MiIllennials are many things (and much is projected on them), but they aren’t even close to being kids. The oldest of the bunch, if they started work right out of high school and stuck to one company, could hit 25 years of service in five years. The youngest are already out of college. They’re adults with families, maturing in their careers, taking leadership roles in their organizations and making big change in processes, culture and strategy.
So it’s well past time to simply ask, “How can we bring more millennials into manufacturing?” and instead look at how men and women in this age group are making manufacturing their own. It’s time to hear how they got to where they are, how they lead and how much their employers value them—as well as what elements of their training, culture and opportunities helped them become the leaders they are today.
IndustryWeek recently sent out a call for millennial leaders in manufacturing to profile, and the responses poured in. The candidates hailed from tiny machine shops to Brobdingnagian corporations, and all points in between. There was a tooling-design virtuoso in Kansas, a tech innovator turned manufacturing CEO in the Bay Area, a social-media guru who’s energized a drillmaker in New Jersey, a technical director at a giant 3D printing company, and a couple of rocket scientists who moonlight as STEM evangelists. And those are just some of the folks we aren’t writing about in this story. In fact, we got so many great submissions for this article that we’re planning to cover more of these standouts in the online edition of IndustryWeek.
It warms our hearts to see the enthusiasm with which some of the elders in the biz write about their millennial workers:
As we move from a batch build mentality to lean processes, Levi has been paramount in innovative tooling design. … His setup will pay huge dividends in a short time.
Amanda has been with us about three years, and what a difference she has made! … Not only did she streamline our budget; she has taken responsibility for all of our travel activities. She routinely comes to me with ideas or suggestions for improvements … she has saved the company significant money.
Mitchell, in her first few months on the job, was able to increase throughput three times over, allowing for a growth in capacity of over one million dollars per year.
Joseph brings a unique “free-spirited” approach to our team by listening, learning and adding his fingerprints to the process …It can be very powerful when you consider someone with a voice is looking at something with a brand-new perspective.
For this inaugural feature, we’ve not chosen “winners” from the group but rather we selected nominees that give a far-reaching sense of leadership roles and backgrounds—from leaders keeping the lights on or checks clearing at bread-and-butter small shops to plant managers of large operations, to entrepreneurs and process superstars. We intend for these folks to shine a light on the potential that can be harnessed in others, when they’re listened to, given training, empowered, encouraged—and, at times, given the space to figure it out on their own.
The Creative Force
Tara Binn, 30
Operations Manager, Georgia-Pacific Chemicals
- After an extended internship, took a break from engineering with gigs as a nanny and a personal stylist for a retailer. “What I have enjoyed in the things that I’ve done, it’s developing relationships.”
- Made the leap back into engineering as an entry-level process engineer for GP on the management track
- Manages a team of 16 at the Eugene, Oregon, plant
Georgia-Pacific highlighted Tara Binn in a three-minute video recently, a boots-on-the-ground look (literally; it talked about the motorcycle boots she wears) at her day at the plant. In it, she talked about how when she’s introduced to customers, she inevitably gets the “Wait, that’s not we’re expecting,” reaction. “It shouldn’t be a surprise for a young woman to walk in and be introduced as an operations manager,” says Binn (pictured in main photo above).
“We call her ‘Tara Binn, leader of men,’” says a plant worker in the video who looked to be at least 15 years her senior, noting that her team is all male. “She’s never too high, never too low. You get the same thing every day, every way.”
Binn herself wasn’t expecting to work for Georgia-Pacific—the company wasn’t even on her list when she went to an engineering career fair seven years ago. She was thinking she might like to get back into engineering in a more people-oriented role. She’d done an internship at a medical-device manufacturer, but soon burned out.
“I thought the direction I wanted to go in was more medical, but I quickly learned it’s very paperwork-oriented,” she recalls. “Things moved a lot slower.” She took a break, working in fashion and with kids for a year, to “reset my mind, thinking about how I want to apply my skills. That was actually a really great experience.” But she missed the science and critical thinking, so she came back to engineering.
At the fair, she stopped at the GP booth, “just to warm up to the people that I’d wanted to talk to,” and found an instant rapport with the GP folks. Her future boss was there, and he told her he was looking to hire an entry-level engineer. “I think that first conversation, I told him I didn’t have any interest in being a technical engineer. He said, ‘Great. I don’t have any interest in hiring a technical engineer.’”
She went home and did her research. Two things about GP especially piqued her interest: an entry-level program that trained recruits for their next role and a management culture designed around leadership with integrity, stewardship, humility, respect, collaboration—success through “helping others improve their lives,” is how the company defines it.
“It really was turning out a vision that was learning the business, not just, ‘Here’s three engineering projects that you’re going to work on for the next year,’” she says.
Once officially on board, she rotated to many areas of the plant depending on where there were gaps, from safety management to design to understanding business drivers.
Working with operators to roll out a new ERP system and a six-month transition with the retiring operations manager gave her good footing in her next role. At the time, “we’d had the most hiring we’d had in 10 years and the business increased to volumes it hadn’t been,” she says. “We had a venture capital project. Getting all that early exposure was difficult and now I can do better.”
It also helped that she was handed a great operation. “I didn’t have to fix a lot of stuff,” she says. “But how do you bottle up good and make it repeatable for the long term? Most of what I do from a leadership perspective is sitting back and listening and watching. Because they’re already doing a great job. It’s not about correcting and fixing. It’s more about, why is this successful? How do I encourage them and how do I put better processes in place to support them?”
It’s important for leaders to also be creative and self-reflective, asking things like, “What am I doing that makes this unattractive to someone?”
When day shift workers pushed for a new schedule, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Binn put it up for a vote and they voted to change it. But she’s not coming in earlier herself—“I don’t’ see graveyard because I’m not coming in at 6 a.m. Not my forte! But there was no issue whatsoever … It's just a change. Make a change, see how it goes, and then correct it if there’s a problem.”
The Shop Owner
Adam Mutschler, 35
Co-Owner, Cleveland Deburring Machine
- Started Cleveland Deburring at the start of the Great Recession with his brother Christopher in 2008
- Acquired back his father’s former business, OLS, which made similar machines but had idled in the hands of a larger company
- Modernized processes with robotics and diversified the industries the company serves.
Eric, who preferred the “trial by fire” teaching method, “would just hand me some parts to test and say, ‘Here, this is what they want to do. Figure it out,’” recalls Adam, now a dad himself. “‘The customer will be here in a week and then you know you’ve got to explain what we’re going to do.’ It was before I knew what the hell I was doing so it was kind of uncomfortable.”
Adam’s career stalled when Eric sold the shop to a larger company that specialized in machine components. “The new owners didn’t really understand that they were buying people, not just a building and some machines,” Adam recalls. Unhappy with new management, nearly everyone quit, including Adam, who embarked on an unfortunate six-month stint working in a tanning salon.
Realizing that his future was not in that type of bronzing, Adam teamed up with his brother Christopher and started Cleveland Deburring Machine, which picked up business that his father’s old company had lost, and hired back his dad’s workers. Having worked in sales at the old firm, Adam had lots of contacts and no non-compete agreements, “so I started going after whatever I wanted, reaching out to all these people that I knew.”
He won back old automotive and aerospace customers and, in time, formally won back Eric’s old business, too, when the components company decided to exit the space. “There’s really no major competition in this area,” says Adam. “We have a few competitors that build small, inexpensive stuff that we really can’t even make money on anymore. And then we have a competitor that builds nothing but gigantic machines that we don’t even want to get into.”
One of Adam’s biggest challenges (some might say “headaches”) is handling the increasing international complexity of the business with such a small operation. One of his technicians was in Mexico in late September, doing the installation and startup on a machine with fingerprints from all over. The client is a U.S. company with operations in Mexico and the lead engineer on the project is in Italy.
“It can get real tumultuous,” Mutschler says. “There’s a lot of variability in what we do.” Someone in the chain might decide to use a different grinding wheel and the burrs are suddenly 10 times worse and the machine doesn’t work properly. “If anything else changes in the process, it comes down to our machines,” he says.
Cleveland Deburring’s customer base includes automotive and gear manufacturers, but Adam is hedging his bets. “I think it’s gonna get ugly here in a minute because of electric cars,” he predicts, with electric motors not needing deburring. “Everything’s going to shift a little bit. I mean, we work with some other companies that do a lot with [polishing] camshafts. Basically, they told us, ‘We’re not sure what to do. We’re looking for new stuff because nobody’s launching new engine designs right now.’”
Still, the aerospace and heavy equipment areas CDM works in won’t be going electric anytime soon. Plus, Adam has added Fanuc robots to handle more business while being cost-effective. “To be honest, the cost of robots has become so small that it’s cheaper to use them than what it would cost us to put a bunch of stuff together ourselves,” says Adam. “People like robots because you know, if in three years they lose a project, they can take that robot and have it do something else.” Like, say, work on a deburring machine for beer keg handles, which can slice bartenders’ fingers if they’re not properly smoothed.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to stop drinking beer anytime soon,” says Adam, contemplating the future. “I’m not.”
William Hedley, 26
Process Leader, Deceuninck North America
- Improved line rates and run times and reduced shutdowns by up to 20%
- Standardized and improved tool design, so tools run more efficiently in production
- Is taking the initiative to explore green materials for the future.
“I’ve never been responsible for anyone younger than me,” says William Hedley, himself just three years out of engineering school at the University of Dayton. Hedley manages 16 production workers in advanced materials at the Monroe, Ohio-based maker of energy-efficient doors and windows. His interest in engineering started in elementary school at the dinner table when his father, an R&D engineer for 3M, would share scientific questions that came up at work. “He would ask me and my siblings engineering questions—'Hey, I’m trying to solve this problem. What do you think?’”
After two co-ops and then two years working for a chrome plating company (“a good first job”), composite work beckoned and Hedley joined Deceuninck. His voice gets swoony when he talks about composites. “Oh, how much time do you have?” he asks. He’s particularly interested in the renewable potential of bio-based resins and fibers that right now lack the structural strength to apply in the manufacturing processes he works with, but someday … “I mean, climate change is happening, there are things that we need to prepare for in the future, and I think composites are a really good way to do that.”
Hedley was hired as a general process engineer, but once his superiors found he had an affinity for and expertise in thermosets—irreversibly hardened plastics—from his two engineering co-ops, they handed him the project of improving the advanced material technology (pultrusion lines) for a glass fiber and polyurethane composite used in energy-efficient window structures. The technology was still in the R&D phase but headed toward full-scale production.
“They were like, ‘Hey, we’ve got this process, are you interested?’” Hedley recalls. He delved into rectifying what the still-fresh-in-his-mind textbooks said about the process versus how they were currently doing things in the plant, “and coming to an agreement between the two of them.” The tool-building process and the materials and coatings on tools were all fair game for change.
In June, Hedley was promoted to his current leadership role, taking the reins of production on the system he designed. On any given day, he might be cross-training employees to clean the tools as well as run the lines, cutting down on cleaning time from 12 to eight hours; overseeing on-time scheduling and raw-material inventory; and wondering how he’ll replace the in-house tool and die maker who is a “true savant” but has been talking about retirement.
It hasn’t been all smooth pultruding, so to speak. Hedley’s initial meet-and-greet with production line workers was a bit rough. “I mean, in any manufacturing space you’re going to have people who have been there for 20, 30 years, and they see a new face come in and they’re like, ‘I don’t need some stuck-up college kid coming in here telling me how to do my job—I’ve been doing this job for 20 years.’ You always get some of that. I don’t think that’s ever gonna change. So you just gotta go in there and listen to them, respect them and then hopefully make some improvement to make their life easier.”
Hedley appreciates that Deceuninck leadership not only values his work on the plant floor but is open to exploring green technology. “There’s a way to downcycle carbon fiber composites economically; there’s just not one for glass fiber. We’re doing a little bit of R&D ourselves in that area, looking for economical solutions to that. It is a question that really needs to be answered, and answered soon, because glass fiber composites are all over the place—they’re in boats, they’re in wind turbines and that kind of stuff. But I do believe we’ll get there.”
Lizet Tymon, 39
Director, Advanced Planning, Jabil
- Leads sales and operations planning strategy for Jabil, a job she built from nothing after working closely with customers and realizing Jabil lacked a robust strategy and support system in this area.
- Gained support for the S&OP idea by mapping it out and sharing her vision with leadership across Jabil.
- Presented Jabil’s S&OP project at the SCM World supply chain conference
Seventeen years ago, when Lizet Tymon started at global contract manufacturer Jabil, the world was a vast, mysterious place and her grand plan was to move to a new plant in Jabil’s constellation every other year or so. She made it to four: her hometown of Chihuahua, Mexico; Holland, Michigan; St. Petersburg, Florida; and finally, San Jose, where she and her husband decided to settle. But she’s had the opportunity to visit many more sites all over China, Southeast Asia and Europe as her responsibilities have steadily increased and 25% to 50% of her job involves travel.
For Tymon, responsibility is something taken, not given. “I’m kind of always looking for work,” she says. “Sometimes I say, maybe I should just chill out a little bit.” She dove right into her first assignment as an industrial engineering intern, working with seven manufacturing lines in 20 back-end work cells for an automotive customer. “It was quite a large operation, and we needed to optimize the flow of material and maximize the throughput,” she remembers. “So one of the first projects that I participated in was to reconfigure the process flow and the whole layout. I got to work with facilities and engineering and planning and coordinated quite a large operation, which streamlined the process flows.”
The openness to ideas at every level at Jabil and variety of work that comes from being embedded with a different client for long stretches has kept Tymon happy there. “Anybody can bring ideas and talk to upper management,” she says. “I remember as an intern setting up a meeting with an operations manager of the facility and all the functional managers, and presenting some of our projects. So I felt really comfortable approaching upper management and working collaboratively.”
Jabil has quadrupled its revenue in 10 years, she guesses, but “it still feels like a small company. It can get a little more bureaucratic at times, but for the most part, everybody is here to get things done. We have to be very agile, set up operations very quickly in different regions of the world.”
Tymon is especially proud of her three-year effort to digitize and standardize sales and operations planning across the company. “I was kind of jumping around to the project because it was not in my job description,” she says. “I did not have any integrated planning platform. We did a lot of work in Excel—people jumping from system to system.” When she discovered the right software to do the job, she got buy-in from other leaders and won over her boss to the idea. It became an executive-sponsored initiative, and she received resources to design the process and work with consultants. In July, her role was formalized and she became a director.
Tymon would like to see more women in leadership roles, and hopes to set an example for her own children, ages 8 and 4. “I’m often in meetings with 50 people and there’s only a couple of women,” she says. “But I do see a lot of talent coming up the ranks. And that’s actually a passion for me, to set an example and encourage women to pursue these kind of roles.”
Prince Ghosh, 21
Co-Founder, Boundary Labs
- Developed a predictive maintenance tool for small and midsized manufacturers; it is currently in the pilot stage with a few early adopters
- Researched low-cost vibration sensor technology to detect and predict gearbox failure in wind turbines, as a fellow for Great Lakes Energy Institute
- Interned at defense/aerospace contractor Zinn Technologies, working on acoustical energy analysis for NASA’s Space Launch System, among other projects
Prince Ghosh always thought NASA was going to be where he landed, but despite a “fantastic” summer internship working for a Tier 1 supplier at the space agency, something didn’t sit right. “I just realized the pace and rate of innovation wasn’t for me,” he says—and by pace, he means sloooow. “I’m one who for better or worse always had a hard time with that statement, ‘This is just the way things are.’”
While still in engineering school (aerospace and mechanical) at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, he fed an entrepreneurial yen by participating in local manufacturing consortiums, hearing firsthand about challenges small- and medium-sized manufacturers face.
Ghosh had been working on a wind-turbine efficiency research project, but soon found he could fill a more immediate need close to home. The smaller manufacturers he talked to were struggling to bring in predictive maintenance.
“There is a really big gap in the market that has yet to be fulfilled,” Ghosh says. “We have literally thousands of small and mid-sized manufacturers in the Northeast Ohio region. Everyone keeps telling them about the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0 and all of that good stuff, but no one ever really thinks, how does this actually work in a manufacturing organization that doesn’t have an IT team—where the president or one of the operations engineers is the IT guy.”
Ghosh made contacts, toured operations and saw that in tandem with developing and testing a low-cost, plug-and-play predictive maintenance tool, he would also need to provide help and education around connectivity. “We’ve found that a lot of our factories don’t have good internet on the factory floor,” he says. “Either there’s really strong interference or it’s the old legacy internet connection.”
Raising about $100,000 so far from friends, family and angel investment money, Ghosh and a data-science partner from Case, Lucas Friedman, launched a company, Boundary Labs, through the university’s Sears think[box] business incubator. They dedicated themselves to refining and commercializing their distributed sensor network for industrial machinery.
Thanks to Ghosh’s relationship-building, Boundary Labs has been able to deploy and test its sensors at multiple factories in the area, collecting data, building a repository of failure codes, and then using machine learning to correlate that data. A mentor he met through the Entrepreneurs Organization, from component maker Efficient Machine Products, has been especially helpful with the pilot project.
Ghosh enjoys working with smaller firms, where even a 1% to 3% improvement in efficiency can mean a turnaround. “Software for the last 20 years has advanced the interest of the people on the West Coast and the bankers on the East Coast,” he says. “In that process, the entire Midwest kind of got left behind … I almost feel like there’s some degree of responsibility that if you have the capability to do some transformational change, you almost have a responsibility to do it.”
The Robotics Crusader
Adam Coulston, 32
Production Manager, Brose Canada (London, Ontario facility)
- Started as a production-line temp in high school, worked at Brose while in college and is now production manager of the London, Ontario, plant
- As an intern, modified the robot welding program at the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, plant to make it more consistent, reducing scrap and downtime
- Led the Brose N.A. joining technology team on a successful three-year laser-welding innovation project
A supportive employer can be the difference between a temp job and a career, from being a nobody on the line to learning and growing into a leader who does great things.
Take, for instance, the story of Adam Coulston. As a senior in high school, Coulston was planning on studying accounting, but he was meh about it. And he didn’t want to ride the stress train of the legal profession like his parents. Unexpectedly, a summer job before college on the production line at mechatronics components maker Brose gave him direction. Jazzed by the state-of-the-art riveting technology in the plant, he decided robotics and automation were his future. “I was fascinated to see some of the controls technicians being able to manipulate the equipment via a computer,” he recalls. “That sparked my interest.”
Instead of going to university, Coulston decided on a two-year program at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, with Brose picking up part of the tuition. Once graduated, he was doing mechanical and electrical schematics on the robots. But he wanted to design equipment, not just fix it.
“I went to my boss and said I was going back to school to take robotics and automation, and instead of letting me go, he asked if I could stay on and work weekends.” Brose again paid part of his tuition, this time at the University of Western Ontario for a bachelor’s in electrical engineering. During summers, Coulston returned to Brose and worked as a weld technician. The opportunities grew from there: a co-op at Brose’s Auburn Hills welding technology center; a monthlong internship in Alabama where he reprogrammed erratic welding tech. He led a welding innovation team for several years and was chosen for an 18-month Brose “talent circle” where participants traveled to plants in the U.S. and Mexico, honing soft skills like intercultural collaboration and dealing with difficult people.
Coulston is grateful he had that training now that he’s in his new role as production manager at the London plant. And grateful for the temp job half a lifetime ago. “One of the things that has really benefited me in this new position is the fact that I actually worked on the line,” he says. “I went through the challenges that the employees I now manage are going through. I’m a firm believer that you should be out there on the shop floor; you should run the equipment just to get a better understanding of that equipment and the people who run it.”
He’s still jazzed about robots, and he’s feeling pretty good about people, too. “I always say I would love to retire at Brose. Yes, I’m only 32, but I’m still thinking that far because it’s such a great company.”