Under Control

A TALE OF TWO DAYS

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. So begins the famous novel. In my case, it was the best of times. It was all started when my old friend, Ernie Vahala, suggested he visit me at work. We've know each other some 25 years, and we had yet to meet at our respective lairs. At work to me is a New Hampshire barn.

The idea took off, to the point where the next thing I knew I was inviting the entire Technical Review Board (TRB) of the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) to visit.

The aim was to hold a TRB/NCMS meeting "in the field". It's people that transfer technology, to other people. It's done one-on-one and seeing is believing. And there's lots to see in New Hampshire. Modicon manufacturing, for example.

The rules were simple. No ties allowed and beer the way God planned it: from a can. We did allow two choices of beer, 6 oz and 12 oz. In other words - a field trip.

Well!! As my family found out, it's a lot of work hosting 20 "suits." We had to clean my office. You, gentle reader, may think this is a simple matter. Think more of the 12 tasks imposed upon Hercules by Eurystheus, particularly the one about the stables. We had to clean the outhouse. True. We have about 15 computers and no indoor plumbing. We had to fill the blimp with helium. My son, Bob, took the dump truck to get the helium. We stocked the cooler and cleaned the week-old take-out Chinese from the office reefer.

The visit's theme began to take shape. We'd tour across time. We'd visit a series of companies that had started over a 40-year span. Each would prove representative of a level of maturity concomitant with its age. All would be companies I know intimately. The mature 30-year-old would be Modicon/AEG. The young adult is Andover Controls. The youngster is Flavors Technology. My barn is the future.

We toured Andover Controls manufacturing facilities on Tuesday. The company is growing so fast its manufacturing system can seem somewhat chaotic. But it's products are so good the company enjoys an unfair advantage, and generous margins can offset turbulence borne of rapid growth.

Then they went to Modicon, the 30-year-old company. The people there treated us right. And by tremendous coincidence, while we were there, a deal was consummated that made Modicon part of a joint venture between Groupe Schnieder and AEG. Talk about customer orientation.

Highlights of the Barn tour that came next included the following:

We concluded by touring of Shirley's house (where I live).

We had a real Yankee supper at Parker's Barn. The food server was appropriately arrogant and the chef was superb. Parker's Barn is much like Morley's Barn. A wood stove for heat. Closed winter and during the week. Dirt parking lot and BYOB. The tables are ruff pine boards, with bark, supported on legs of cow yokes.

Parker's Barn manufactures maple syrup the old fashioned way. They boil it. The visitors therefor saw manufacturing processes dating from the 18th century to the 21st century in a single day.

What did we all learn from this intellectual journey across the years? The heterogeneous skill-set found amongst the attendees added to the common knowledge of the group. Some seemed not to believe their eyes, while others immediately suggested improvements. Most helpful were the Texas Instruments and ATT representatives.

Technology transfer takes intestinal fortitude. It needs a change of venue, beer and a casual setting. That happened here, the 19th of April 1994.

As appeared in Manufacturing Systems Magazine June 1994 Page 12
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