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Nov 20, 2019

In our 6th Interview episode, Plant Manager Dan Vermeesch and Quality Manager Brain Hoff discuss their Deming Journey. Topics include a discussion on variation and getting the Deming Philosophy into the education.

Show Notes

Deming Institute Podcast Interview

Micron Manufacturing

History of Micron Manufacturing

Dan Vermeesch

Brian Hoff

Dr. Deming at Micron


Eliminating Performance Reviews at Micron

Struggles of Working with the Deming Philosophy

Micron Gives Advice on Adopting the Deming Philosophy

Shingo Silver Medallion

Variation a Key to Micron Improvement

Deming Needed in Education




Tripp: [00:00:12] In this Deming Institute interview, I speak with Dan Vermeesch and Brian Hoff of Μ Manufacturing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We discuss the history of Μicron, their improvement journey and how the Dunning philosophy is affecting this journey today.


Tripp: [00:00:35] Hi, I'm Tripp Babbitt, host of the Deming Institute podcast. Our guests today are a couple of gentlemen from Micron Manufacturing, Dan Veermsch and Bryan Hoff. Welcome, gentlemen.


Dan: [00:00:48] Hi, Tripp. Thanks for having us.


Tripp: [00:00:50] Very good. So first of all, micro manufacturing I'm not familiar with it. Won't want to share a little bit about what Micron Manufacturing does and a little bit about both your gentlemans role in Micron churn, Micron manufacturing as it was using machine products company in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Dan: [00:01:10] It's been in business since 1952, Ed and Jackie Preston founded it back then and until just a few months ago, Jackie Preston still came in every day, five days a week. She just turned ninety one a couple of weeks ago and she hasn't been in in a few months. But she was here every day until then. And it was great because her son currently is the president at Micron. And we have a niece and nephew that work here. And the nephew has a 5 year old daughter that comes in on Saturday and plays on a computer. So one of the best parts of the story of Micron is we have four generations in this building every week.


Dan: [00:01:51] And it really is part of the story that's important because there's a lot of family focus here at Micron that that's important to us. So I am the plant manager, have been the plant managers since 97 and also the lean champion that has tried to be the architect of some of the various improvements systems that we have had since the year 2000 is when we really begin implementing our transformational change. So I'll let Brian introduce you.


Tripp: [00:02:26] Okay.


Brian: [00:02:27] I'm Brian Hoff. I'm a quality manager at Micron. This would be my twenty second year with Micron. And as Dan said, it's around 2001. We began to be to transform our journey from kind of an old school business model to trying to adapt what is the best way to make change and improvement. And it's been an amazing journey. And lately we seem to have encountered Mr. Deming once again. And I guess I'm mature enough to understand it better than I did 20 years ago. And I'm using him almost daily to try to influence the decisions I make each day.


Tripp: [00:03:13] Very good. And where are you guys located?


Dan: [00:03:17] Grand Rapids, Michigan. OK. We're on a dead end street in the northwest corner of Grand Rapids, Michigan. So that's that's always part of my favorite part of the story here is we're kind of located on the edge to nothing. And despite all that, our folks here have made so many great changes over the years that we've had thousands of people from, I think, 26 states and eight countries that have come to visit us to see the systems that have been put into place over the years. And we're only a 40 person company. Twenty eight thousand square feet. So we're just a small about on the map that that over the years have made a big ripple in the pond. The precision machining industry. And it is exciting that we've got such a great group of folks that have not only made change, but we've made a lot of improvements over the years. But part of our story that we'll get into and will allow is we're making a lot of change, but we kind of lost sight of whether or not some of that was improvement. So we could see a lot of change around here. But the dials stopped moving after awhile. And so we had to go back to the drawing board. And that drawing board was Dr. Demings work.


Dan: [00:04:35] Okay, very good. Well, let's pick it up from there. So how did you guys come across Dr. Demings work? It sounds like maybe you initially knew Dr. Deming then kind of got away from it. So once you share a little bit about your journey there.


Brian: [00:04:52] So this, Brian, and back when I was a young 20 some year old, I happened to go to a statistics course, and during that course the instructor had mentioned Juran and Deming. So I began with Juran and in Juran Zone books, he mentioned Dr. Deming, so once I completed listening to the doctor, Mr. Grant, I read out of the crisis and.


Brian: [00:05:18] I don't know that it made complete sense to me at the time, but it did. The thing that got me was the study of variation. But so I spent five or six years diving kind of deep into statistics and I made some headway that wasn't I wasn't at Micron at that time. I was I was in the plastics industry. So when I joined my Mike Brown back in ninety one and.


Brian: [00:05:46] We were able to use some of the statistical tools so that in a way I was holding on to some old blood. Dr. Deming talked about variation. But I wasn't I wasn't truly knowledgeable about profound knowledge and the way to think of all of that. And then I admit to somehow I lost track of Dr. Deming for a decade or more. And then later, when Μicron started doing its deep transformation, Dr. Deming started coming to my mind more often. So I re-read the books again. And since then, it seems as though. There was a trajectory of adopting a little more of Dr. Deming, and then recently we seem to have found a new gear in regards to appreciating what he said.


Dan: [00:06:41] So a number of years ago, maybe the early 2000s. Brian and I have had a lot of conversations over our years of transformation. We always called it our lean journey. And that's that's how we knew it. But he would bring up regularly his views on variation. And then I asked, would you come up with all this? And we mentioned Dr. Deming and I need to learn more about this.


Dan: [00:07:07] Never, never really put forth the effort to do so. Until I was at a conference in Columbus, Ohio, I think about eight or nine years ago, and the speaker talked about the 14 points. It seems like I've heard of those in the past. Any you talk further about the doing performance evaluations and the disrespect that came from it. It just so happened to be the high end and pushing performance reviews here created a very in depth system. We're doing them quarterly. We're doing all this stuff and I hated every minute of it. And I couldn't put my finger on what was it that I felt that was wrong with it until I heard the speaker say just how disrespectful Dr. Deming felt that they were and why that day.


Dan: [00:07:58] I decided before I left that meeting, we were never doing another one. And I came back and I told our management team it's called team strategy. I apologize for pushing it so hard for so many years and shoved it down everybody's throat. And today we stop. I. I wish I would have gotten a picture of the room on that day, because I think the shock phase, after pushing it so hard that doing a complete 180, but it truly was like like seeing the sun come up because it put words to the feeling that was growing in me, that this is just wrong because half the people were walking out of the room feeling they were below average. Right. Who do you want to feel that way? And that was the day that I thought, I need to learn more about this guy.


Tripp: [00:08:46] Very interesting. So. So, yeah, go ahead.


Dan: [00:08:50] Oh, I'm sorry. So I was a few years after that that I don't and I can't recall right now how I caught wind of the Deming research conference in Fordham University in New York. And we've done a lot of presentations, like I mentioned earlier, sharing our lead story. And so I thought I'll submit and see us there is interested in her interest in hearing our story at the research conference. And then I was honored to be selected to do that. And.


Dan: [00:09:23] It was then that I met Dr. Demings, daughter and grandson, great grandson, and and heard everybody else that was speaking there, it truly became inspired by what I heard. And and Brian joined me on that trip and I brought my 15 year old daughter at the time and I thought because the story was about this whole story of Μicron. And I just wanted. I thought she needs to hear what grandpa and grandma created because I didn't mention earlier, I'm the son in law of the founders, but so I brought her with me.


Dan: [00:09:58] And it turns out she was the youngest attendee at a DME conference, I think, in the history of the den. And so Kevin and his wife is her name's Judy, I think, right? Yep. Yep. So they embraced her so much. I was really touched by that. So when the conference came to Michigan State University, where my daughter attends now at the conference, we walked in and she was just going to visit and say hi and whatever. And they made her so welcome. And got her a badge and invited her to attend a conference and everything. And it was really touching that they had a remembered her and they have really embraced a young person. And she's brought it up so many times. And and it's just that to me, that whole story just adds flavor to what I believe is the Deming community that I'm beginning to learn more about. So it's not just about the things he taught, but it's I'm beginning to see that the people that truly understand them are beginning to it. It's a group that we need to hang out with more. Right.


Tripp: [00:11:06] Very good..


Tripp: [00:11:07] So so let me ask you guys, when you started in to the Deming philosophy or as you've worked with with it, what things have you either personally struggle with or maybe even the organization has struggled with?


Dan: [00:11:23] So for me, I mentioned it again today in our strategy meeting to Brian and others that my 2019 transformation that came earlier this year when Dennis Sergent was the instructor of our Deming CQ Academy is what he calls it. And there was so much reference to improve it. So I love the statement. All premier requires change. Not all change results in improvement. So that was great to hear her have heard that before. But. I am a numbers guy. True and true on the facts and figures and dates and deadlines, you gotta go. You know, maybe that's part of being a plant manager. I don't know, but I begin to understand that.


Dan: [00:12:18] And then we've done a great job recently with our team strategy meetings. We are going to take a step in the right direction every day. And we we don't hold our feet to the fire like we used to about by this date. This thing has, you know, those kinds of things that the made up numbers of.


Dan: [00:12:35] You got to hit this goal by this day. We still have some of that. But there's far less focus on that than there was coming into 2019. And I struggle with it every day, every day that I bite my tongue and say, don't kick a no, don't create a no, don't push a number. Push the improvement and true change towards what we are looking to accomplish.


Dan: [00:13:01] And it's it's liberating, to say the very least. And again, it's humbling. It's almost like that day came back and say and said, when I do another performance evaluations offered me by longshot that because it's such a one idea who I am.


Tripp: [00:13:18] Interesting. Brian. Brian, how about you?


Brian: [00:13:22] Well, first, I want to attest to watching Dan's struggle with Martin.


Tripp: [00:13:28] Okay, so you've witnessed it. Okay, I got it. I think me.


Brian: [00:13:36] Oh, recently I encountered a. A customer had a problem, and normally if if we have material here that we asked to re-inspect, we learn how to do it. And we show another person how. And we call that a training system.


Brian: [00:13:53] And for some reason, and this particular incident, I decided instead of training the way I always have, I'm going to do it different. Because Mr. Deming said you should look harder at your training systems. There are likely problems there. And so I decided what would be a better way. And when I was done, it literally opened my mind to the amount of variation in a training system.


Brian: [00:14:22] Either doesn't pay attention to or creates all by itself, and so that would be a thing that recently happened to me in regards to understanding better, something that Mr. Deming talked about.


Tripp: [00:14:39] Very good. So here's a question for both of you. And it does matter what order that you respond. But if you were if you're a manufacturer, it's, say, listening to this podcast episode and you were thinking about this. What are some of the maybe, I don't know, pointers that you might give them about going to this philosophy, Will? What are the steps that you think they might go through or what advice might you have?


Dan: [00:15:10] That's a very good question. I think that as in most things, learning has to take place. And for me and for Brian, that fact he's got out of the crisis in his hands now, I've got some sticky notes in it.


Dan: [00:15:25] I get it. I always give Ryan a little ribbing because I call his Brian Dowling Bible here because he carries with him everywhere. I don't think I'd recognize him if he came to work about the thing in his hands. I think you have to start there. And I didn't start there. I just read the New Economics. In fact, I just got done with it in recent ago. First book I ever read.


Dan: [00:15:52] And then I have a long time ago, before I went to the Research Council that I read online, I learned more. I loved the history. I loved the fact that he grew up in a farming area and studied. How should it be? Because I grew up on of farm in Michigan here. So that really all resonated with me. And as I began to learn his story and his half life begins to patch together a lot of thoughts about how this may have all developed for him. And I want the history part of it. That's great. So I would suggest people be read about him and listen to these podcasts for sure.


Dan: [00:16:33] Look online if the educational beginning. But it was instrumental earlier this year. After all this time, haven't taken the Dennis Surgeons CGI Academy that really gave us this. It's what we did, guys. And I have to believe these types of sessions are all over the United States for people to be able to learn more and participate in groups. Exactly. And implement exactly what he's what he's trying to implement. And so through that, one of the things that's occurred to me this year is I began to have a greater recognition and appreciation for. Let's go back to our founders, Ed and Jackie Preston. You know, back in 1952, they they started this business.


Dan: [00:17:18] And so when I came on board in '96. There was a a few things that stood out to me. A phone never rang more than three times because it was disrespectful to the customer to make them have to listen to the ring on the phone more than three times. It was just a thing. Everybody here still knows by the time that there is a fourth ring, everybody in the plant is running for a form because it shouldn't ring more than three times. That system still by Mr President from the beginning.


Dan: [00:17:46] The other thing is when we have meetings here and we have a lot of meals at this company, the first an Ed or Jackie Ed's passed away now. And anytime we had a meal, they always eat last. They always insisted everybody else. You go first. We go laugh. Simon Sinek wrote a book. Leaders eat last. And when I read that, I saw Jackie. But I still believe it's all part of what Deming. His respect that he had for people. And and I saw so much of that and have seen so much in adding Jackie over the years that respect for people to make sure that the people in this company are taken care of first.


Dan: [00:18:30] And how so? So I would read, learn and then recognize and appreciate what already exists around you. And then I would start, I think, trying to implement the things that you were there.


Tripp: [00:18:43] Brian -do you have something to add.


Brian: [00:18:46] Not really know that.


Tripp: [00:18:50] No, that's fine. So let me ask you. Just kind of a broader question. I guess it looked like you guys sell globally, correct?


Dan: [00:19:00] Mostly in the United States. OK. If something goes outside of the United States and through our customers, not not directly from us to a customer outside the United States.


Tripp: [00:19:12] Ok. So has the environment changed much? I mean, there's a lot going on economically for your company. Is it gotten a lot better or is it kind of been stable all along or what's it like out there as far as manufacturing goes?


Dan: [00:19:28] So this year there's been a softening in general across pretty much all of the industries that we serve.


Dan: [00:19:37] And we we serve a number of them. Most of our business is relatively local. About 70 to 73 percent is in Michigan and the rest is either in southern Indiana or Texas. Shooting down that quarter in general have softened. And I just saw the numbers today that manufacturing in the third quarter actually went up a touch, which surprised me because we haven't seen it and I haven't heard that from our suppliers, to be quite honest with you. But one of the things that we've tried to do over the years, as we called our lean journey or on our shifting gears and to we actually trademarked a year or two ago the term system, Micron, because the reason people come here, the reason three thousand people visited are to see our systems. We had fire departments, health care, the company that created the resistor. And A we've had people from all over the world come to see how we schedule production.


Dan: [00:20:39] We have no mid-level management, how we have total flex time. People can decide which days they work, what hours they work. The whole nine yards. And and so people have come from all over to see how well how can we manage a company to where there are no bosses. There's a movie that tells people what to do. Brian, are the managers of quality in manufacturing and there's there's an engineering manager. We're responsible for the systems and making sure the people, the resources are there, of course. But it's it's really there's so much autonomy that people have. And and this year, really, over the last three or four years that we've been using the Toyota car, it really began to teach us a better understanding of the kind of calls PDCA.


Dan: [00:21:31] And that PDSA. So we use that language mostly because of that. But because of that, we began to emphasize every conversation. What did we learn? What did we learn? I think if I were to look back in the three last three years, the number one question that we ask yourself is what did we learn? Fill in the blank on whatever the heck it is that we're talking about. So I would I would dare say that the Deming philosophy is all about what have you learned? And we've embraced that.


Tripp: [00:22:04] And you guys have mentioned the lean journey that you kind of started on before you kind of got into Deming. What do you see as kind of the differences between them or or how did they maybe synergistically and engage with each other as you work through this or or what's happened with this this lean journey still continuing that as the Deming philosophy, enhance it. What's your view?


Dan: [00:22:34] So. I think that. Like most things in life, it's the perspective you choose. And I think that you can and perhaps many companies have chosen the perspective of Lean as the elimination of waste. And of course, that's an element of it.


Dan: [00:23:00] But I believe and we've used that language here a lot, but I believe truly that what we've tried to do with our lean journey is to best use our resources. So Dr. Deming talks about optimization of processes, right? We haven't used that language exactly a lot, but that's what our journey has been about. How do we optimize what we do? How do we create standards, stick to improve the standard and make things the lives of our people better?


Dan: [00:23:28] And that from day one, when we are first meeting about why are we going to take this lean journey? Way back in August of 2000, our management team said it is for one reason and that it is to make the lives of our people better and.


Dan: [00:23:46] From that day on, I felt as long as we have that focus. We're on the right path. And and so as we went through our lean journey, we were. Awarded the Shingo Silver Medallion for operational excellence back in 2008 93. And it's referred to as the Nobel Prize of Business or Manufacturing by Business Week. And that was nice to get. It was kind of a confirmation that we're on a good path, but the best thing about us told us all things we could do better. And so we tried to embrace them. And so on. As we learned more about the teachings of Dr. Deming, here's a thing that we weren't using properly our entire lean during that we're only now starting to learn and use much better.


Dan: [00:24:39] And that is the understanding of variation that Brian mentioned earlier or in control charts and we hadn't used. I don't know if we used a control Chart. Fifteen years probably that are 20 0 0 0. And now we really are. We're embracing the heck out of that. And we're beginning to understand where we have to measure data and where you continue on.


Dan: [00:25:02] Probably the greatest weakness, though, for us, the difference between how we treated women and what we're learning from Dr. Deming, though, is we are making a lot of change and we're necessarily tracking whether or not that change was an improvement towards the saying we needed improvement on. Right. Yeah. In that corner of the planet might look better now, but is it truly improving anything that's going to help the customer? And we lost sight of that for a while, I believe. And I think we're getting on back, Brian, to everything else then was pretty good a.


Brian: [00:25:37] The appreciation of a system as as we did the room. I think we learned more about systems because you have to diagram them out and understand the interactions between them. And so that kind of opened our eyes and just happened to fit in with a kind of reconfirms that Dr. Deming needs says. You should understand your system as good as you can. I think it also psychology. You know, in the beginning there are resistors because change is scary. And I'm sure some people wonder if you truly mean it. Or is that just the passing thing this month? And so you understand as you push that journey through and you get the buy in from people that that were once resistors. OK, that's cool. You get to watch and growth in your own people. You learn how to achieve that growth faster. Either by learning from your mistakes or the occasional times we we somehow did it right. So I thought all of that. There is a consistency between Lean and Dr. Deming. I think I can see that.


Tripp: [00:26:50] Okay. And Brian, you have to ask, because you mentioned that you kind of got into variation, you know, years ago or maybe even a couple of decades ago. And we're using it, you know, in what's different today, what it what it sounds like. You started into it kind of got away from it and then went back to it. What would take me a little bit on that journey?


Brian: [00:27:13] Long ago when I was when I first was introduced to it, we were trying to everything classic's and we wanted to learn how to build Dai's better. So is there a way to design a dye with more success by the time you're done, by the time you're finished? And I couldn't believe how much statistics help you in design. So that was kind of low hanging fruit and. So it's fun to play with.


Brian: [00:27:43] But we didn't necessarily use it in day to day production at that facility I worked with.


Tripp: [00:27:49] OK,.


Brian: [00:27:50] So then I. I moved on to Micron and that was my first attempt. OK. We don't use it to design our process, but we do use it to monitor our process. And back then, it was sort of driven by customers. They were requiring statistical data. And that's fine. But what's more, fighing are more fun to actually learn that you can predict your process. But I find that fascinating every day.


Brian: [00:28:19] So we're into that pretty deep for about four or five years. And for some reason, the customers decided to let those requirements go. And somehow that that seemed to be it took the wind out of the sails of that process.


Brian: [00:28:37] And so for some time, we didn't use statistics for quite some time. And then I would say in the last five or six years. We are doing more and more statistical studies and realizing once again the benefits of doing so. And now we're actually applying it to management processes rather than just parts or machines. And we're finding that. That is even more fascinating than than going out new in capability studies out next to a fancy.


Dan: [00:29:10] I think though, one of the stark differences between then and now is we did it because the customer demanded it and the sooner they stop demanding it, we stop doing it tells you how mature where I am right now.


Dan: [00:29:27] Now we go this beginning. We realize, as Brian said, it's helping us understand our management systems in ways we never would have dreamt before. And we're doing it because it's the right thing to do and you're learning from it. And we're the kind of company that there's no doubt in my mind that sometime very nearly down the road, we're going to be pushing this to our customers to try to do the same thing as we did that with our lean systems. When when we first started Dileep Journey by time 2003 rolled around, we had made a lot of changes and we realized that one of our customers had any idea what lean was. And we we began to bump up into. We can only improve our systems so well if we can't tie it to where our customers are demanding or needing from us. So we went on this magical mystery tour out to our customers for three years to try to see how can we link what we're doing to what you might need. And pretty soon, all of our customers want to delinked their systems to ours. And we went from like 16 percent of what we built was on some kind of pulse system to 68 percent within those three years. And it was an amazing thing because when they began to recognize what it could do for them and it helped us help them, it was great. So we were still and we began then to take what we've learned and what we knew and share it with the customer. So here's just another thing that as we learn more, I can see that we're going to share it with the customers because it will help them help us.


Tripp: [00:31:07] Very cool. So my last question for you guys is, is my typical one, which is. Is there anything that we've talked about or that you've responded to that you'd like to make a clarification of? Or is there any question I didn't ask that you wish I would have?


Dan: [00:31:28] That's really that's a great question.


Dan: [00:31:33] I know that they're the Deming Institute is reaching out to educational organizations across the country. I'm not aware of any of that in Michigan. There are individuals, like I mentioned Dennis a few times now that is trying to help industry. But it's important that we believe that the school systems are help. Few years ago, Mike Rather, the author of The Toyota Kata, was gracious enough to stop that. Mike Brown wandered through the plant. And then I was so bold as to invite him to teach the school that my kids went to grade school or how to do the participate in the Kata, which of course, as I mentioned, includes the whole PDCA cycle of improvements. And he did so and I thought it was a fantastic session. And it began the thinking, how can we get more AUTHERS? How can we get more people helping teach the schools that teach students how to be more critical thinkers? So I think that that would be something of. All certain interests of manufacturers all over the country. Here, as we try to help, you know, he knows the skills gap all the time, right?


Dan: [00:32:53] Mostly is a critical thinking gap in our opinion. We can teach the skill. So anything like that. We would love to see and hear more about it as time goes by.


Tripp: [00:33:03] Very cool, Brian. Thoughts? Last thoughts.


Brian: [00:33:07] Yeah, I don't remember who you were talking to and one of your podcasts, but your guest. You ask the question of them and I'm going to paraphrase. Do you think the Deming Philosophy is growing or shrinking or remaining the same. And he said he did not believe it to be growing.


Brian: [00:33:29] My guess, I was disappointed. Whoever your guest was, it seemed like a person that would probably know that answer better than I did. And that made me sad to think. And so I am curious, as Dan just said, you know, not only getting to the local school systems, but also the business schools. What is what is coming out of the business schools now? The people that we're going to hire soon?


Brian: [00:33:56] And then how do we get even further ahead, as Dan said? And get this all the way down to how do you teach young people to think in a better way? And.


Dan: [00:34:08] It's important for us. So earlier this year, Ryan and I both referred to CQI Academy that we had taken to learn more about Dr. Demings work, and I had coordinated through an organization called Discover Manufacturing here in West Michigan.


Dan: [00:34:26] They coordinated and I see it an industry led collaborative where four of our companies, 19 different people or 20, went to this class and one was in carbon composites, another one furniture, and there another machining company like ours.


Dan: [00:34:45] And it didn't matter that we were basically different industries and different walks of life. It was somebody from shipping to, you know, my position, brines as managers and everything in between. And it was a fantastic way to learn these collaboratives of different companies. So we're intending to do it again this next spring. I'm signed up as the co-lead for Discovery Manufacturing and make sure you do. And that's that's our contribution to try to make sure that we're spreading the teachings of Dr. Demings in West Michigan here, because regardless, I'm not sure what else we can do other than it here. We have tours every two or three weeks and people who come see it and we're trying to help this. I'll see more companies learn about it. So I hope that your listeners and companies that are getting involved open the doors and bring people in and show what they're learning. It doesn't matter how minor it is. Teach what you're learning and then try to get other companies together to do the same.


Tripp: [00:35:53] And that's sage advice. We appreciate it. Well, Dan and Bryan, we certainly appreciate you being part of the Deming Institute podcast.


Dan: [00:36:04] Well, thank you, Tripp. Greatly appreciate it.


Tripp: [00:36:08] Thank you for listening to the Deming Institute podcast. Stay updated on the latest blogs, podcasts, programs and other activities at Deming dot org.