Tag Archives: engineering

ASQ William Hunter Award 2008: Ronald Does

The recipient of the 2008 William G. Hunter Award is Ronald Does. The Statistics Division of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) uses the attributes that characterize Bill Hunter’s (my father – John Hunter) career – consultant, educator for practitioners, communicator, and integrator of statistical thinking into other disciplines to decide the recipient. In his acceptance speech Ronald Does said:

The first advice I received from my new colleagues was to read the book by Box, Hunter and Hunter. The reason was clear. Because I was not familiar with industrial statistics I had to learn this from the authors who were really practicing statisticians. It took them years to write this landmark book.

For the past 15 years I have been the managing director of the Institute for Business and Industrial Statistics. This is a consultancy firm owned by the University of Amsterdam. The interaction between scientific research and the application of quality technology via our consultancy work is the core operating principle of the institute. This is reflected in the type of people that work for the institute, all of whom are young professionals having strong ambitions in both the academic world and in business and industry.

The kickoff conference attracted approximately 80 statisticians and statistical practitioners from all over Europe. ENBIS was officially founded in June 2001 as “an autonomous Society having as its objective the development and improvement of statistical methods, and their application, throughout Europe, all this in the widest sense of the words” Since the first meeting membership has grown to about 1300 from nearly all European countries.

Related: 2007 William G. Hunter AwardThe Importance of Management ImprovementResources on using statistical thinking to improve management

Lame Move by Google

Google does great things and makes good decisions most often. However a recent move on their part has ended very lamely. As part of what their 10th anniversary celebration they provided a search of the 2001 index (the oldest index they could find to search now). This was extremely cool.

Now if you go to find it so you can try it out you will be disappointed. Search for it on Google you will find a link to Google Search 2001 which gives you a page that says: “The page – www.google.com/search2001.html – does not exist.” Is it amazingly lame that Google took the search down, has it has the first result on searches, and has no explanation on that page of what it was about.

It would be cool for them to leave it up (it was interesting). And I would think they could make a great deal of money showing ads (I can’t remember if they did show ads). But not leaving a page at that address (which was linked to over 95,000 times) explaining what the page did and that it is now offline is very lame. Breaking 95,000 links is bad enough for some pointy haired boss that believes the internet is made up of tubes but for a well run internet company to do that is pitiful.

This move shows Google in a similar light as Gap when managers shut down the Gap’s web site for days (in 2005). Google failed when exiting the video business (DRM issues), then realized their mistake and recovered. The fix for this would take all of 1 hour. Someone just has to put up a page discussing what the page was for and that the search has been discontinued.

But really they should explore if it is better to just make it live – maybe it doesn’t but I would certainly want to look into that option. If not, I would put up some interesting results from the experiment (though if the choice is just a 1 hour solution or nothing then just put up a page in 1 hour) and link to commentary about the search and interesting things people found. This would be an interesting task for an intern, or someone else, and could provide an interesting and popular page. but most importantly at least not breaking 95,000 links (plus all those who go to the page from search results pages) is the minimum Google should do.

Related: web pages should live foreverSearch Share Data Checking the ACSIWays for Google to Improve Continue reading

Appropriate Management

Low-Tech, High Impact Innovation

Adopting the perspective of “appropriate technology” is an excellent way to promote and increase innovation. Your solutions don’t have to be high tech, they just have to provide wide benefits – and taking this sometimes counterintuitive approach can be enlightening.

Great post. My father, Dr. William Hunter, did a great deal of work with appropriate technology (he was a chemical engineering, industrial engineering and statistics professor) and in management improvement.

Often the failure to adopt appropriate technology solutions results from a combination of 3 things:

  • Failing to understand the conditions where the solution will be applied. Failing to “go and see” in lean manufacturing terms.
  • Short term thinking, the failure to see the challenges in maintenance, is how short term thinking manifests itself with the inappropriate technology solutions often applied by those siting in Washington DC or Paris. The failure to consider maintenance is also very related to the first point. Appropriate technology solutions are often very simple, less sensitive (less moving parts to break, able to deal with dust, rain…) and more easily repairable (with tools, expertise and spare parts available at the location of use).
  • A desire to use the cool new gadget and ideas.

Thinking about why appropriate technology is so effective, but underutilized can help anyone improve the solutions they adopt. Thankfully the adoption of appropriate technology solutions has been increasing over the last few decades.

I would especially encourage people to stop looking for the newest management book and actually read and adopt and then re-read and… the excellent management books from the last 50 years. Stop chasing some new shiny thing and adopt solutions that are effective – even if they seem boring.
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The Software Engineering Manager’s Lament

The engineering manager’s lament by Eric Ries:

In teams that follow the “pick two” agenda [quality, time or price], which two has to be resolved via a power play. In companies with a strong engineering culture, the engineers pick quality. It’s their professional pride on the line, after all. So they insist on having the final say on when a feature is “done” enough to show to customers. Business people may want to speed things up by spending more money, but enough people have read the Mythical Man-Month to know that doesn’t work.

In teams that have a business culture, the MBA’s pick time. After all, our startup is on a fixed budget. They set deadlines, schedules, and launch plans, and expect the engineering team to do what it takes to hit them. If quality suffers, that’s just the way it is. Or, if they care a lot about quality, they will replace anyone who ships without quality. Unfortunately, threats work a lot better at incentivizing people to CYA than getting them to write quality software.

* Practice five why’s to get to the root cause of future problems. Use those opportunities to add tests or alerts that would have prevented that problem. Make the investment proportional to the problem caused, so that everyone (even the business leaders) feels good about it.

Excellent post, focused on software development but with usable information for anyone seeking to improve management practices.

Related: Amazon S3 Failure AnalysisIT Talent Shortage, or Management Failure?Future Directions for Agile ManagementWhy Extrinsic Motivation FailsIf Tech Companies Made Sudoku

Does the Data Deluge Make the Scientific Method Obsolete?

The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete by Chris Anderson

“All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

So proclaimed statistician George Box 30 years ago, and he was right. But what choice did we have? Only models, from cosmological equations to theories of human behavior, seemed to be able to consistently, if imperfectly, explain the world around us. Until now. Today companies like Google, which have grown up in an era of massively abundant data, don’t have to settle for wrong models. Indeed, they don’t have to settle for models at all.

Speaking at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference this past March, Peter Norvig, Google’s research director, offered an update to George Box’s maxim: “All models are wrong, and increasingly you can succeed without them.”

There is now a better way. Petabytes allow us to say: “Correlation is enough.” We can stop looking for models. We can analyze the data without hypotheses about what it might show. We can throw the numbers into the biggest computing clusters the world has ever seen and let statistical algorithms find patterns where science cannot.

see update, below. Norvig was misquoted, he agrees with Box’s maxim

I must say I am not at all convinced that a new method without theory ready to supplant the existing scientific method. Now I can’t find peter Norvig’s exact words online (come on Google – organize all the world’s information for me please). If he said that using massive stores of data to make discoveries in new ways radically changing how we can learn and create useful systems, that I believe. I do enjoy the idea of trying radical new ways of viewing what is possible.

Practice Makes Perfect: How Billions of Examples Lead to Better Models (summary of his talk on the conference web site):

In this talk we will see that a computer might not learn in the same way that a person does, but it can use massive amounts of data to perform selected tasks very well. We will see that a computer can correct spelling mistakes, translate from Arabic to English, and recognize celebrity faces about as well as an average human—and can do it all by learning from examples rather than by relying on programming.

Related: Will the Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete?Pragmatism and Management KnowledgeData Based Decision Making at GoogleSeeing Patterns Where None ExistsManage what you can’t measureData Based BlatheringUnderstanding DataWebcast on Google Innovation
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Webcast on the Toyota Development Process

Kenji Hiranabe talks about Toyota’s development process (webcast). Kenji shares a presentation he attended earlier this year by Nobuaki Katayama, a former Chief Engineer at Toyota, and the lessons he learned from him.

The webcast takes awhile to get going. If you are impatient you might want to start at the 6 minute mark. Some thoughts from the talk:

  • Voice of the Customer is diffuse. A strong concept (for a project – new car for example) is very important to focus thought, listening to voice of the customer is important but must use strong concept to avoid losing focus (due to diffuse customer feedback).
  • Honest face to face communication is important. Bad news first – present bad news first [don’t try to hide bad news – my thoughts in brackets, John Hunter].
  • Everyone must think about cost reduction, many efforts add up to big impact [the importance of reducing waste everywhere].
  • benchmark, not to copy others, but to learn from what others do well.

The webcast includes a nice (though short) discussion of agile management in software development and lean manufacturing (the different situation of manufacturing versus software development). Kenji Hiranabe has also translated several agile and lean books into Japanese including Implementing Lean Software Development.

Related: Kenji Hiranabe’s blogMarissa Mayer Webcast on Google InnovationArticles and webcasts by Mary PoppendieckFuture Directions for Agile ManagementInterview with Toyota President

Engineering Innovation

. I was giving a talk, while I was working for the Office of Secretary of Defense Quality Management Office, on Using Quality to Develop an Internet Resource (back before blogs, but after the web, in 1999). I was trimming things as I spoke and cut the tidbit about DARPA and the internet because I figured everyone already knew that (and I had to trim as I was speaking). In discussions afterwards I found many didn’t know DARPA’s involvement.

Related: Better and DifferentWater and Electricity for AllGoogle Innovation

Dean Kamen Lends a Hand, or Two (August 2007):
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Inside Honda’s Brain

Inside Honda’s brain by Alex Taylor III

why is Honda playing with robots? Or, for that matter, airplanes? Honda is building a factory in North Carolina to manufacture the Hondajet, a sporty twin-engine runabout that carries six passengers. Or solar energy? Honda has established a subsidiary to make and market thin-film solar-power cells. Or soybeans? Honda grows soybeans in Ohio so that it can fill up cargo containers being shipped back to Japan. The list goes on. All this sounds irrelevant to a company that built some 24 million engines last year and stuffed them into everything from cars to weed whackers.

Since 2002 its revenues have grown nearly 40%, to $94.8 billion. Its operating profits, with margins ranging from 7.3% to 9.1%, are among the best in the industry.

The wellspring of Honda’s creative juices is Honda R&D, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honda Motor. Based in Saitama, west of Tokyo, R&D engineers create every product that Honda makes – from lawn mowers to motorcycles and automobiles – and pursue projects like Asimo and Hondajet on the side. Defiantly individualistic, R&D insists on devising its own solutions and shuns outside alliances. On paper it reports to Honda Motor, but it is powerful enough to have produced every CEO since the company was founded in 1948.

The engineer in Fukui [Honda’s president and CEO] cannot help but be intrigued by what his former colleagues are up to, and his office is only a few steps away from Kato’s. But even with the CEO just down the hall, says Kato, “We want to look down the road. We do not want to be influenced by the business.”

mistakes like the Insight are also the exception. R&D has provided Honda with a long list of engineering firsts that consumers liked, including the motorcycle airbag, the low-polluting four-stroke marine engine, and ultralow-emission cars.

Related: Toyota as HomebuilderS&P 500 CEOs – More Engineering GraduatesMore on Non-Auto ToyotaAsimo Robot, Running and Climbing StairsApplied ResearchGoogle Engineering Energy

Car Powered Using Compressed Air

car powered using compressed air

Jules Verne predicted cars would run on air. The Air Car is making that a reality. The car would be powered by compressed air. Certainly seem like an interesting idea. Air car ready for production:

Refueling is simple and will only take a few minutes. That is, if you live nearby a gas station with custom air compressor units. The cost of a fill up is approximately $2.00. If a driver doesn’t have access to a compressor station, they will be able to plug into the electrical grid and use the car’s built-in compressor to refill the tank in about 4 hours.

The car is said to have a driving range of 125 miles so by my calculation it would cost about 1.6 cents per mile. A car that gets 31 mpg would use 4 gallons to go 124 miles. At $3 a gallon for gas, the cost is $12 for fuel or about 9.7 cents per mile. I didn’t notice anything about maintenance costs. I don’t see any reason why the Air Car would cost more to maintain than a normal car. Five-seat concept car runs on air

An engineer has promised that within a year he will start selling a car that runs on compressed air, producing no emissions at all in town.

Tata is the only big firm he’ll license to sell the car – and they are limited to India. For the rest of the world he hopes to persuade hundreds of investors to set up their own factories, making the car from 80% locally-sourced materials.

“Imagine we will be able to save all those components traveling the world and all those transporters.” He wants each local factory to sell its own cars to cut out the middle man and he aims for 1% of global sales – about 680,000 per year. Terry Spall from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers says: “I really hope he succeeds. It is a really brave experiment in producing a sustainable car.”

Now does that sound like the Toyota Production System to you? It should. If I were an executive at Toyota I would sure examine this to see if it really is as promising as it looks. And if it is Toyota sure has plenty of cash and the management practice to make a very compelling case for allowing Toyota to produce this globally. The engineers desires closely match what Toyota has learned. Both seek to eliminate the waste of transportation (friction).

Related: Click Fraud = Friction for GoogleManufacturing Takes off in IndiaElectric Automobiles

Engineering Innovation for Manufacturing and the Economy

Editorial: Engineering Innovation, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

They are the invisible heroes in business, the men and women who make innovation possible. They are people like Mary Ann Wright at Johnson Controls in Milwaukee, the former chief engineer for the Ford Escape hybrid who is leading a team bent on establishing world leadership in hybrid battery systems.

Or Werner Zobel, a Modine Manufacturing engineer working in Germany who hatched the idea for a new cooling system that the Racine-based company believes could be revolutionary. The system uses ultra-thin layers of aluminum to dissipate heat, a breakthrough that has potential for car and truck radiators and air conditioning condensers.

Intellectual candlepower will fire the regional economy, the Milwaukee 7 regional economic development group believes. Its strategic plan relies on innovation-driven manufacturers that are heavy with engineers. But across the region, those companies say they can’t recruit enough engineers, and they worry that shortages will worsen as baby boomers retire. Complicating the picture is a shortage of visas for foreign-born engineers and increased competition from rapidly developing economies in China and India for those students even when they complete their studies in the United States.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Marquette University and the Milwaukee School of Engineering are racing to fill the pipeline. Marquette and UWM are promising expansive new buildings and increased enrollment of both undergraduate and graduate students.

The USA continues to be by far the largest manufacturing in the world. And one important reason is the contributions provided by science and engineering (fed by strong science and engineering schools). In addition to other smart economic policies (The World Bank’s annual report on the easiest countries to do business in ranks the USA 3rd – after Singapore and New Zealand). Wisconsin manufacturing continues to get good discussion on various lean blogs for good reason(More Wisconsin Lean, Wisconsin Continues to Lead in Lean Government, History repeats itself). The success Wisconsin is enjoying is not due to one single factor but the efforts of many actors including companies, universities, government, the press… and groups like the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Madison Quality Improvement Network (I have managed MAQIN’s web site since it was created – John Hunter).

Related: Best Research University Rankings – 2007S&P 500 CEOs – Again Engineering Graduates LeadInvest in New Management Methods by William G. Hunter, Commentary to the Milwaukee Journal, 1986