Furniture, aerospace, automotive and military—Raymond Muscat’s career has been a tour of some of manufacturing’s biggest sectors. He’s worked for GM, Ford, Raytheon, Ball Aerospace, and Knoll.
He’s had a variety of titles, too, starting his working life on Ford assembly line to pay his way through college, and working his way up the engineering and leadership ranks to head of engineering and operations at Herman Miller. There, he lead a team that developed and implemented the company’s lean manufacturing program, the Herman Miller Performance System, and oversaw its North American product launches.
That broad experience translates well to his new position as co-director of the Tauber Institute for Global Operations at the University of Michigan. The multidisciplinary graduate program brings in aspiring operations managers from around the world to work on cost-saving projects for companies including Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, Borg Warner, Tesla and General Motors.
“The average savings for one of these projects over a three-year period is $14.3 million, so these students make a real impact,” says Muscat. Improvements were in areas that included energy consumption, throughput time, supply chain risk reduction and emissions reduction.
In 2015, the Institute had 35 projects from 23 companies, for a total savings of $500 million. Students worked on their projects on-site, in locations as near as Lavonia, Mich., and as far-flung as Malaysia.
Fifty-three percent of 89 graduates last year accepted positions working for either the company who sponsored them or another Tauber corporate sponsor.
Muscat, who in addition to his academic duties is also vice president of manufacturing for precision engineered products company Cignys, talked to IndustryWeek about his background, where the Institute is headed, and what engineers need to become leaders in the plant.
So was it a big switch for you to go from developing military aircraft antennas to engineering office furniture? You mentioned it gave you more opportunity to do design and engineering, rather than working as a manufacturing engineer.
It was a matter of moving from one set of challenges to another. In the defense business it’s highly technical—a lot of standards so on and so forth, a lot of it driven by your technical needs---so you make sure the product meets its requirements and to build it in such a way it’s robust. The office furniture business, the challenge is always that you’re designing products that people are going to spend 8 to 10 to 12 hours of their day working with. And that provides its own set of challenges, because you have the direct person-to-equipment interface. The chair has got to be ergonomically sound, the desk has got to be such that it supports that person’s work. Every person is unique from that perspective—different work needs and unique body types.
Did your work on the assembly line and, later, an internship at GM, give you the foundation you needed to be a manufacturing engineer?
I grew up on the west side of Detroit and in the western suburbs. My dad was a steel trades-worker at Ford Motor Company for 35 years. I’ve always been near or close to manufacturing. As I went through my education at U of M and beyond, I’ve always tried to have one leg in engineering and one leg in manufacturing. That’s the way I’ve conducted my career. The Tauber Institute felt really natural to me as a way to give back.
What appealed to you specifically about the manufacturing side of things?
Well, I see manufacturing as an amazing intersection of technology, scientific knowledge and people to create value. The ability to create value streams and do very, very positive thing for people, create jobs—to me, that’s wonderful.
Are there areas where engineers are noticeably lacking in training to hit the shop floor running?
To me there are two elements: Hard skills and the soft skills. From the hard skill standpoint, the whole area of lean manufacturing, the notion of evaluating processes, being able to do problem solving, continuous improvement, statistical process control, lean Six Sigma, all of that continues to need emphasis for our engineering folks focused on operations.
Also, being able to understand the financial impacts of the things that you do. If you’re going to propose a piece of equipment or changing a part of the factory, you need to be able to accurately assess the impact that’s going to have.
Then on the soft skills side: the ability to work cross-functionally, to work across all the levels of the organizations, to be able to work as a team, to be able communicate effectively across the organization and manage projects.
What are your priorities for the Tauber Institute?
I’m most interested continuing and expanding the notion of experiential or action-based learning. The 14-week projects that our students have to do, is kind of the touchstone, the cornerstone of our program. But we are constantly challenging our students to not only learn the information, learn the hard skills, but also to put them into practice.
All of the Tauber Institute programs are actually organized and run by the students themselves. We challenge them to take leadership positions and organize and plan and recruit and execute all sorts of things, in addition to 14-week projects.
In order to do that, we need to have a whole slew of partners, of sponsors who are going to support us in that endeavor. So we’re always looking to develop and maintain relationships with leading who have an operational challenge that they want to address. My role as the industry director is to make sure we continue to develop these relationships.
What sorts of projects are the students working on?
We have projects that are supply-chain based; we have projects that are lean transformation of factories or production areas. Some are more focused on the product development, and we have a few that are green energy projects, or making operations greener than they are today.
What do you look for in a sponsor in the program?
We’re look for companies with operational challenges that are seriously committed to this kind of learning—interfacing with the students, guiding them, helping gain access to the resources and data they need.
The projects are developed by the sponsors. They look at what their needs are from an operational standpoint; they put together a brief, and then the students get a chance to listen to the sponsor companies present their projects and work to recruit students to their projects.
The projects themselves are fast-paced, very technical, very well supported--each team has a professor from the engineering school, and from the Ross School of Business, committed to supporting the team. That’s an important element: if you hire a project team of two or three students, you’re not only getting two or three students but you’re also getting two or three professors that are working with them.