Archive for the ‘continuous improvement’ Category

New AMF Funding to Support Manufacturers

The Advanced Manufacturing Fund (AMF) is a $200 million program that is run through FedDev. The program aims to subsidize manufacturers in southern Ontario by investing between $10-20 million for eligible expenditures in the form of a repayable grant. AMF promotes continued long-term growth, productivity, and competitiveness of Ontario’s manufacturing sector by investing in innovative technologies that will be commercially ready within 5 years.

Eligible firms are for-profit companies who engage in either manufacturing, R&D or both in Ontario. The program will cover costs associated with prototyping a new product, implementing new and innovative technology and work undertaken to improve products, materials or processes.

The Intake periods for applications are:

  • December 9, 2013- October 1, 2014
  • January 1, 2015- October 1, 2015

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The High Cost of Ontario Power Rates for Manufacturers Can Be Offset by Government Programs

Ontario’s high power rates could be a deterrent for companies to locate in the province. According to the Association of Major Power Consumers of Ontario, industrial customers within the province pay approximately $85 per megawatt hour, which is more than double in comparison to rates in Manitoba, Quebec and rates in Michigan, USA. This has been a major concern for existing manufacturers within Ontario as well as mayors of Ontario cities and towns.

According to Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley: “The No. 1 issue that comes to the top of the list on almost every project that might locate here is the cost of power. Chemical plants, in particular, are heavy users of power so there’s a good payback, but we need the province to make sure we’re competitive with our American friends.”

According to Ontario Hydro, Ontario ranks fourth-highest in energy costs amongst the provinces for 2011, behind only to Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.  However, there are several initiatives and programs available to companies in Ontario to manage their energy costs and consumption:

  • saveONenergy – retrofit program that provides substantial financial incentives to encourage the replacement of existing equipment with energy efficient equipment and new control systems.
  • Ontario Power Authority (OPA) Conservation Fund – program that provides up to 50% to 100% of eligible project costs to support new and innovative electricity conservation initiatives designed to enable Ontario businesses to reduce their electricity demand.   
  • ecoENERGY Efficiency for Industry – program that provides financial assistance of up to $25,000 to assist companies to achieve energy management standards and to accelerate energy efficient investments in Canada’s industrial sector.
  •  Industrial Electricity Incentive Program – program that assists with the management of electricity demand by encouraging increased industrial production through electricity-based price adjustments for eligible electricity consumption.
  • Industrial Conservation Initiative – incentive for industrial companies to shift their energy consumption to off-peak hours to save on energy costs.

These initiatives and programs can play a vital role in keeping Ontario businesses competitive against national and global competition. Contact NorthBridge Consultants to discuss how to take advantage of the aforementioned energy programs.

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Summer SR&ED activities

In a recent article, Ross Cooper of Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium (EMC) discussed how the slow days of summer are ripe for SR&ED activities as companies are slowing or shutting down production and attending to pesky ongoing production, machinery and process issues as well as integrating improvements to increase efficiency for the rest of the year.

Eligible Activities
Some summer shutdown activities that may qualify for SR&ED if they meet the eligibility criteria (see below) include but are not limited to:

– Resolving production issues
– Preventative maintenance
– Production and process trials
– Modifications to equipment to:  Reduce environmental impacts, Increase production efficiency, Reduce downtime, Improve operator safety

Eligibility criteria
An eligible SR&ED project demonstrates 3 critical elements:

1. Scientific or Technological Advancement
The generation of new information or the discovery of technical knowledge (not available in the public domain) that advances the understanding of the underlying technologies, or extends their capability beyond their original design.

Keep in mind that this is not the same as improvement of technology infrastructure through acquisition and straightforward deployment of tools developed by another company. Also, generation of new functionality, novelty, or stylistic improvement does not qualify as technological advancement unless the changes trigger issues with the underlying technology, then any new knowledge gained by overcoming or attempting of overcome those uncertainties or obstacles constitutes Technological Advancement.

2. Technological Uncertainties or Obstacles
This means that there is no obvious or readily available solution to the problem in the underlying technology. If you can find a solution online or through normal investigation, it does not qualify.

It is also important to distinguish “technological” uncertainty from other types of uncertainties that are irrelevant to SR&ED eligibility. These are:

  • Financial or funding considerations
  • A lack of requirements
  • A  lack of formal or vocational training in a field of science or technology

If, however, qualified technical staff (who are educated/ trained in the relevant field) are uncertain on how solve a technical problem then technological uncertainty is most likely involved.

3. Technical Content
The activities carried out must be performed systematically to resolve the technological uncertainties.

Several different approaches might exist and must be investigated before arriving at an acceptable solution. Random or blanket attempts at a solution (where almost everything is being attempted) do not qualify as SR&ED and are not systematic.

However, when results from failed approaches are used to help determine the next solution to be attempted, the generation and retention of technical knowledge is demonstrated by applying knowledge from a previous attempt and the next approach can be chosen with the highest likelihood of a positive outcome.

Eligible documentation
Determining now which potential SR&ED projects are in the summer pipeline will yield a great return on time invested. It will also provide an opportunity to simplify the tracking process and ensure that relevant documentation is preserved for your claim. Documentation is critical as financial and technical reviewers have been burned before with fraudulent claims are now on the look- out for this critical information to provide evidence of the work done during the hours claimed.

Relevant documentation includes but is not limited to:

  • Records of resources allocated to the project or time sheets
  • Design of experiments
  • Project records, laboratory notebooks
  • Design, system architecture and source code
  • Records of trial runs
  • Progress reports, minutes of project meetings
  • Test protocols, test data, analysis of test results, conclusions
  • Photographs and videos
  • Samples, prototypes, scrap or other artifacts.

You can find further information about qualifying SR&ED projects in the SR&ED section of our website or by contacting us.

Continuous Improvement in Manufacturing

We’ve spoken a bit about continuous improvement on our blog, but we haven’t yet talked about WHY exactly it is important for manufacturers, and how exactly you can apply it to your business.

As a brief reminder, continuous improvement is the process of constantly making your business run more efficiently, with better effectiveness and producing better quality. On the most basic level, it is a series of small changes to improve your business, with the belief that building on all of these small changes will make a great bettering of your business. It is perhaps best stated by Edward Deming, as “the need to improve constantly and forever the system of production and service to improve quality and productivity and thus constantly decrease costs.”

This process is important for manufacturers, especially in our economic time, because it can help us to cut costs, to produce higher quality products at a faster rate, to reduce the amount of waste and deficient products we produce, and to remain competitive with other companies (both on a national and global stage).

Sounds like a great thing, doesn’t it? And there are many different ways in which you can apply continuous improvement in manufacturing, some of which are very successful and have become very popular. These include Kaizen, Just-in-Time and Lean manufacturing.

How are you applying continuous improvement in your business?

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Top Ten Business Productivity Impediments

10. E-Mail, Texts, and Phone Calls

These days it’s easier than ever to stay connected, especially when your e-mail is synched to your phone AND available on your computer. Every time you hear that notification, you simply just have to acknowledge it. Break this habit and schedule time once an hour or maybe 4 times a day to read and reply to the most important emails. Anything that’s not a priority, flag for later. If you’re trying to concentrate on a tough task or are having a meeting: put that desk phone on Do Not Disturb, turn that cell on to silent, and let calls go to voice mail. Deal with it later.

no-msnIt’s all too tempting to stay in touch with friends all day via text messaging, and one or two throughout the day is fine. But try to keep the texts to a minimum. And absolutely NO instant messaging programs at work!

9. Equipment

Ancient, faulty, or broken equipment wastes your time while you stand around waiting for it to work or spend your time trying to fix whatever’s going wrong. Slow fax machines, old computers with hardware or software issues, constantly jamming printers or copiers (remember that scene from Office Space?), outdated machinery…all huge time stealers. Give your employees efficient equipment in good working order. The investment is worth it in time and increased output.

8. Colleagues and Employees

Having an open-door policy is great, but too many interruptions can lead to time consuming conversations that head off track. Look at ways to streamline your management techniques. Another problem is those colleagues coming to you to share workload too often- if you are already heavily inundated, sometimes it’s okay to say no or offer to help when you have more time. Got a chatty colleague blathering on about their personal lives or anything and everything NOT work related? It can be hard to tell a co-worker (especially one having a rough time personally) to stop talking your ear off. Be as tact and polite as possible, for example, by saying John, I am so sorry to interrupt but I’ve got a lot on my plate this morning. Hold that thought for later, we’ll chat at lunch/on break/a bit later. Okay?’ If it becomes a problem that you really can’t solve with diplomacy on your own, seek help from HR or a manager.

7. Meetings

Ah, meetings- where minutes are taken, and hours are lost. If you’re in charge of the meeting, prepare for a meeting by sending out an agenda ahead of time to all those who will attend, and stick to it the best you can. If things get off track or conflicts arise between employees, the best thing to do is suggest it be discussed at a later date or time, and get back to the issues at hand. Try to keep meetings (especially those involving the entire management team or office) to a maximum of two hours. Also, try not to include staff in meetings when they have little or nothing to do with the issues on the table if you can help it. Sending them the minutes afterwards is okay.

6. Clutter

Desk or cubicle clutter makes it impossible at times to find what you’re looking for, and the same goes for poor organization of digital files. Make use of the file folders, filing cabinets, desk drawers and labels that are around the office. That’s what they’re there for. Avoid leaving food and beverages on your work area when you’re done (I’m personally notorious for this)- spillage and crumbs are problems for computers and phones. Spend the last 5 minutes of your day before you leave tidying up and organizing for the morning.

5. Poor Workplace Morale

This is a huge problem, especially with the recession – morale and productivity are at a terrible low, as cutbacks and layoffs are at an extreme (and ever rising) high.  Encourage employees to approach management for open discussion with any concerns they have. Management, this means listening patiently with an open mind, and being gentle and constructive with criticism. When layoffs are unavoidable, and you have no other option, keep the door open for people to return to their jobs when times get better. Let them know that if they haven’t found work elsewhere by then, they were valued at their jobs with you and you are open to re-hiring them in the future.

Recession and layoffs aside, increase morale in other ways. Provide a good atmosphere with proper lighting, aesthetically pleasing and ergonomically sound work stations. Where possible, allow for a break room to be used for relaxing and eating lunches. Accommodate smokers (even if you happen to disapprove of the habit- that’s irrelevant here) by allowing them a designated area with disposal units for ashes and cigarette butts.

Also ensure that health and safety standards are up to par and regularly met. No one is happy working in a dirty or potentially harmful environment. Remember, happy employees make happy employers.

4. Lateness

clock1It may sound simple, but it’s easier said than done! Arriving to work on time or early is key, even if it’s just that extra 5 minutes. Pack your lunch and choose your work-clothes the night before. Set your alarm that extra 10 minutes early and avoid snoozing if you can resist. This allots you spare time to stop and grab that coffee and still not be stressed or made late by unexpected heavy traffic. When you arrive to the office late and frazzled, it sets the tone for the whole day to be stressful, causing you to spiral down into a state of feeling unmotivated and unable to concentrate.

3. Poor Time Management

This is a pretty broad term and a whole other post in itself, and it kind of ties into #4, but I’ll try and be brief here. Procrastination is, of course, the worst. Try to schedule your hardest and most pressing tasks to be tackled first thing in the morning or first thing after lunch when you’re least swamped by other unexpected priorities. As soon as it’s out of the way, you’ll feel much better. Ask for help completing tasks where needed (without entirely passing the buck). Keeping to-do lists and making note of things in your planner are more useful than you might think, and helps you prioritize when there’s a lot on your plate. See the links in #1 for tips.

2. Not Knowing Your Software

Even if all you work with is your email client, you’d be amazed at the tips and tricks you can use to make using it easier and faster. When you don’t know your way around a spreadsheet, working with one can take forever. Spend a half hour or so in the evenings at home or on your laptop browsing the internet for tutorials and pre-made templates that might save you time. A great site for Microsoft Office can be found here. Another big thing: learn your keyboard shortcuts. If you don’t know what CTRL + C and CTRL + V do, you’ve definitely got a problem.

1. Yourself

Whether you’re bad for procrastination, have a short attention span, or have trouble prioritizing when you’re overwhelmed, sometimes you are your own biggest obstacle to efficiency. Learn to balance work with rest by allowing yourself short allotted breaks twice daily for browsing the web, having a snack, or taking a short walk. You’ll get back to work refreshed and lower your stress level. You are the number one person responsible for your own success. Spend your spare time reading up on self improvement and productivity. Enlighten yourself with sites like Zen Habits or Stepcase Lifehack.

Quote for March 26th, 2009:

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.”
– Paul J. Meyer

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