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QRM 2012 Conference in Arnhem, Netherlands

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arnhem_wtc.jpgHigh-speed trains zipping by meeting room windows provided a fitting backdrop for this year’s QRM Conference held from June 4-7 in Arnhem, Netherlands. The futuristic Intercity trains served as a vivid reminder of QRM’s increasing international reach. Organized by the European QRM Center at HAN University, this was the first time the event was held outside the US.

But their breathtaking acceleration also illustrated the overarching theme of the event: the need for speed in today’s global marketplace and how companies from around the world have used QRM to become more responsive to their customers.

Focusing on short lead times as a competitive advantage is an urgent matter for many manufacturing enterprises: faced with an uncertain economic situation at home and increased competition from abroad, companies in Europe and the United States will need to sharpen their competitive edge in order to succeed. "We are strong competitively but the structural underlying developments could be better. We cannot afford not to improve," summarized Vincent Wiegel, director of the QRM Center Europe and professor at HAN University, the situation for the more than 110 audience members from the USA, Israel, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Chile and the Netherlands.

Fortunately, Quick Response Manufacturing tools and techniques can help and have a proven track record in strengthening competitiveness of companies in the United States and increasingly in Europe as well, as Rajan Suri, founding director of the QRM Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison pointed out in his keynote address. Retracing the history of QRM, Suri highlighted the main principles of the strategy and how they address current trends in global manufacturing. “Every company is both a supplier and a customer. If your supplier can provide products at shorter lead times, lower cost, and higher quality, your company can provide the same to your customers. In the end we all benefit and are able to compete with low-wage countries,” Suri highlighted an essential benefit of QRM implementation.

The event certainly offered participants many opportunities to learn about QRM and how it can be applied across the enterprise. 27 presentations from both, industry professionals and researchers, tutorials on POLCA and QRM, a company tour, an expert panel, and networking receptions – the 2012 conference covered the whole spectrum of current QRM thinking and practice.

As in year’s past, the QRM Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and its member companies were able to present some innovative and successful QRM implementations. Representatives from six QRM companies made the long journey to Arnhem, sharing their knowledge on such a wide range of topics like change management as part of QRM implementations, using QRM principles to drive supply base flexibility, and how to use QRM to outpace larger competitors. "We are honored that so many of our member companies came all the way to present and attend this event. It shows their commitment to QRM and to keeping American manufacturing competitive," said Prof. Ananth Krishnamurthy, director of the QRM Center and himself a conference speaker. (For a short summary of some of the talks and the results presented, please check the slideshow below.)

Next to many impressive results achieved by several companies, a few new ideas captured the interest of the audience. Vincent Wiegel and his team at the QRM Center Europe presented the first “modules” in a series of guide sheets on different QRM designed to help companies with their implementation (check the freely available modules here, and give them feedback, if possible).

Bob Mueller (Factory Manager) and Meg Roman (Senior Learning & Development Specialist) of Joy Global reported on their use of professional change management techniques in a cell implementation project. The result:  more support from operators and improved cell performance.

Godfried Kaanen, president of Bosch Hinges and one of the founding fathers of the European QRM Center, introduced his new digital POLCA system based on Propos, a custom developed software based on POLCA principles. He also hosted a tour of his impressive operation at the last day of the conference, where participants got to complete their own order, following the routing from cell to cell, always guided by the e-POLCA system.

But the conference did not only offer a window on the newest developments in QRM. During breaks, networking receptions and at an excellent conference dinner in the beautifully set Villa Sonsbeek, new connections were made and new projects planned. And very likely, with the energy generated by this successful event and the QRM focus on short lead times, we will hear about some of these projects at next year’s conference, when we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the QRM Center in Madison, Wisconsin. See you there.    

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