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Creating a culture and passion for learning on the manufacturing floor.

In addition to losing weight, quitting smoking, and getting out of debt, the declaration to "learn something new" regularly makes the top 10 New Year's resolutions list.

As writer Anthony J. D'Angelo wisely advised, "Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow."

This is particularly relevant in high-precision industries such as medical device manufacturing. In order to enhance the performance of the organization and truly compete, team members must be up to date on process improvements and new technologies. Doing so requires companies to foster a learning culture that provides lucrative opportunities for continuous development and encourages employees to participate.

To help your medical device company remain competitive and marketable, don't wait for New Year's resolutions or other milestones to invest in "game-changing" actions. By applying the following strategies, you and your team can create a culture of continuous learning throughout your entire organization.

1. Support and Incentivize Outside Training

In order for team members to get the knowledge and information needed to elevate their skill sets, sometimes it is necessary for them to take advantage of training offered offsite. For example, team members in the machine shop may benefit from a series of instructional, hands-on classes at a technical training institution in order to learn new machine programming or CNC machining capabilities.

By providing incentives, such as tuition support and paid time off, team members will be more inclined to embrace continuing education opportunities that will enable them to expand the organization's production capabilities.

The knowledge and experience gained from learning about the latest manufacturing developments in machining and engineering technology strengthens team members' productivity. Less time can be spent per task or per unit; output of products or services can be increased; and strategies can be adopted to reduce costs to both the company and its clients.

This increased productivity directly benefits the customer by allowing them to take advantage of higher quality products that can be manufactured more efficiently and effectively.

Continual learning opportunities also foster a more invested and satisfied work force. Encouraging and supporting a level one machinist to take advantage of training that will elevate their skills and abilities from a level one to a level two demonstrates that the company is invested in its growth and development. It's also likely to mean a pay raise for that team member--which is a powerful incentive in itself.

2. Promote Internal Crass-Training

The benefits of cross-training can be summed up in the wisdom of Confucius: "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."

Cross-training in manufacturing means that team members receive internal, on-the-job training to learn how to complete a variety of job functions. For example, an assembly technician can be trained on multiple sub-assemblies, end item assembles, or in-process testing procedures.

When multiple machine floor and assembly team members are cross-trained to use various types of equipment and perform different processes, they gain the flexibility to respond to changes more quickly and efficiently. Cross-training not only helps maximize human resources, it also helps superior products to be produced at an accelerated, cost-effective pace.

Conversely, if there's only one person who can do a certain job and he or she is unavailable to perform it, bottlenecks start to develop. This increases lead times and delays deliveries. It also raises work in process inventory, which increases the company's costs.

The benefits of cross-training are immense, and include improved flexibility and quality, exposure of problems, cost savings, and increased job satisfaction.

3. Develop an Environment to Encouraged Problem Solving

When team members are encouraged to take advantage of external and internal continuing education opportunities, they gain new, innovative ideas to bring back to their company. These ideas can help an organization improve its productivity, efficiency and output. However, if the culture of the organization discourages input or the sharing of those ideas is not encouraged, team members won't be inclined to contribute their solutions.

Discouraging new ideas only serves to discourage people from solving problems-problems that may be stunting the growth of a company. Therefore, in order for a company to grow and offer the most value to its customers, the organization's leaders must help create an environment that welcomes problem solving.

For example, a team member who discovers that using a coolant would be more cost-effective and allow the machines to run more efficiently than the off-based lubricant that has long been used in the machines should be encouraged to explore what making the transition might entail.

Supporting new ideas and problem solving demonstrates that the organization embraces suggestions for how to enhance its performance. And, over time, this behavior cultivates a culture that is confident in seeking new and different ways to help the company thrive.

4. Openly Reward Team Members

Asking employees their opinions, involving them in decisions, giving them authority to do their jobs, and supporting them when they make mistakes are all essential to creating a culture that values constant learning and growth. But it's also important to reward team members when their performance has merited it. It's even more impactful when the team members' accomplishment is shared with the entire organization and the award presented openly.

This act of openly recognizing and rewarding team members often incites other team members to also want to go the extra mile for the organization especially if there's peer recognition and a financial incentive for doing so.

The Resolution of Learning

Peter Senge, author of the book, "The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization," defined a learning culture as one where "people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together."

All learning, be it from internal cross-training, offsite educational classes, or day-to-day work, is about sharing lessons, learning from mistakes, and constantly improving. By exposing team members to diverse learning resources, encouraging new ideas and supporting the implementation of new initiatives, your medical device company will cultivate a thriving culture of continuous learning and enduring growth.

Richard L. Van Kirk is vice president of Operations and Engineering for Pro-Dex Inc., a publicly-traded Irvine, Calif.-based company that develops and manufactures powered surgical devices for world-class medical device OEMs.
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Title Annotation:Outsourcing Efficiencies
Author:Van Kirk, Richard L.
Publication:Medical Product Outsourcing
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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