NeoCon 2018: How Manufacturing and Design Are Reinventing the Office Ceiling

Every year, tens of thousands of designers descend upon the Merchandise Mart in Chicago for the annual commercial design industry’s NeoCon, one of the largest trade shows in the country. Marketed as a “launchpad for innovation,” NeoCon connects thousands of exhibitors and design professionals to collaborate on the future of the industry.

I have attended the conference numerous times, and it’s always a great opportunity to discover what’s happening in the design space, particularly with product design. A huge highlight this year was attending the MNML/TURF NeoCon launch party with Matrix4COO, Sujit Sheth, and some members of my Entrepreneurial Therapy Group (a group I created to focus on development, personal growth and accountability).

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Cheers @mnml1 @mnml_dsgn @turf.design for an awesome kick off to #neocon with awesome design and launch of meaningful physical product.

TURF and MNML collaborated on an acoustic tile product, where TURF sourced one of their solutions from MNML. The solution is felt surfaces that can be installed into the tracks of ceiling tiles and easily swapped out. I’m personally looking forward to using the solution in both my home and factory. MNML and TURF showcased the product on NeoCon’s launch day, and I participated in support of our design partner, MNML, interacting with others in the space.

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Turning Ceilings from Mundane to Insane by Sarang Sheth at Yanko Design

I formed a connection to TURF through one of their interns, Jack Berry, who graduated Woodstock High School where he participated in their incubator program, for which I’m a board member (along with the Incubator Program at Prairie Ridge High School, my alma mater, in Crystal Lake, IL). I have sat on the board of the University of Iowa Entrepreneurial Program and mHub, the maker space in Chicago, and was excited to support what was happening locally.  

TURF came out of Reike Interiors, a space in Elgin Illinois where the owner, Todd, kept being asked about noise reduction. He started working with felt materials and came up with TURF. In collaboration with Scott Wilson and MNML, the product design was achieved using compression molding, a manufacturing process particularly suited for large, intricate pieces.

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TURF tiles have the benefit of perfectly blurring the lines between cutting edge aesthetics and acoustic performance, dramatically transforming the spaces they reside in.

TURF acoustic tiles had a great reception at NeoCon. It’s such a fun product, leveraging a tactile fabric like felt and putting it in a functional yet aesthetically appealing format. User experience and insights were also woven throughout the design process to provide additional perspective. It's an extremely well-thought-out product on many levels, and I’m excited to utilize it in my space.

That’s what’s so great about attending NeoCon: Seeing designers exhibit the ability to combine great design and functionality with manufacturing to create tangible products that are not only functional but aesthetically appealing. It is brilliant marriage.

Forget Work/Life Balance: How to Design A Life with Intention & Purpose Instead

I don’t believe in work-life balance

We only get one life and it can’t be cleanly split into work and personal as if neither holds any relevance to the other. We spend such a significant percentage of our lives working so treating our work identity as somehow wholly separate from our true person is like stealing a part of our lives from ourselves.

We all want meaning in life, and while we like to separate our personal lives and fill it with home and family and hobbies, there’s also meaning to be gained from our work.

It’s important to me that everyone who comes to work on our team aligns with our core value "make meaningfully" and finds purpose in the work they are doing everyday. Whether or not it's in your job or otherwise—how do you create a meaningful life?

Designing a meaningful life

Prioritizing your time can be difficult with the demands we are faced with today, but ensuring you don’t pit your “work life” against your “personal life” requires purposeful decision making. The principles of design don’t just apply to products and processes, but living a purposeful life. A life of meaning requires thoughtful, intentional decision making and design.

Designing a meaningful life is similar to the way you establish strategies for a business, and regularly reflect to ask “how’s it going? Do we need to pivot? What do we need to tweak? What are we refining?”

It's the same thing from a personal standpoint.

What may have worked in your 20s may be different in your 30s, may be different in your 40s. It’s a constant evolution. The more experiences I have, the more knowledge I gain, and the more I'm learning and evolving as a human. I’m continually evaluating—how am I filling my plate with things that inspire and are joyful and creative and intellectual and challenging.

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It may seem overwhelming to dive head first into thinking about your life in this context, but here are 5 things you can do today to help you live the life you always dreamed of.

1. Take annual inventory - reflect and plan for the next year

As the adage goes, you can’t know where you're going until you know where you've been. It’s important to regularly reflect on your goals, how well you’re progressing, and what you can do differently.

Every December 31st I take inventory of my year. I look at that across the whole gamut of my life, including both business and personal things. What was awesome? What wasn’t so great? What do I need to work on? What am I going to chart for my course for the next year if I dream this big dream? Make sure to write it all down. A great “dreamstorming” session really helps clarify what the next year will be and set your priorities to make sure your dreams come true.

2. Think big

Don’t hold yourself back in your dreamstorming session. Take a full inventory of everything on your list to create your most meaningful life. Expand the realm of possibilities. Understanding what those big dreams look like can help you prioritize the things that will help you get there.

Want to take that big vacation next year? Want to start your own business? Want to get that big promotion? Want to be more active in philanthropy? Write it down, then move to #3.

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3. Develop quarterly goals (personal and work)

When you set your quarterly goals for work, include your personal objectives too. It’s important to be constantly challenging yourself to be present and conscious about where you're flowing your energy and your time and being able to pivot when you need to.

At work we use EOS, the Entrepreneurial Operating System, to track goals. We do quarterly retreats and look at what are we prioritizing and where does it fit in the bigger picture, and that model also works great for planning the rest of your life. Ensure all your goals, both personal and business, have quarterly objectives so you actually have something achievable to work towards every day.

4. Hold yourself accountable

All the planning in the world is useless without accountability. Make sure you break your goals down into smaller, more bite sized tasks and track your progress for each. Saying you want to accomplish something is a great first step, but if you don’t have a way of knowing how much closer you’ve gotten, or how much further you have to go, you’ll be off track before you know it.

I love my Full Focus Planner for helping me stay accountable. It breaks things down from year to quarter to week to day, allowing me to see my goals visually (written down) and to track progress easily.

5. Surround yourself with people who care

Each year I plan time with life coaches and gurus and my tribe of closest friends to realize my most meaningful life. This year I hosted a Tribe Long Weekend with sessions on nutrition, spirituality, yoga, and discussions on leadership, life, and design. We work to learn more about ourselves and the evolution of self. Sharing with this group helps keeps me on track and provides a support system of those who can help guide me, share resources, and support me through failures.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of intentionality. Without mindfully designing your life, you’ll always find yourself struggling to balance the work/life dichotomy. But if you recognize that they’re actually both the same life and treat all objectives as life objectives, take regular inventory, establish clear quarterly goals, and track your progress, you’ll find a true balance and an ability to make meaningfully in all areas of your life.


How we brought lean-startup practices to traditional manufacturing

History of MATRIX 4

MATRIX IV was founded in 1976 by my grandfather, who was a was a tooling engineer, entrepreneur and inventor, developing his own proprietary products as well as working with others to bring their products to market.

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After almost 40 years in business, my grandpa was at end of his successful career but the business was not - the expanding global economy and recession left the business in a position losing money without a strategy. I asked myself - could this 40-year-old business be brought back to life with the customer and metric driven approach I’d been a part of at a Fortune 500 company or the lean startup practices I helped execute at an emerging biotech tech company?

I left San Diego and a growing business and industry segment with big hopes for the future for this failing business and struggling industry segment.

Old ways of thinking

When I first arrived on the scene at MATRIX IV, the factory felt outdated. It was exactly what you would expect from a traditional manufacturing company. The front of the house was closed off by walls and separate offices with closed doors. There was no art, or light, or team culture, or exciting new technologies. Envision scenes from the movie "Tommy Boy" with wood paneling, big old desks and leather chairs, dark walls that had been smoked in for 40 years, computers with backs on them and an old TV in the corner. Not only did it look aged and tired physically, it was energetically also, which may be just as bad.

The name also included the outdated practice of Roman numerals. Many confused “IV” with the technique used in hospitals, creating a challenge for an already struggling business to make a name for itself. Age-old manufacturing practices and outdated techniques were in place. It was a tired old factory that couldn’t sustain itself in 21st century U.S. manufacturing.

Time for a refresh

This 40-year-old company needed a reboot. We went into startup mode and till this day we still refer to it as a startup because that’s how we operate. From the get-go, we abandoned the Roman numerals, got rid of the traditional hierarchy and introduced an open workplace focused on collaboration and innovation. We also invested in building renovations, new processes and updated technologies.

Fast forward four years later, MATRIX 4 made the Inc 5000 list for the second year in a row, reaching just shy of the top 1,000, and has grown to 50 employees running three shifts five days a week.

Here’s how we disrupted the manufacturing space and brought lean startup practices to an old school industry.

1. Bring a fresh perspective

I didn't want this to be my grandpa's company anymore and fortunately, I had experiences outside of the industry that provided a larger view of the world and insight into how other businesses operated. Having a fresh perspective and entrepreneurial heart helped me become the type of entrepreneur defined in The Lean Startup—a human institution designed to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

My lack of experience in running a manufacturing business created an environment of uncertainty, but my experience in customer focused marketing, culture building and technology was the fresh perspective that I thought this business needed.

A fresh perspective doesn't have to be from working in another industry for years.

Always think outside the box, think about experiences you can create to help you gain a fresh perspective, learn from others inside and outside your industry, and never stop learning and trying new things. 

2. Create an environment for all people to thrive

Our culture can be easily explained by our core values: people first, make meaningfully and communicate purposefully. We have an open floor plan and an open door policy to encourage communication between teammates and members of leadership like myself and have implemented Cocktails + Coworkers where team members get to engage each other in an informal setting for idea generation and feedback. We believe in equal voices and seats at the table.

I strongly believe in having the best person for the job, whether that be a male or female, as long as they're embracing our shared core values. MATRIX 4 is a business comprised of around 60% women, which is rare in the industry. I think driving the business from our core values has fostered an environment where we all feel empowered to succeed.

By allowing for open communication and transparency, we are always looking to build, measure and learn, taking feedback from our team to heart and deciding where to pivot or preserve to improve efficiency and create happy teammates.

3. Focus on design

Design thinking, process design, product design, organizational design—they all matter. When walking into a 100-year-old factory building, I found a lack of creative inspiration. It was very functional, using trusted techniques and standard office layouts. I think design is about taking in to consideration elements beyond functionality that are also important. Why not have something beautiful and interesting while also being functional. MATRIX 4 embraces design to improve its products and processes to fit the needs of today’s consumer and workforce.

When focusing on design, it impacts all areas of the business. How do we design processes to improve the team's functionality? How do we design new products and improve existing designs? How do we design our core values to drive change and build a culture around #makemeaningfully?

Outside of improving our internal company design, I also wanted to make the space we all worked in more conducive to open minds, new ideas and creative thinking. We broke down walls, creating an open office space, painted all the walls in the factory white and added plastic chandeliers and other design elements to both the front and the back of the house. Refreshing the space with design in mind was a visual representation of the evolution taking place. Now we can see how we’ve morphed, not just culturally, but physically.

4. Update technology

I knew in order to be successful we had to change things from the bottom up and I wanted to bring in world class business practices and technologies that would help us get there. We were also very thoughtful to make sure we were using validated learning, testing new technologies with small groups of individuals before rolling out to the team.

We implemented Trello and Slack for our team to operate in a way that allows us to stay on the cutting edge with open communication and accountability throughout the process.

IQMS launched earlier this month and we’ll be rolling out MAPP benchmarking standards for our production.

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MATRIX 4 operates under EOS, the Entrepreneurial Operating System, which looks at the six core elements of a business. One of the activities includes quarterly retreats to look at where are, what we prioritizing, and where does it fit in the bigger picture. We also have scorecards to track the metrics that are important to us and regularly reflect on performance.

The implementation of new technology has also allowed us to enhance transparency throughout the manufacturing process using barcode scanning and benchmarking practices.

Holding yourself and your organization accountable is the only way to drive sustained growth.

I am always looking to learn from other leaders. I would love to hear about the steps are you are taking to bring entrepreneurial thinking to your business! Drop me a line.

M4 Teammate Spotlight: Sujit Sheth, COO

I recently sat down with Sujit Sheth, Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Matrix 4, to get his take on manufacturing, technology and how M4 is breaking the mold as a 21st-century manufacturer.

I was fortunate to cross paths with him at last years Alliance Golf Outing. After learning more about him and his passions, I knew we needed him on the M4 team. He’s been onboard for a little over six months and his experience and tenure in the industry have already added meaningful insight and leadership to our organization.

Here’s what he has to say:

For our readers, can you share a little about your background and experiences in manufacturing and your role at M4?

I started with M4 about six months ago as the COO, overseeing the operations and day-to-day business activities.

My entire background is in operations—from the time I graduated college I've been in injection molding and operations. My most previous role before this expanded beyond operations, into business development and developing a technology product line for injection molders.

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As much as I enjoyed that and love the business development sales side of it, my passion is operations. The opportunity for me here arose after meeting you and talking more about M4. I learned more about what you are doing with the company and what you've done over the last three years, it was right up my alley from a career standpoint.

It was an exciting opportunity—to be part of a company that is growing the way it is and get in on the ground floor of the growth stage. It was really just a perfect fit at the right time.

A perfect fit for us as well! Where do you envision the company going and growing from an operations perspective?

You see the differences from a few years ago till now with the technology on the production floor. More automation and more robots. I think that's the early stages of it.

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There's a lot more automation that can occur on the production floor. There's a lot of automation that can occur throughout the entire operation, not just on the production floor but with the implementation of IQMS, being able to tie the entire organization together and have everybody running on one platform is gonna be key.

From an operations standpoint, just having that production reporting visibility on a day-to-day basis, understanding inventory levels, being able to really manage the business.

Previously, it was a bit of a challenge with what we had and the technology we had in place. I think that technology is gonna be a significant part of the growth going forward.

And as we move forward beyond just automation with robots, conveyor systems and things like that, the age of Big Data is here. Our path for continued growth will be using the equipment to gather and collect meaningful data, analyzing that data, and helping optimize the efficiencies and the performance in the plant.

What makes M4 unique and different from other companies you've worked with in the industry?

A lot of companies look at the dollars and don't see the value, whereas they get in that mindset of "we've always done it this way, we can continue to do it that way," without bringing in that automation or the systems that we're talking about.

With M4, that mindset is totally different. We’re always looking to drive the organization to the next step. We want to be on the leading edge of it, not the following.

Having ownership like that that's willing to make that investment, that's willing to put the right people into the right positions to make that happen, and bringing in people that have that experience.

It is a big difference from what I've seen from other customers and other companies I've been at.

Awesome. I’m so proud of our teammates for being on board with our vision and committing to getting us to the next level.

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When we talk about #makemeaningfully, what is your interpretation of that? How do you see yourself making meaningfully on the operations side?

I think looking at what we do and how we do it, making sure we're doing the right things by our customers, by the people that work in the plant, that work in the company and for the community.

Just being able to look at all those different aspects and see how we can impact all of those in a positive way.

Having good company culture, a workforce that supports what we're trying to do, and then from an environmental standpoint looking at how we do things, how we do things more efficiently or being able to use repurposed material, being able to repurpose other things that we're doing in the plant so that we're not adding to the problems that we see in the environment.

On several different fronts, that phrase applies to just about everything we do and everybody that we touch whether it be internally or externally.

Thanks so much for chatting today, Sujit. You are a huge asset to our team.

It’s been exciting to round out our leadership team with an incredible amount of combined manufacturing and leadership experience to help us get to the next level.

Check back in to see updates from Sujit and other teammates as we continue to grow, add new technologies and optimize our operations. Exciting times ahead!

Watch the full interview here:

MATRIX 4 Secures Spot on the Annual Inc. 5000 List for Second Year

Woodstock, Illinois-based manufacturer ranks no. 1056 on the coveted Inc. magazine list of America's fastest-growing private companies.

NEW YORK, August 15, 2018 – Inc. magazine has named MATRIX 4 No. 1056 on its 37th annual Inc. 5000 list, the most prestigious ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. This year’s ranking represents a significant leap from MATRIX 4’s debut on the list last year at spot No. 4084, a result of outstanding three-year revenue growth. The list represents a unique look at the most successful companies within the American economy’s most dynamic segment—its independent small businesses.

"We are thrilled to be highlighted on this list for the second year in a row, and just shy of the top 1,000. This growth has resulted from a tremendous amount of hustle and heart from our team since our restart four years ago. We are honored to represent U.S. manufacturing on this level, and remain focused on the potential to transform this industry in new and exciting ways by sticking to our mission of making meaningful things that matter."

INC 5000


Not only have the companies on the 2018 Inc. 5000 (which are listed online at Inc.com, with the top 500 companies featured in the September issue of Inc., available on newsstands August 15) been very competitive within their markets, but the list as a whole shows staggering growth compared with prior lists. The 2018 Inc. 5000 achieved an astounding three-year average growth of 538.2 percent, and a median rate of 171.8 percent. The Inc. 5000’s aggregate revenue was $206.1 billion in 2017, accounting for 664,095 jobs over the past three years.

“If your company is on the Inc. 5000, it’s unparalleled recognition of your years of hard work and sacrifice,” says Inc. editor in chief James Ledbetter. “The lines of business may come and go, or come and stay. What doesn’t change is the way entrepreneurs create and accelerate the forces that shape our lives.”

Complete results of the Inc. 5000, including company profiles and an interactive database that can be sorted by industry, region, and other criteria, can be found at www.inc.com/inc5000.

For more information contact me at pmiller@matrix4.com

ABOUT MATRIX 4

MATRIX 4 is a customer-centric design and manufacturing house. We take a back of the napkin to out the door approach across design, engineering, tooling and manufacturing. Though MATRIX 4 started in 1976, we operate with a start-up mentality, combining the collective genius of our design, process, and plastics manufacturing experts with the insights of our customers, partners, and emerging industry leaders. Our passion is designing and building new kinds of products and reinventing existing ones.  

MATRIX 4 is a third generation, woman-owned and operated business based in Woodstock, Illinois. For more information, visit www.matrix4.com | LinkedIn | Instagram

ABOUT THE METHODOLOGY

The 2018 Inc. 5000 is ranked according to percentage revenue growth when comparing 2014 and 2018. To qualify, companies must have been founded and generating revenue by March 31, 2014. They had to be U.S.-based, privately held, for profit, and independent—not subsidiaries or divisions of other companies—as of December 31, 2017. (Since then, a number of companies on the list have gone public or been acquired.) The minimum revenue required for 2014 is $100,000; the minimum for 2017 is $2 million. As always, Inc. reserves the right to decline applicants for subjective reasons. Companies on the Inc. 500 are featured in Inc.’s September issue. They represent the top tier of the Inc. 5000, which can be found at http://www.inc.com/inc5000.

MATRIX 4 EXPANDS CAPABILITY WITH LARGE TONNAGE MACHINES

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Woodstock, Illinois (May 29, 2018) – Matrix 4, a plastics design, engineering, tooling and manufacturing company, has purchased two new injection molding machines from Absolute Haitian (Worcester, Massachusetts) and anticipates adding a third later this year. A Haitian Jupiter II servo-hydraulic two-platen molding machine (JU 7500/5000 II) with 845 U.S. tons of clamp force and Zhafir Zeres all-electric molding machine (ZE 5500/3350) with 618 U.S. tons of clamp force were delivered in September 2017. A Jupiter II (JU 10,000/8400) wide platen molding machine with 1,124 U.S. tons of clamp force is planned for later in 2018.

The new machines expand Matrix 4’s ability to provide solutions for the company’s consumer goods customers such as the production of point-of-purchase displays for several well-known companies.

The new Jupiter II and Zeres machines complement four other Haitian injection molding machines previously purchased by Matrix 4. “We wanted to remain consistent with our control interface and our relationship with a partner that has delivered a quality machine, good service and reliability,” said Patricia Miller, CEO and owner of Matrix 4. “The Zeres and Jupiter machines offer us the benefit of more energy efficiency and space saving layouts for higher productivity per square foot.”

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“After I took leadership of my grandfather’s company in 2014, I wanted to challenge the status quo. ‘Start-up’ and ‘manufacturing’ don’t usually go together but they can,” said Miller. “The biggest challenge we faced in reestablishing Matrix 4 is the intensity of capital expenditure. Buying molding machines from Absolute Haitian at a better price point helped us make a whole new level of commitment to the Matrix 4 organization.”

“The question four years ago was, could we restart this business. We’re happy to have grown at a rate that has landed Matrix 4 on the 2017 Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies. Our timing was right as U.S. industry began growing after a long period of downturn,” said Miller. “We’re developing strong partnerships with our customers and our suppliers such as Absolute Haitian. We have aligned interests and a desire to grow together.”

Matrix 4, based in Woodstock, Illinois, loves to delight customers by making tangible, real, physical products that help make the world go around, and loves to do it as a team. Matrix 4 is 40 years old yet operates with a start-up mentality. Cheers to all makers big and small, leading the charge on redefining manufacturing.

Absolute Haitian, based in Worcester, Massachusetts, is the exclusive sales and service partner in the U.S. and Canada for Ningbo Haitian Machinery Co., Ltd. based in Ningbo, China. Ningbo Haitian Machinery Co., Ltd. is the world’s largest supplier of plastics injection molding machinery, shipping more than 35,000 machines in 2017. Haitian products are sold in more than 160 countries with machine sizes ranging from 44 to 7,425 U.S. tons of clamp force.


CONTACT:

Patrice Aylward, Communications Consultant

+1 216/618-3174

paylward@absolutehaitian.com

94 Gardner Street • Worcester • MA • 01610 • T: 508-459-5372 • F: 508-459-5368

www.absolutehaitian.com

From Concept to Final Product: How M4 Brought Lasso To Life

The cost of small scale manufacturing has historically been a major barrier to entry for many aspiring entrepreneurs. Throughout my career, I have worked with entrepreneurs, serving on entrepreneurial boards and actively working to foster this community. It's a passion area for me which is why I'm so proud M4 has been able to take on younger companies, as bandwidth allows, to provide the resources they need to get their product off the ground and enter the physical product space.

If M4 is going to take on a smaller client, it needs to be a promising new company with a product we can get behind, and that’s exactly how we came to meet Lasso. The founder of Lasso, Colleen Chinlund was working as a lawyer when she thought up a solution to a daily problem of necklaces getting tangled in storage. She had a product in mind, but needed a partner to bring it to life. She brought M4 a functioning 3D model, and we led the charge from there, developing a new 3D printed prototype, getting a tool made overseas, sourcing materials, identifying color variations, designing cap closures and helping with packaging. We made sure Lasso could trust and lean on us throughout the entire process.

When entrepreneurs approach us they are typically less familiar with the manufacturing process so there is a learning curve there and more hands-on time before they’re up to speed. But with all of our clients, we take a holistic viewpoint of manufacturing. We actively support our clients across each phase of the process, from product development and material selection, all the way to tool drawing and tool building, and full-scale manufacturing. Being involved at this level is exciting, seeing concepts refined and perfected and, ultimately, becoming a tangible product you can hold.

Colleen is the vision behind Lasso. She had a shape in mind and collaborated with Blaire, a design engineer, before approaching M4. She did market research and focus group testing, evaluating consumer insights, design specifications and aesthetics to create a market-ready product. With her innovative design and extensive consumer and product research, she is exactly is the type of entrepreneur we love to work with. We were thrilled to be a part of her journey from concept to realization!

Check out www.shoplasso.com.

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Taking Design and Branding to Heart in the Heartland with Harley-Davidson

I recently traveled to Milwaukee with Sujit Sheth, COO at Matrix4, to meet with our buyer at Harley-Davidson. Harley-Davidson is a brand I have always admired, so when our buyer offered a tour of the museum, I couldn’t pass it up. The museum is fascinating, but getting a tour from someone with a background in engineering was truly a revelation about Harley-Davidson’s long history as a brand leader in product design.

Harley grew up in tough times throughout history, having to pivot based on economics and politics, but they always stayed true to who they were. In 1918, nearly half of all Harley-Davidson motorcycles were sold to be used by the U.S. military in World War I. Since then, they have continued to use some of those initial designs to make boats, snowmobiles, and the iconic motorcycles of today.

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Maintaining a strong sense of “All American” branding, Harley-Davidson is right at home in the midwest. Their deliberate approach to design makes them one of the most recognizable vehicles, from the “V” shaped engine to the rear tank emblazoned with the Harley logo.

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Like Matrix 4, Harley-Davidson is extremely passionate about what they do. They are rooted in design and even though they are big brand, they are seen internally as a family company. While they traditionally used mostly metal and leather for their components, they’ve transitioned to more plastics over the years for components like dial gages and indicators, saddlebags, compartments to hold phones, and more. Using plastics parts for these elements can reduce the weight of the motorcycle, improving speed and efficiency.

Their brand promotes a lot of customer engagement, and that’s very much a factor at the museum, encouraging visitors to get on motorcycles outside. They want people to experience the brand and understand what open air freedom feels like. Harley devotes an entire section of its museum to elaborate custom motorcycles belonging to a wide range of famous (and not so famous) people. The designs include everything from leather to bedazzlements to American flags. Even as a large manufacturer, Harley encourages customization. It allows the customer to take ownership of the product and express their true self.

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Harley’s future is focused on developing the next generation of brand advocates and passionate loyalists as they seek new ways to deliver on the customer experience and getting people to know what it feels like to ride a Harley. They even sponsored me to take a Harley class for new riders!

It was a great experience to learn more about Harley-Davidson’s company journey and how they have innovated for over 100 years to remain relevant today. As Harley looks to incorporate new and modern makers in their supply chain, Matrix4 is excited for the opportunity to grow, learn, and innovate with them.

The Future of Manufacturing: Behind the Scenes at the 2018 NAM Board Meeting

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Last week I traveled to Washington D.C. to represent Matrix 4 at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)'s board meeting. It was an honor to be among the biggest and best in manufacturing to identify and discuss macro trends, economics and policies impacting the industry.

It's an exciting time as manufacturing in the U.S. is still on the rise and momentum is building. A much different story compared to five years ago. We kicked off the meeting looking at the industry five years ago vs. today and the difference was stark.

In the latest NAM Manufacturer's Outlook Survey, we've seen strong levels of optimism among manufacturers for the last seven quarters (Figure 2). The survey also shows wages, product prices, sales, employment, capital expenditure, inventories and production are on the rise.

While optimism and growth is good, it's not a time to become complacent. We must leverage insights and opportunities to ensure we continue this momentum. 

Here are my top takeaways from the NAM boarding September 27 - 28, 2018:

Tariffs

There was a lot of discussion on tariffs and how they are impacting businesses. The group was divided on the benefits and challenges of this to each of their businesses and the uncertainty moving forward until we resolve with China.

Security

Cyber Security was another big topic last week, and seems to be each board meeting, as we see data breeches on the rise with manufacturing being one of the most targeted sectors. As M4 moves most of its business to the cloud, including IQMS, we will start to conduct additional training around phishing emails, security and how we stay protected.

Culture

Culture was a focus as well. I am excited to say M4 is doing a lot of the right things here but there is always opportunity for improvement. One thing was clear to me after they asked this question—would you invest more in people or equipment to deliver the most value? We are a business of people.

While we need equipment, technology and automation where possible to remain competitive, the most important investment we can make is in our people. I am excited to roll out stronger training programs and promote more inclusion with our core leadership team as we move forward.

People

Human Capital is a CEO's most valuable asset and the structure for transformation will be different from the traditional model. Research presented at the board meeting proved small, agile teams perform the best, in addition to wearing multiple hats and not being siloed into one role. Our teammates at M4 wear many hats well but I'm excited to look more into cross functional engagement.

Talent, not just people, is going to be an important part of maintaining our forward momentum. As the skills gap is expected increase, it will be crucial for M4 to hire teammates who get it, want it and can do it.

Technology

Lastly, Slack was discussed over dinner as the latest craze but many are having a hard time adopting it. I am proud to say that M4 is ahead of the curve here. Teammates have embraced the communication tool and are doing a pretty awesome job using it communicate purposefully. We push it to every level of the organization. Slack supports informal communication and provides accessibility to everyone, at all levels.

Looking Forward

In 2030, there is an estimated 85.2 Million worker deficit and $8.5 Trillion in unrealized annual revenue from the worker shortage. In manufacturing that translates to a 7.9 Millon worker deficit and $607 Billion in unrealized revenue.

As a 21st century manufacturing company, we are working to excite the next generation of skilled workers in our local community and beyond, supporting job training programs, promoting opportunities in the industry and building an internal culture that breaks the mold of traditional manufacturing and helps change the perception of skilled labor jobs.

What trends are you seeing in manufacturing as either a business or manufacturer? Connect with me and let me know.