Sunday, May 20, 2012

CAT Mini Trek to Milford, MA

On Friday 10 of us and one staff member, Patty, piled into cars for a 45 minute drive to see Milton CAT, a family owner Caterpillar dealership franchise that serves most of New England and New York state.  They hosted us for a full day there, giving us a history of their branch of dealerships (three generations of Miltons have now ran the business) and tours of basically their whole facility.  They were great hosts and I'd like to thank them again for putting together such a great day Friday.

During domestic plant trek, we had gotten to learn a lot about CAT corporate, but didn't have the chance to experience the company from the dealer network perspective.  Being able to see what individual dealerships do to manage everything from inventory to customer relationships was helpful in understanding CAT as a whole business.  The dealer network actually has similar employment and revenue numbers to CAT corporate (sometimes bigger) and they regularly communicate and give feedback to headquarters.

A fun fact about CAT and their capabilities, is if you bring in a piece of their equipment they will refurbish, clean, repair, inspect and paint your entire machine in 4-5 weeks such that it will have the same warranty as it would when you bought it new.  This costs 60-70% of buying a new unit.  Remanufacturing, as well as renting, are some of the strategies CAT employs to be cost competitive to many different customers.

Turns out, because everything from repair and maintenance to parts sales is on site, this dealership felt more like a factory then a showroom, and had many things that we saw when we visited companies on our domestic plant trek.  One thing that we thought was especially awesome though, that was not included in our January trip was...getting to drive these machines!

This grader is just one of the units I drove on Friday - the blade is a six-way blade - it can go up and down, turn left and right (around the axis perpendicular to the ground) and then also tilt to the left and right (around the axis in the direction it's driving).  It's job is to level or contour the job site - it doesn't scoop - it only pushes.
This was what I drove first - digging, scooping - very cool
Took this one into and back out of a big ditch in the yard that we learned and played in
Here's our group that visited Milton CAT.  Thanks again for hosting us!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reports of [manufacturing's] death are greatly exaggerated

The title of this post comes from the speech US Secretary of Commerce, John Bryson, gave on the second day of the Future of Manufacturing Conference held here at MIT on May 8th and 9th.  He was directing Mark Twain's quote famous quote about his death towards the state that US Manufacturing is in today.  While speakers from industry had some worrying reports about finding skilled workers interested in working for them (another story), the secretary had encouraging facts about the role of manufacturing in the US economy.  Here are a few:

Manufacturing makes up over 90% of US patents
Manufacturing makes up over 60% of US exports

That's some serious innovation and economic trade right there.

Besides the report from the US Secretary, there were panel discussions with a mix of industry and academic representatives and there were speeches from people on all sorts of issues.  The agenda from the conference can be found here.

In addition to the panels and speeches in Wong Auditorium here at Sloan, we had a few events in the new Media Lab building at MIT, mainly receptions and poster sessions.  It was nice to speak with people on a more casual basis and also to go to a building where we don't usually have class.

One theme that did consistently come up though the conference was the issue of the image of manufacturing in the mind of the public, the perception of career potential in the industry and how there are fewer people who have the complex technical trade skills to come in and do the high-tech manufacturing jobs needed.  We heard from both management and union members, and many ideas were proposed including:

Need to ensure women and minorities have STEM degrees
Need to staple green cards to immigrants with STEM degrees
Maybe implement an apprenticeship type program

STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

To some these may be controversial ideas, but the fact is that things don't seem to be working out as well as hoped if labor policies and employee demographics remain the same.  Perhaps we'll find other solutions or use other initiatives, but change is still necessary for future success.

Though we'll end up in management, that's one of the reasons the LGO program exists - to get exceptional talent working on production and distribution of tangible things - rather than in say finance which is a track many MBAs opt for.  The Sloan School of Management was originally the MIT School of Industrial Management and the pioneering program was endowed by Alfred Sloan, then president of General Motors (hence the name).  Manufacturing and industry is why Sloan was started in the first place!

At MIT, we have a great history in working in companionship with and in service of industry and I'm proud that LGO keeps this partnership strong.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Fall Flashback - working with the Pacific Puffins

As the spring semester comes to I close, I was looking back through photos I've taken this year and found this gem.  I took this photo in the fall to document our Pacific Puffins team, but I lost it in Picasa for a little while.  To give an explanation, the Pacific Puffins are my Sloan Core team, the team that I took Accounting, Economics, Organizational Processes and Communication with.  Each year, the incoming Sloan class is divided into six oceans and then each ocean is divided into ten or so groups of 6-7 (each with a max of one LGO).  So, I was in class every day and working on psets with this lovely group of individuals.  This semester I am in at least one class with three of them, but see the others less often.  Overall, we functioned well as a team and it has been fun to see the roles we have evolved into here at Sloan.

The Class of 2013 Pacific Puffins!

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