Monday, June 29, 2015

Chicago Manufacturing Hub Opens

Back in October, we posted about the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act, a bipartisan bill that allotted $300 million in public funds to combine with private money in creating 15 manufacturing "hubs" around the country. These hubs would be responsible for research and development that could serve in retraining workers and updating the manufacturing sector with needed technology and advancements.

This previous month, the first of those hubs finally made its grand opening. The Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovative Institute (DMII) of Chicago held its opening ceremony on May 11th, with Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and Governor Bruce Rauner on hand to cut the ribbon. DMDII is a 94,000 square foot space, brought to life from the ashes of Republic Windows, a factory that closed in 2008 and took 200 local jobs with it.

With the help of $70 million from the RAMI Act and $200 million in private investment, as well as resources provided by the University of Illinios, DMDII hopes to become a place where the research-heavy world of 21st century digital tech meets the infrastructure of US manufacturing. Multiple projects are slated to use DMDII as a way of finding new ways to integrate new advances in tech, like smart data or personalized software, into existing machinery and roles for employees. Here, UI's vocational program-UI Labs-can also test new methods, gadgets, and products that may move from the student mind to the factory floor much faster than before. Make no mistake, however; DMDII is not serving as an extension of a university, so much as a makerspace for multiple organizations that span different industries. The hope is that by sharing space and resources, people and firms alike can enjoy more industrial cross-pollination. Out of collaboration, successful ideas can be practically implemented faster and on a larger scale. A documented 20 projects have already been submitted and 5 have been approved for funding, with the expectation that they will not only result in success, but success that can be mimicked in other cities and environments.

DMDII will also share its hub space with City Works, a UILabs initiative that will deal specifcally with urban infrastructure renewal. City Works hopes to research and test many smart data pilots in the model of those proven successful in cities like Singapore.

The potential Chicago's "manufacturing hub" holds is promising, and put in the context of 14 other hubs not even finished yet, the 21st century is closer than ever.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company (

Friday, June 12, 2015


(Excerpt from the upcoming book on Robert Slass, Founder of Rotor Clip Company, a successful US manufacturer of retaining rings)

“…Companies should be in business for the long term to compete successfully and provide jobs. To do this, constant improvement is necessary.” Turning Deming’s Points into Action, by Robert Slass, Industry Week, June 20, 1988.

The 1980’s saw the rise of Japan as an economic powerhouse and an innovator of products and services. They perfected methods of production and succeeded in manufacturing quality goods at very competitive prices. This gave Japanese companies a strong advantage in selling everything from automobiles to consumer electronics. Many industries that enjoyed sole domination of their respective markets for many years were suddenly scrambling to stay in business.

Bob watched these events with great concern. He was particularly troubled by companies that had been in business for a lifetime suddenly selling out or dissolving into bankruptcies. If Rotor Clip was to avoid a similar fate, it had to readjust to the changing manufacturing picture.

Of all the quality ideas circulating in the automotive industry at the time, Bob was most drawn to W. Edwards Deming. His view of continuous improvement and Statistical Process Control fit with Bob’s own philosophy that quality should be the number one priority in his manufacturing operation. 

Deming developed his techniques in the US in the 1920’s. But his breakthrough came when he was invited to speak to the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) to help in the reconstruction of that country after World War II. From June through August 1950, he trained hundreds of engineers, managers, and scholars in statistical process control (SPC) and concepts of quality. Deming was so well received by the Japanese that the “Japanese Economic Miracle” that soon followed owed its success in large part to Deming. To show their gratitude the Japanese industrialists instituted the “Deming Prize” for excellence in manufacturing, an honor that is still revered in Japan to this day.

But Deming’s concepts were slow to catch on in the US. After the war, our factories were more concerned with filling orders than struggling to learn the quality techniques espoused by Deming. We were still sorting parts “after the fact,” not developing “in-process” checking techniques like SPC to detect and correct errors before bad parts could be made. This complacency was short lived as Japanese companies (inspired by Deming) introduced products like automobiles that were perceived by American consumers to be of higher quality than their domestic counterparts.

By the 1980’s, American manufacturing responded to the threat. Bob led the retaining ring industry in this effort by re-vamping his Quality Assurance department and adopting some of the principles outlined in Deming’s 14 points:

1     Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service.

Bob continuously improved his die designs to produce parts in high volume and reduce costs. He instilled awareness in all Rotor Clip employees that quality was everyone’s concern.

Eliminate the need for massive inspection by building quality into the product in the first place.

100% inspection was replaced by automated measurement of critical characteristics like thickness and free diameter. Operators monitored production processes with mini computers to detect negative trends and stop production before bad parts could be made.

Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.

Training became an ongoing effort at Rotor Clip especially cross training to ensure knowledge and best practices were shared by all.

Improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.

Wire material needed to coil retaining rings was brought in-house to be annealed and shaped so as to control quality and improve production. Bob also utilized technology purchasing a CNC and an EDI machine in the 1980’s along with three laser machines in the 1990’s to increase productivity while improving quality and decreasing costs.


Bob’s efforts paid off as Rotor Clip became one of the first suppliers to receive a GM SPEAR 2 (SPEAR was an acronym for Supplier Performance and Evaluation Reporting) in 1985. Earning a “Spear 2” rating meant that your company was “self-certified”; i.e., parts were considered of high quality, bypassed inspection and went directly to the GM production line.

Other quality accolades soon followed including the Chrysler QE (Quality Excellence) award in the same year, the “Ford Q1” designation in 1986, and the GM “Mark of Excellence” in 1989.

Bob Slass had firmly established Rotor Clip’s reputation as a quality source for retaining rings that continues today with our current quality designations: ISO/TS 16949: 2009, the worldwide automotive quality standard, and  ISO/AS9100C, the aerospace quality standard.

Joe Cappello is Director of Global Marketing for Rotor Clip Company. If you would like to continue to receive excerpts from his upcoming book on Rotor Clip and American manufacturing, click here  and e-mail him your request. He'll add you to his mailing list for updates.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Rise of The MakerSpace

One interesting and almost counter-intuitive development out of the internet tech world has been a renewed interest in "maker-culture" from younger generations. Maker-culture, which has risen the past decade out of the context of online tech communities sharing key 21st century skills such as code, has come full-circle and manifested itself in real-world outreach communities in the form of shared workrooms called "Makerspaces".

Makerspaces are studio areas that provide tools and tech for different people to create unrelated projects. Usually those projects range from engineering to software, combining elements of lab, shop, chat room, and garage. The collaborative, hybrid nature of makerspaces lend themselves as ideal for programs that supplement education, as well as exposing prospective students to the world of manufacturing and its benefits as a career choice.

The concept has clearly generated interest throughout smaller communities in America. One such community in Nebraska has entered a unique public-private partnership around makerspaces in an effort to make the idea available to enthusiasts of all ages.

Together with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln-affiliated Nebraska Innovation Campus , the Cooper Foundation has provided a $200,000 grant to help facilitate the Nebraska Innovation Studio, a 16,000 foot makerspace studio designed to provide hands-on experience in all fields of manufacturing not merely for UNL students, but other vocational students in the Lincoln area as well:

"Maker spaces are a growing trend, but Nebraska Innovation Studio will be unique. No other maker space features an in-house business accelerator and the close proximity of tenant companies and research labs on Nebraska Innovation Campus.

Once complete, everyone who enters the studio will be greeted by a gallery that celebrates the creative items being made within the space. It will be named the Cooper Foundation Makers Gallery in recognition of the foundation's support for the program."

This unprecedented scale of makerspace size and resources may yield an incredibly successful avenue for the skills training sorely lacking in the US manufacturing world, as has been frequently documented these days. If more hubs like this are developed where collaboration and cross-pollination saturate young minds to develop engineering skills both traditional as well as unorthodox, we might be in better shape for the coming century than we think.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company (

Monday, June 1, 2015

Honda North America Invests In Manufacturing Education In Ohio

The glaring skills gap that plagues America's next generation of labor has garnered much attention as of late. So much so that companies are finally taking the largely unprecedented step of directly investing in labor communities that line up with their interests.

Add Honda to the list of such companies. The auto giant has announced it will devote $1 million to an Ohio-based workforce initiative, called EPIC, aimed at generating interest in manufacturing among youth and students.

Honda North America, based in central Ohio, has mentioned the initiative will include 12 scholarships, worth $2500 each to students earning associate-degrees in manufacturing, as well as software programs designed to teach logic-solving problems to middle and high schools.

Younger students will also have events where they learn the design process of typical manufacturing plants via "mobile labs" that Honda will build to travel from location to location. In addition, Honda will supplement and help to expand an existing work-study program at Columbus State Community College.

With 33 years in the region, Honda North America has the credibility and history to work with local public officials towards a partnership such as this. While it may not look like much when compared to your typical corporate seed money, considering the existing infrastructure Ohio has from its rich auto industry and the overall consensus among public and private communities, it looks likely Honda will see a major return of long-term labor talent well worth more than a million bucks.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company (