GEDC to continue to develop key new technologies in cognitive radio and other important wireless fields.”

Research News & Publications Office

Georgia Institute of Technology

75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314

Atlanta, Georgia  30308  USA

Comprehensive Assistance Helps Commerce Manufacturer Improve Production, Develop New Products and Cut Energy Costs

Whoever coined the phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” obviously never heard of Roper Pumps. The 150-year-old company, which just celebrated its fiftieth year in Commerce, Ga., is recognized as a leading supplier of industrial pumps.

“Historically, Roper Pumps has been very vertically integrated. We pretty much made everything in-house and bought almost nothing outside – your basic company with blinders on,” explained Jim Simonelli, vice president of business development for Roper Pumps. “We had some issues with quality and did a Six Sigma project on our own to identify and remove the causes for errors and defects. Based on the success there, we started thinking that if we got some outside help, we would have even greater success.”

That’s when the company contacted Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute for assistance with implementing lean management principles, a set of tools widely used in manufacturing to help identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations. Walt Stadnisky, president of Roper Pumps, serves on the Industry Services Board for the Enterprise Innovation Institute and was aware of available services. Karen Fite and Frank Mewborn, Georgia Tech lean specialists, led a project to help Roper Pumps reduce lead time, inventory and production costs while improving production capacity, cash flow and response time to the customer.

The first step in the process was to develop a current state map. By walking through the process, the team observed and documented value-added versus non-value-added time spent on each step. The observations were striking: for one product line, the non-value added steps totaled 18 days whereas the value-added steps took a mere 42 minutes. After a brainstorming session, the team chose to focus on waste, changeover time, production planning and material productivity.

“To eliminate waste, the team at Roper Pumps implemented 5S, a method of cleaning up and organizing the workplace that typically results in labeled and color-coded storage locations, as well as kits that contain just what is needed to perform a particular task,” Mewborn said. “We implemented point-of-use tooling and gauges, as well as point-of-use material, saving more than 300 miles of travel per year within the plant.”

The company also developed a kanban system (a signaling system used to trigger a particular action), implemented a quick change tooling method to reduce changeover time, and eliminated outsourcing heat treatment (a method used to harden or soften a material in manufacturing). Changeover time went from 88 to 38 minutes, a 55 percent decrease; lead time went from 18 to eight days; and material travel was reduced by 450 feet daily. By no longer outsourcing the heat treatment, the company also saved $18,000 annually.

“All of the lean projects we did with Georgia Tech went so well, we decided to get their assistance with product development,” said Simonelli. “We’ve taken our blinders off in terms of how we produce a product and handle any problems that might arise. Instead of outsourcing, I prefer to call it best-sourcing.”

Charles France, a growth services specialist with the Enterprise Innovation Institute, began working with Roper Pumps in 2007 to put more rigor into its product development program. During a two-day planning event, Georgia Tech facilitated a brainstorming session that resulted in more than 150 ideas for new products involving new market entry, improved sales distribution channels, upgrading existing products and product processes, new technologies and creative arrangements with potential partners.

“Roper Pumps had been experiencing problems common to product development, such as too many projects in the pipeline and legacy projects that wouldn’t go away,” France said. “We provided guidelines for implementing more stringent evaluation criteria and consulted on improving key aspects of their existing new product development processes. Roper Pumps not only prioritized new product projects but also was able to cull out the legacy projects, thus freeing up resources to focus on the most promising new products.”

Simonelli said that France’s assistance helped Roper Pumps avoid an ill-fated project that would have cost $300,000. The company is now pursuing a major product development for its main product line – gear pumps – that will provide product sales for decades. Out of the 150 ideas generated at the brainstorming session, 12 ideas rose to the top and have been added to Roper Pumps’ long-term strategic plan.

Phil Smith, Roper Pumps’ vice president of operations, is also working with energy specialist Matt Soderlund to audit Roper Pumps’ energy usage. On his initial visit, Soderlund identified $15,000 in potential annual savings based on Georgia Power’s billing structure.

“Georgia Tech has a host of wonderful programs and if you look at the cost of getting this highly professional experience, I don’t know how anybody can turn it down,” said Simonelli. “The value is outstanding. The biggest worth is the overall culture change Georgia Tech has helped bring to Roper Pumps.”
About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (john.toon@innovate.gatech.edu).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Georgia Tech Helps Streamline Assistance to Georgia’s Families and Children

In February 2007, Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) embarked on a journey to introduce lean methodology into its organizational culture. The effort, which was initiated by Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Commission for a New Georgia, aims to make Georgia the best-managed state in America through the Office of Customer Service, tasked with making access to state services faster, friendlier and easier.

“People in DFCS work hard and have huge workloads, so asking them to take a week away from work to participate in the improvement process was a challenge,” recalled Gwen Bailey, Rapid Process Improvement (RPI) champion for field operations.

Mona Castile, the Spalding County supervisor for Aged, Blind and Disabled (ABD) Medicaid, was one worker short and had gotten transferred back onto a caseload with a three-month backlog when the RPI initiative began. RPI, also known as lean management, is a set of tools that helps to identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations.

“By the end of the week of training, we were full supporters of RPI,” she said. “When you start hearing talk about improving customer service, a lot of times you may be concerned that improving services for external customers could come at the expense of internal customers (staff). This has been a win-win for external as well as internal customers.”

With technical assistance from lean specialists at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, DFCS began to identify areas for improvement within Medicaid, the program area designated by Commissioner B.J. Walker for lean implementation. In February 2007, the DFCS leadership team began meeting with Bill Ritsch of Georgia Tech and representatives from the Governor’s Office of Customer Service to discuss and develop plans for working with DFCS staff.

“We conducted RPI events on Medicaid determination of eligibility processes in June, July and August in Clayton County, Henry County and Spalding County. Weekly reporting mechanisms were developed to enable us to monitor post-implementation progress,” noted Bailey. “The big picture was to embed lean methodology in DFCS operations.”

At the Family Medicaid Intake event, the goal was to reduce processing time for new applications while increasing accuracy. Prior to the implementation, people seeking to establish Medicaid eligibility would wait an average of nine to 49 days.

With a target goal of 12 days or fewer, the county office dedicated two case managers to processing Family Medicaid Intake applications. The RPI team also developed metrics to track performance and created written practice standards. Now, customers who walk in with all of the necessary information to process an application will likely receive same-day determinations.

“There’s been no policy change – policy still allows varying standards for timely completion of applications – 10 or 45 days. But now we’ve got a targeted goal of 12 days and it’s a goal that’s being measured on a weekly basis,” Bailey said. “As you know, what gets measured gets done, and we want to make that goal.”

Once clients are determined eligible for Medicaid, they must be reviewed every six months. This area – Family Medicaid Ongoing – was the focus of the team’s second RPI event. The goal was to improve the quality of information submitted for re-determination and to encourage earlier response from customers.

“No face-to-face interaction is required to establish or continue Medicaid eligibility. Our review form – which is mailed out to determine continued eligibility – was reduced from four to two pages,” noted Carlene Burgess, DFCS RPI champion. “We also gave customers a shorter response time and simplified written communications mailed out in an effort to reduce the need for checklists and follow-up phone calls.”

In a three-month measurement before the RPI implementation, DFCS staff had to send follow-up checklists to between 69 to 92 percent of its customers; post-RPI, that number decreased to 34 to 60 percent. Before the implementation, between 49 to 56 percent of customers sent in their information within the allotted four-week time; afterwards, that number rose to 61 to 67 percent.

The third RPI event focused on ABD Medicaid Intake. As with Family Medicaid Intake, the team wanted to reduce the processing time for new applications while increasing accuracy. According to Castile, before the RPI it took 25 days to process qualified Medicare beneficiary applications. It now takes two days on average.

“We implemented same-day face-to-face consultation for all ABD walk-ins, established a ‘duty worker’ who was scheduled specifically to see ABD customers and updated the self-service application station,” Castile said. “This has really made a big difference, because it means people will get that all-important medical assistance and they’ll have access to it much faster. By paying the Medicare premium for our clients, it increases the amount they receive from Social Security.”

Ritsch acknowledged the project had its challenges, but says that the end results speak for themselves.

“The only thing consistent in this world is change, and even though RPI isn’t rocket science, it’s still really hard to change the culture of any organization,” he said. “DFCS has really begun to follow the PDCA principle – plan, do, check, act – and they will have continued success as a result.”

In May 2008 with Georgia Tech’s assistance, DFCS began a four-module series of training for an additional 40 employees to become RPI champions. By the end of August, new RPI processes will be developed for presentation to DFCS leadership.

“We think RPI can transform how we do business. DFCS is a large agency that touches a lot of lives,” Bailey noted. “Services to Georgia residents can’t help but get better as a result of us streamlining our operations and it will help with getting services out to the customer faster, friendlier and easier.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (john.toon@innovate.gatech.edu).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Georgia’s Invention Activity is Growing and Focused on Technology, First-Ever Comprehensive Survey Shows

Independent patenting activity has grown rapidly in Georgia over the past 30 years, with nearly 8,000 patents issued since 1975 to inventors not associated with corporations, universities or similar organizations.

A new study has found that nearly half of the products created by these inventors were in non-consumer areas, mainly in technologies such as medical devices, energy and the environment, and automotive applications. Despite their productivity, the study found that less than a third of the inventors realized commercial success with their patents.

These findings were among the conclusions of the first-ever comprehensive survey of the state’s independent inventors. Conducted by Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute with support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the findings suggest that the work of independent inventors could provide untapped economic potential for the state.

“There is a significant level of creativity and product development by individuals living throughout Georgia, and this activity is increasing,” said Joy Wilkins, manager of community innovation services at the Enterprise Innovation Institute. “As our survey showed, the needs of the independent inventor community are diverse and largely unmet, although there is a huge appetite for help among the inventors.”

Despite the economic potential and identified needs, Georgia currently has no organization or entity that focuses on the needs of independent inventors on a statewide basis, Wilkins noted.

The survey identified the top needs of inventors, which included:

* Statewide networking for the independent inventor community,
* Greater advisement on available financial resources,
* Assistance in marketing,
* Better channels for linking with appropriate manufacturers,
* Greater access to third-party technical product evaluation,
* Business development assistance,
* Effective prototyping and design assistance,
* Help in understanding the invention, patent and commercialization processes, and * Professional development and training.

“Beyond developing a greater understanding of the scope and nature of independent invention activity in our state, we wanted to conduct this survey to identify three areas: unmet needs, ingredients for success and effective resources for inventors,” Wilkins explained. “If we can understand the needs of inventors and how Georgia Tech can better connect these idea artists to helpful resources, there is a real potential to boost commercialization and economic development throughout the state.”

The research yielded some interesting demographics about Georgia’s independent inventor community. More than half had at least a four-year college degree; more than half were between the ages of 45 and 64; the majority was male; and approximately one-fourth held management and professional occupations or were self-employed. There also appeared to be a tendency for independent inventors to belong to moderately high to higher income households.

The study also found that Georgia’s independent patenting activity is broad-based, with all but seven of the state’s 159 counties home to at least one patent. Although the Atlanta region accounted for more than half of the inventors participating in the survey, 43 percent hailed from beyond the state’s most urbanized region. Outside of Atlanta, the Gainesville region accounted for the second largest share of participants, followed by the Athens and Augusta regions.

When asked what motivated their activity, the independent inventors cited reasons related to their jobs more than any other – including a need, problem, or potential efficiency recognized because of the inventor’s line of work, with such reasons accounting for 30 percent of all responses given. Factors relating to making their personal life easier were the second most frequently mentioned. Money was mentioned as a motivator only to a slight degree.

Overall, reported experiences by inventors revealed that approximately one-third of inventors achieved some level of commercial success through independent production and sales, licensing, and/or sale of a patent. Although more than half (60 percent) reported they’d not achieved success at the time of the survey, approximately 32 percent of the inventors said they did experience some commercial success for at least one of their inventions.

Independent production and sales, or wrapping a company around the patented product, appeared to the most frequented vehicle to success. Licensing patents to another entity appeared to be the second most successful vehicle to commercialization, as 9 percent of all inventors – or more than one-fourth (28 percent) of successful inventors – reported they had realized success through such a path for one or more of their inventions. Another five percent reported they had achieved success through assigning or selling one or more of their patents to another entity.

The Georgia Tech researchers suggest that economic developers in Georgia consider independent inventors in strategies for economic development because collectively these inventors account for a larger share of patents than those owned by a single corporation or entity, including major research universities. The numbers bear out the dramatic increase in patents in Georgia: since 1975, independent inventors in Georgia received 9,042 patents – 1,759 from 1975 to 1985; 2,870 from 1986 to 1995; and 4,413 from 1996 to March 2006.

That economic potential is what motivated support from the EDA, which gave the project its Planning Performance Award.

“EDA’s investment in this research of inventors in Georgia – and the subsequent identification of ways to support invention commercialization – supports job creation and private investment throughout the state,” said Phil Paradice, EDA’s Atlanta regional director. “The project, which earned EDA’s Planning Performance Award for its collaborative efforts with state, local and federal entities, is consistent with our partners’ comprehensive economic development strategies.”

Utilizing the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, the researchers determined that there were 6,845 independent inventors with a Georgia residence as of 2006. The survey pool consisted of 2,428 independent inventors, with participation by 331 inventors, a 13.6 percent return rate. Researchers analyzed more than 113,000 data points.

The survey’s results will spur development of a series of recommendations aimed at better meeting the needs of the inventors. “Using the results of the survey, we will make recommendations and identify pilot services, such as training workshops, to be implemented later this year,” Wilkins added.

For more information on community innovation services offered by Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, contact Joy Wilkins (); E-mail: (joy.wilkins@innovate.gatech.edu).

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (john.toon@innovate.gatech.edu).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

South Georgia Truss Manufacturer Improves Bottom Line with Georgia Tech Assistance

Lee Matthews, operations manager for Universal Forest Products, and Art Ford, south Georgia region manager for the Enterprise Innovation Institute, discuss lean issues in the Ashburn facility.

Assembling wooden roof trusses used in building construction can be a little like putting together a puzzle. Many different parts must first be cut to the right size and shape, then placed into the proper location on the truss.

Until recently, the flow of these parts had been a complicated and time-consuming process for workers at Universal Forest Products in Ashburn. After being cut, thousands of parts were first stored in a rack, then moved to a cart which held the components needed for a particular truss. At the end of each work day, the cart was moved to a storage location, then returned to the assembly location when work resumed the next day.

“We didn’t have a problem building the trusses – we build about 9,000 a week – but cutting all those components was challenging,” said Lee Matthews, operations manager for the Ashburn, Ga., facility. “I was running high in overtime, and we even went as far as putting on a small second shift. We needed a better flow.”

It was not uncommon to have as many as 16,000 pieces cut and stored, waiting for assembly. Now that number is zero – thanks to a continuous improvement initiative instituted by the company with help from the Enterprise Innovation Institute at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The improvement process began when management and front-line supervisors from the company completed lean training offered by the Enterprise Innovation Institute. The leadership group learned how to eliminate overproduction from traditional scheduling systems, produce products based on customer demand and utilize value stream mapping as a tool to guide implementation efforts. Value stream maps are diagrams used to analyze the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to a consumer.

Sam Darwin, a Georgia Tech lean specialist, led the initial sessions as part of Universal Forest Products’ corporate training effort that brought participants from around the country for two days of internal training and a lean overview. Since then, training sessions have been conducted in five other states in addition to five plants in Georgia. In total, Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute has led 32 projects for the company.

“The decision to partner with Georgia Tech was a simple one,” Matthews recalled. “We asked them to help us analyze where we could improve flow in regards to cutting the components for roof trusses.”

John Stephens and Jennifer Trapp-Lingenfelter, Georgia Tech lean specialists, visited the Ashburn facility and met with management to discuss the facility’s issues. They suggested developing a value stream map on the entire process of making roof trusses – from raw material all the way through the finished product.

“I realized we needed to look at the whole picture, not just the cutting operations,” noted Stephens. “This would help identify where the true bottlenecks were forming and why.”

To identify opportunities for improvement, the team working on the value stream map measured how far the individual truss components had to travel and then brainstormed ways to reduce that. Matthews admits he initially had his doubts.

“I’ve been in this business 21 years and worked with 15 plants all over the United States. I felt like I had pretty much seen it all – been there and done that,” he said. “John suggested that we work toward a one-piece flow system. I thought was he was crazy, but he asked me to try just one machine.”

After trying it once, Matthews was convinced to implement the idea on all of his presses. The Ashburn facility is now the only plant among all of Universal Forest Product’s 80 locations to have one-piece flow. The plant also implemented visual cues for scheduling the various components to be cut.

“Before implementing lean, I had to store a lot of small pieces. At any given time I had about $40,000 worth of work-in-process (WIP) on the yard. That $40,000 is now down to about $10,000,” Matthews said. “And for trusses we build for manufactured housing customers, we have zero WIP on the floor at the end of each day.”

The Ashburn plant has also seen a decrease in the amount of time it takes to schedule work orders. Before, it would take a production manager approximately two and a half hours each day to schedule the thousands of components needed; now it is done in a matter of minutes as a result of the visual cues. According to Matthews, this has also cut down on the number of mistakes made and improved product quality. In 2007, on-time delivery was 77.1 percent; thus far in 2008, it has increased to 84.1 percent.

“We have customers who are beginning their journey into lean manufacturing and have requested tours of our facility because of our success story,” Matthews noted. “This has had a very positive influence partnering and building relationships with our customers.”

Another area greatly impacted by the lean implementation was in safety. In addition to reducing forklift and banding exposure, employees no longer need to climb on tables to load overhead racks and they eliminated loading and unloading above shoulder height.

“Because we’ve removed so many non-value added steps, I’m ready to reduce my forklift fleet by three,” he said. “We’re also saving thousands of dollars a year because we implemented a point-of-use storage and we have reduced overtime in the truss area by 20 percent.”

In fact, the value stream map project proved to be so successful in the truss area that Matthews decided to conduct a similar project in the finger joint department at the beginning of 2008. Finger joints are made by making a set of complementary rectangular cuts in two pieces of wood, which are then glued. The finger-jointed boards that Universal Forest Products manufactures are used in mobile and modular homes and office modular buildings.

“My two production managers conducted the value stream map for the finger joint area, using a process similar to the one Georgia Tech had shown us,” Matthews said. “We wanted a wide representation of participants, so we included everyone from myself to production managers to supervisors to forklift drivers to folks who ran the rip and component saws. We want everyone to feel like they are a part of a team and that their voice matters.”

Most recently, Matthews asked lean specialists Trapp-Lingenfelter and Tara Barrett to return to Ashburn to conduct a value stream map for the sales and administration office. The group examined the order process for the plant, including order entry and pricing. Matthews also anticipates big benefits from the project.

“We developed a sales form that’s more consistent that can generate quotes and orders, so we’re not duplicating work. This will speed the process up, and allow our sales people to sell the product instead of doing paperwork,” he said.

As with many process improvement initiatives, the biggest challenge to completing the projects was achieving employee buy-in, especially with the office staff. Matthews says that while they could see the benefits of lean in manufacturing, they didn’t readily appreciate how it could benefit their jobs.

“Employees do not mind working smarter to make their jobs easier, safer and more productive. If we give the employees the tools, time and instruction they need, they will solve most of the problems we encounter day-to-day,” he said. “Georgia Tech was able to open everyone’s eyes to a different thought process that forced us to recognize the importance of eliminating non-value added activities. We are ecstatic about what the Georgia Tech team was able to do for us.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (john.toon@innovate.gatech.edu).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

New Book Translates International Quality Standards into Plain English

Although international quality standards were written to apply to a wide variety of organizations worldwide, many companies have a difficult time interpreting them. To address this problem, Craig Cochran, the north Atlanta region manager for Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, has written a new book, ISO 9001: In Plain English (Paton Press, 2008).

“To make the international standards applicable to everybody, they are not particularly applicable to anybody,” he noted. “The words and phrases used are not typically those that workers are accustomed to using. If you don’t have extensive experience interpreting international standards, putting them to use in your own company can be very difficult.”

ISO 9001 is an international quality management system standard that presents fundamental management and quality assurance practices applicable to any organization. The generic requirements of the standard represent an excellent foundation of planning, control and improvement for just about any enterprise. Companies that are ISO 9001 certified have a demonstrated baseline of managerial discipline and control, and, according to Cochran, they also have higher rates of customer satisfaction.

The newly-released book is targeted toward anybody who has to implement or audit within an ISO 9001 management system. After a 20-year career in quality, Cochran wrote the book to share some of his experiences in implementing quality systems.

“People interpret ISO 9001 in diverse ways, including those that are often just plain wrong. Because I’ve been working with the ISO 9001 standard since 1988, I thought people might benefit from my experiences,” he said. “I have assisted in implementing ISO 9001 in nearly one thousand organizations, ranging in size from two to 20,000 people, and in every imaginable industry.”

Cochran’s book includes sections on process approach, relationship with ISO 9004 (a standard on continual improvement), compatibility with other management systems, application, vocabulary and definitions, general requirements, management responsibility, resource management, product realization, and measurement, analysis and improvement. For additional information about this book or Georgia Tech’s quality services, please contact Craig Cochran (); E-mail: (craig.cochran@innovate.gatech.edu).

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (john.toon@innovate.gatech.edu).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Columbus Hospital Increases Patient Satisfaction and Safety with Lean

Nurse Lisa Williams displays the visual cues used for locating IV pumps, a system that has saved 750 minutes of nurse time each day. Photo by Leah Yetter

Jahanna Ray and Lisa Williams don’t get as much exercise as they used to, at least not while they’re working as registered nurses and clinical coordinators at St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, Ga. Before implementing lean management principles, nurses were losing approximately 750 minutes each day by walking 50,000 feet – or nine and a half miles – to retrieve IV pumps from the hospital’s Sterile Processing Department (SPD).

“The Sterile Processing Department used to be somewhat centrally located, but when they built new operating rooms, they appropriately located the department underneath the OR,” recalled Ray. “But what that did to the nurses was it required them to walk 15 minutes to get a pump. That’s with no interruptions and no multi-tasking.”

With so much nursing downtime, hospital management had real concerns about delay in patient treatment, potential for error and decreased nurse and physician satisfaction. According to Ray, nurses traveling to retrieve pumps were in a so-called electronic “dead zone,” where they could not be reached should their patients need emergency assistance.

It was then that Bob Gilson, chair of the St. Francis Board of Trustees, suggested that the hospital consider applying lean management principles: a set of tools derived mostly from the Toyota Production System widely used in manufacturing to help identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations. As a member of the Industry Services Board of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, he was already familiar with the organization’s efforts in lean health care through its Lean Healthcare Performance Group.

“Bob Gilson had contact with Georgia Tech and suggested to our CEO that we become involved with the Chamber of Commerce’s lean initiative for Columbus. What we’re trying to do is create a lean community in Columbus with lean services in health care and city government, as an innovative way of recruiting industries that might want to locate here,” noted Jill Hiers, director of operations improvement for St. Francis. “We decided to try it here and see what we could do as a project.”

Senior leadership and directors at St. Francis met to develop a list of all the issues that needed to be addressed, and then narrowed that list down to five possible projects. According to Hiers, the project that would have the greatest impact on the nursing staff was the intravenous (IV) pump project, dubbed the “Having the Right Equipment in the Right Place and at the Right Time” initiative.

Over a one-week period in November of 2007, Frank Mewborn, Jennifer Trapp-Lingenfelter and Derek Woodham, lean specialists with the Enterprise Innovation Institute, trained St. Francis staff on lean principles, assisted with data analysis, brainstormed and prioritized ideas, updated management on the new process and implemented the lean plan. Now, a certain number of IV pumps are kept on each floor and each floor has clean, sterile space for an overflow or staging area. Pumps are cleaned by nurses within three to five minutes of use, as opposed to the previous turnaround time of 12 to 24 hours.

“We developed inventory levels for each floor, and there are visual cues to signal when the pumps get down to a certain level. A tag should be taken to the clinical coordinator to let them know the pumps are potentially running low and to locate additional pumps,” said Trapp-Lingenfelter. “Basically, in manufacturing terms, they developed a kanban system.”

As expected, there was also a dramatic impact on the Sterile Processing Department staff time, since it no longer had to retrieve pumps from the floor, return them to the holding area and sterilize them. According to Williams, it took more than 45 minutes for one staff member to retrieve the pumps and take them back to Sterile Processing, let alone clean the pumps and distribute them back to each floor.

“There was a lot of elimination of non-value added activities in Sterile Processing because now they’re freed up to spend their time on other equipment that needs to be cleaned,” Williams explained. “We no longer have to manually log the pumps because each floor has its own stock. If there’s a floor that’s short, and one floor has excess pumps, they can just borrow between the floors.”

Those saved footsteps also correlate to the bottom line: before the lean implementation, nurses’ trips to the Sterile Processing Department equated to $7,500 a month, or $90,000 a year. The estimated cost of time wasted by SPD to retrieve pumps was nearly $600 a month, or more than $7,000 a year. Nurse satisfaction has also increased tremendously.

“The comment that stuck out to me the most from the nurses was, ‘You mean we can actually design the process and put it into practice? We have the autonomy to take the process and fix it?’” recalled Hiers. “For every problem we’ve encountered since the implementation, we’ve come up with a solution. We are continually growing improvements.”

In fact, the clinical coordinators at St. Francis are participating in the Center for Frontline Leadership, the hospital’s commitment to provide professional development for employees. This semester, each unit is working together to identify some process that needs to be improved and then implement the new process. Future lean projects will focus on the delivery of medication, the discharge process and improving wait times in the emergency room.

Julia Downey, the team coordinator for customer quality initiatives at St. Francis, said she was especially impressed with how much the team was able to accomplish with Georgia Tech’s assistance in such a short time.

“I really was amazed at how quickly we were able to work through the process and implement something by the end of the week,” she said. “Sometimes you lose people and sometimes the dynamics change, but just being able to work through the process and have something implemented by the weekend was wonderful.”

St. Francis is a faith-based, not-for-profit community hospital founded in 1950 in Columbus, Ga. The 376-bed facility specializes in cardiac care, stroke and chest pain, and employs more than 1,800 people, including 275 board-certified physicians.

For more information on lean health care services offered by Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, contact Jennifer Trapp-Lingenfelter (404-386-7472); E-mail: (jenn.lingenfelter@innovate.gatech.edu).

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (john.toon@innovate.gatech.edu).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Florida Shutter Manufacturer Diversifies, Rebounds from Import Competition

John Saunders, president of American Louvered Products, knows the exact date his business began to take a hit from import competition. It was Jan. 1, 1994, the date the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect. NAFTA is an agreement that eliminated the majority of tariffs on products traded among the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

“When NAFTA hit, a lot of companies began buying products out of Mexico. And we couldn’t even touch their prices,” he recalled. “Obviously, our business dropped way off. Around that time we engaged with the Southeastern Trade Adjustment Assistance Center (SETAAC) to improve our productivity so we could compete with that market.”

SETAAC, based at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute in Atlanta, helps manufacturers develop and implement turn-around strategies to better compete with imports. American Louvered Products started out in Tampa, Fla., in 1958 as a manufacturer of bi-fold louver doors for the housing market, and it began manufacturing wooden and vinyl plantation shutters in 1995 to diversify its product line.

“At that time, we decided to completely stop manufacturing louvered doors. Not only were the Mexicans building wooden louvered doors, but masonite – an engineered product – began to be used in the industry. The market for wooden louvered doors went completely down the drain,” Saunders said.

Former SETAAC project manager David Bridges conducted an initial review of American Louvered Products and helped the company prepare an application for the U.S. Department of Commerce. Once the company was approved for funding, Bridges developed an adjustment plan that included projects to receive funding support. Typically, companies assisted by the SETAAC program receive assistance in marketing consulting, manufacturing improvements, information systems improvements, employee training and maintenance and quality systems improvements.

Firms that are accepted into the SETAAC program pay for 25 percent of the diagnostic visit and report. The Department of Commerce generally pays half of the cost of project implementation for activities to benefit the company. Private sector consultants submit quotes for implementing the identified projects and are chosen by the company to execute the outlined changes.

American Louvered Products decided to pursue several projects with SETAAC funding, including a plant layout, equipment design, process development and improvement, improved computer information system and Web site design and implementation. Mark Hannah, SETAAC project manager, assisted the company during this phase of the project, which involved development of new manufacturing equipment designed to give the company a competitive edge.

“When we came into the plantation shutter industry, all of the equipment was lightweight. We bought a state-of-the-art piece of equipment, but we were constantly having downtime problems with it and it always needed tweaking and adjusting,” said Saunders. “With the SETAAC funding, we had a company develop an incredible piece of equipment for us that helped automate the manufacturing. There’s nothing in the industry that will even touch it.”

Since the manufacture of shutters is quite labor intensive and labor is where imports have an edge, use of the automated equipment gave American Louvered a tremendous competitive advantage, according to Saunders. He notes that the company – which increased production by 50 percent with the new piece of equipment – now has a handle on foreign competition in this area, as well as a competitive advantage with lead times.

“You have to diversify to compete with foreign imports because they manage to do a very good job with quality and pricing,” Saunders noted. “As automated as we get, stuff still has to be inspected and checked. We’re trying to shorten lead times to the point that foreign producers just can’t compete.”

Saunders is also diversifying with the startup of a sister company called Shutters and Millwork Industries, a finishing division that frames, stains and paints shutters made by American Louvered Products. With unfinished and primed shutters, the company was penetrating approximately 30 percent of the market. With the addition of the new startup, Saunders expects to be able to sell to 100 percent of the market.

Another area where SETAAC’s assistance proved to be helpful was in the design and implementation of a Web site and marketing materials, especially the development of a Web-enabled order placement system. Prior to developing the system, orders were submitted on paper, which then took hours to enter into the company’s computer system. Customers can now enter order entries online and design their own custom shutters with a computer-aided design software system.

“It’s one thing to be able to change with the market when you’re making the money, but it’s hard to keep up with changes when you don’t have the finances,” Saunders said. “SETAAC’s help was extremely valuable in helping us implement these things because they were all necessary for us to do.”

About the Southeastern Trade Adjustment Assistance Center:
The Southeastern Trade Adjustment Assistance Center (SETAAC), based at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute in Atlanta, helps manufacturers develop and implement turn-around strategies to compete better with imports. Last year, SETAAC helped more than 30 companies in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. On average, these companies received $42,000 in matching funds. In the last three years, SETAAC’s clients have increased sales by 26 percent and improved productivity by 28 percent.

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (john.toon@innovate.gatech.edu).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright