Manufacturing Education for the Computing Professional
Written By: Gene Brockmeier, CFPIM, CIRM
When I joined Boeing Commercial Airplanes, I was assigned to the design and development of a new shop floor control system. At the time, Boeing's manufacturing plant in Wichita, Kansas employed approximately 20,000 people and manufactured major assemblies for all models of Boeing airplanes. Just gaining an understanding of the complexities of the current shop floor processes and systems proved quite difficult. Analyzing, designing and developing a shop floor control system for such a large facility provided an even greater challenge.
The project team was primarily staffed with recently hired employees with little shop floor control experience. Having a project staffed with inexperienced people has its pros and cons. The primary problem was a lack of understanding of manufacturing processes in general but this was offset with an eagerness to learn. Having hired into Boeing with my CPIM and recent MRP experience, my day-to-day challenge was to answer the seemingly endless questions about shop floor control while trying to design the system and schedule the project. It didn't take long to realize that the staff needed shop floor control education and APICS was going to be the source.
I initially began teaching class after hours, wanting to avoid any conflicts with our project schedule. Seven systems analysts (at my urging) attended class for one hour each week to review APICS materials in preparation for taking the CPIM exams. I wrote a memo to our management and received funding approval for our examination fees. Eight weeks after classes began, the analysts took their shop floor control exam. From that basic beginning, the education process continues and computing employees are realizing the benefits.
Gaining Respect From the Manufacturing Community
One of the benefits to be gained from APICS education is respect from the manufacturing organizations. Too often, systems personnel are looked upon as not understanding manufacturing processes or being unable to provide input to solving manufacturing problems. "As an Information Systems person, my CPIM and CIRM certifications open doors for me, overcoming the paradigm that Information Systems only crunches data and knows nothing about manufacturing. These certifications definitely garner respect from our customers" says Mike Kuhlmann, Material Systems Manager. An APICS education enhances the computing professionals' ability to help resolve manufacturing problems by better understanding their functions and the systems and data that support them. Any support organization must understand their customers and processes. It is very beneficial to be able to understand a manufacturing problem and provide input to its resolution. In many instances, knowledgeable systems personnel can be very helpful in resolving problems.
"To have the respect of my customers and peers and affect change, I need the knowledge not only of where we are but where we should be going" said Jerry Coles, CPIM, Boeing Information Systems Manager.
Common Language Supports Process and Systems Design
One of the difficulties often experienced by systems personnel is understanding the terminology used in manufacturing. The analysis and design of manufacturing computing applications is a very complex process that is only compounded if terminology is not understood. Designing and developing computing applications is enhanced if those involved speak the same language and are headed in the same direction. "I understand the types of data that are passed back and forth between the different functions as well as the reasons why the data is necessary", states Brian Hickman, CPIM.
Detailed analysis of current and future systems applications is made much easier if the systems staff has been APICS educated. Understanding the information relationships between processes facilitates the design processes. Many of the commercial off the shelf software packages are based upon the standard principles of APICS education.
Starting an in-house education program
No matter how large or small your company, you can start an in-house education program. Select a topic which addresses a current problem or assignment in your factory. Study sessions can be held during lunch or right after work. Set a goal of taking the certification exam a month or six weeks in the future. Acquiring funds for educational materials, examination fees and memberships can be challenging. Write letters to your management explaining the benefits of improved production and inventory management processes and how APICS education will enable your company to achieve them. If you cannot get support for your educational efforts, don't give up. Study materials can be borrowed from your local chapter or library. As a last resort, you may have to pay for your own expenses. Even so, look at it as an investment in your career.
Spread the word that your study group is educating themselves to help address a specific problem in your company. Others will join you to seek advice on problems in their area and eventually your informal group will grow and gain visibility and respect. If at all possible, try to recruit members of management which will start the process of making your efforts more formal and eventually company supported. Report to management the results of your efforts including number of people involved, topics and testing progress. The APICS CPIM and CIRM certification bulletins are excellent ways to communicate your endeavor.
Over the past 10 years our study group has grown and flourished. It didn't take long for the word to spread and soon we had to try to limit the class to 25 students. Not being one to turn away those willing to learn, our classes expanded to as many as 45 students. Class participation has been at a steady level for a number of years. A steady stream of students soon began to receive their CPIMs and to date more than 35 employees, many of them computing personnel, have been certified through this program.